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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The last steep
ascent brought us up to the mountain's caldera ridge near the remnants of the
Tepe Church. During the Byzantine era when Cappadocia was home to a flourishing
Christian community, the area around the mountain was home to monastic groups
attracted by the barren loneliness of the slopes. There was not much left of
this Byzantine ruin, just a scattered pile of stones, some bearing weather-worn
and faded inscriptions. I stood on the ridge edge and peered over into the wide
caldera formed during the volcano's last active period. In the silence it was
hard to imagine the violent eruptions that sliced open the mountain top,
leaving this wide-gaping crater on top.
We hiked the
last few metres along the caldera ridge and up to the peak. Cloud cover had
started to wrap around the summit in wispy white fingers, bringing a cloying
cold with it. I viewed the land below through a misted tint as the clouds cast
an eerie glow across the plains below.
The summit is
marked with a metal cow advertising one of Turkey's well-known dairy brands (the
log book for successful summiteers is inside), giving us something to laugh about
as we stamped our feet to keep warm. Plans for the perfect summit panorama had
been scuppered due to the weather, but that did not worry me much. Mountains
like Hasan are always more glorious when pictured from below. I think the
unknown artist of Neolithic Çatalhöyük would agree.
Ascending Mount Hasan is a non-technical but tough
climb that takes four to six hours. Due to the lack of a clear-cut trail,
guides are highly recommended. Local Cappadocia tour companies such as Heritage Travel and Middle Earth Travel run two-day
trips combining climbing Mount Hasan with a trek through the nearby Ihlara
archaeological site is easily visited as a half-day trip from the city of
Konya. The volcano wall-painting is one of the exhibitions displayed in
Ankara's Museum of