In the way of things, this got off to a bit of a late start and it was far too hot to sit in his non-air-conditioned office while he dealt with unexpected visitors. To while away the time, I took a turn along the corridor that is lined with old black and white pictures taken by Father Guillaume de Jerphanion (1877-1948), the French priest who, in the early 20th century, explored Cappadocia and recorded many of its historic monuments.
Many things struck me while I was examining those images. The first was how comfortingly little the actual landscape and the churches themselves had changed over the years. Recent photographs taken in the same locations revealed that the odd fairy chimney had lost its topknot of rock, that the occasional gateway to a medrese had been repaired with a cap of new stone. Only the images of Göreme were completely unrecognizable, the original old troglodyte village with its dirt-track streets having vanished behind the accoutrements of full-on modern tourism.
One of the most striking images showed the entrance to the Tokalı Church, an edifice with some of the finest frescoes in the area that now forms part of the Göreme Open Air Museum. The photo panned back to an entrance that was then just a chute opening onto a pile of rubble, on either side of which the frescoed walls rose up apologetically. It reminded me of nothing less than the early images of Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings as archeologist Howard Carter first broke through to it in 1922. A second photo showed the upper church in the years when it had been turned to domestic use, with wooden beams from which grapes could be hung crisscrossing the chamber.
I was so engrossed in the images that it took me a while to notice the date. To each picture was stuck a little label reading “1912.” 1912? If that was the case, then this year was the anniversary of Jerphanion’s visit that eventually gave rise to the magisterial, five-volume “A New Province of Byzantine Art: The Rock Churches of Cappadocia,” written between 1925 and 1942.
“Shouldn’t we have an exhibition?” I asked the curator, full of excitement. His eyes lit up, then shadowed again. “It’s too late,” he said. “I’d have to take new photos of how the sites are now.”
I had been thinking of lifting the photos off the walls of the corridor, carrying them to Göreme, and hanging them again somewhere where tourists would be able to see them. He, however, was thinking of something more formal within the grounds of the Open Air Museum.
Back in Göreme, I mentioned this forgotten anniversary to a friend. “But he made that trip in 1911, not 1912,” he said, immediately dialing the number of a friend in İstanbul who owns a copy of the book.
I waited expectantly. “1911!” he confirmed. “And anyway, he was a spy, you know, like that woman [probably Gertrude Bell]. Why else would he have been wandering around here just before the war?”
Poor old Jerphanion. Doesn’t look much like he’ll be getting his exhibition any time soon, then.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.