We have been in Turkey for over a week, much of each day spent looking at remains of cities.

Today we visited a city dug deep into the earth here in Cappadocia, this part of central Turkey. Millions of years ago a three hundred foot layer of ash gradually accumulated during thousands of years of volcanic eruptions. Hardened, weathered, shaped into the land. In the early centuries of the last millennium Christians chiseled an underground city as far as eight floors down into the hills.

This afternoon we went down steps into an entrance and continued down for four floors. Storage rooms, kitchen, laundry, living areas. And a church with an altar. Much of it looked like this –

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Why cities (there are many more throughout this region) in the ground? Safety from persecution. Early Christian community found a safe place from Roman persecution and later Arab invasion.

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Late in the afternoon our guide Gigi pointed out abandoned villages, part of the legacy of forcibly displaced ethnic Greeks in the 1920s after the Turkish war of independence. It was part of an exchange between Greece and Turkey, perhaps an early hint of Balkan troubles of the 1990s.

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People left almost a hundred years ago and these ghost towns remain, reminding us of a sad part of the birth of a modern nation.

A city in the ground. A silent village on the cliffs. Such urban places tell stories, just like the first century Roman cities we have visited this week.

Cities flourish. But many fall silent. Their purpose for existing gone, they suddenly disappear or fade away. Homes empty of families. Holes in the ground fill with sand. Until archeologists and travelers arrive to remove the sand and hear the story.

To wonder and learn how these places have served people.

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