Around 9,000 years ago in Turkey’s Anatolian plains, a citizen of the Neolithic settlement of Çatalhöyük daubed a scene in red ochre on the wall of their adobe house.
The image is commonly thought to depict a village in the foreground, looked down upon by a twin-peaked volcano that is spewing an explosion of lava and rock into the sky. Dated to approximately 6200 BC, it is thought to be the world's first landscape drawing. Some experts describe it as the first ever map. And the distinctive twin-peaked volcano is usually identified as Mount Hasan.
It’s impossible to miss Mount Hasan (Hasan Daǧı in Turkish) as you drive through Cappadocia. The silhouette of its stark twin peaks dominates the skyline of the region's southwest, bearing down upon the surrounding steppe. Yet despite being only 18km south from the Ihlara Valley – one of Cappadocia's most popular tourist attractions – the jagged and barren slopes of Mount Hasan are rarely explored.
- (Jess Lee)
The Ihlara Valley is famous for its blend of unusual rock formations, and its deep gorge floor is scattered with fresco-filled cave-cut church remnants from the monastic Byzantine communities who once made the valley their home. But as the Çatalhöyük wall painting shows, Mount Hasan has been making an impact on Anatolia settlers for millennia. Hiking up the mountain is not just about bagging another summit. It is a journey to the rumbling heart of Neolithic man's fear.
My friends and I camped on a pasture at the mountain's base, pitching our tents between the simple stone shelters used by local shepherds during the summer months. I stared at the mountain slope that billowed upwards in jagged contortions and then turned the other way to face the Anatolian plains, which rolled out in an uninterrupted hazy sheet of green and taupe. The archaeological site of Çatalhöyük may lie 130km to the southwest, but at 3,253m high and with only rippling plateau in between, the stratovolcano (its conical shape built up by strata of pumice, ash and lava) remains a domineering and shadowy force on the Neolithic town's horizon. Its last eruption is thought to date back 9,000 years: about the same time period that the unknown artist drew the scene on their wall.
Our ascent began in the morning. Rusty-hued boulders were splattered with brushstrokes of lime-green lichen. Snow finches darted between the rocks, disturbed by our crunching footfalls on their territory. In the Neolithic era the mountain was not only a natural force to be feared, but also played an important role in Çatalhöyük's development. People came to the volcano's lower slopes to collect shiny and sharp black obsidian, which they prized as tools and traded with other towns.
The gradient got gradually steeper as we pushed upwards. I stopped for a break and looked back at the plains below, which, at this height, had turned into a fuzzy carpet of indistinct shapes. Hills appeared as inconsequential pimples. In the far distance west, we could see the sparkly glimmer of the vast Tuz Gölü salt lake, which lies between the cities of Aksaray and Ankara.
- (Jess Lee)
Eventually the pink- and orange-hued stones of the lower slopes gave way to mammoth jagged black boulder slabs that were stacked like a giant game of Jenga. Alpine swifts swooped across the sky, circling and diving in aerobatic formations. I clambered up a stone-river of scree that snaked down the slope, and paused to get my breath. The high altitude air had a tinge of alpine crispness to it; so fresh you could almost taste it. Except for the crunch of footfalls, slipping and sliding as we battled the loose stones, it was silent. Someone yelped as a misjudged step sent a rock avalanche of tiny missiles showering down. The cry echoed out across the mountain.