Designing from Bones ~ Fairy Chimneys

Welcome to Designing From Bones, where we use archaeology, myth, mysteries and history to unearth the stories of tomorrow.

This week is the first in a Special DfB series on unusual historical settings and how we can use them as inspiration for our fiction. If the planet provided a place to build, humans have tried to live there. Today we look at two locations that were forged by fire, hardened to rock, and crafted by the unyielding mastery of wind and water – the four elemental architects working together to create a unique living environment – the fairy chimneys.


Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey. Millennium ago, Mount Erciyes, a massive stratovolcano, went through a series of eruptions that coated a 10,000 mile area in lava-covered ash. Over the course of centuries, wind and water erosion wore away the softer parts, until only sculpted fragments of volcanic rock remained perched atop pillars of hard-packed ash. At Goreme, a valley of dark-headed spears and oddly balanced platters formed – an unusual natural wonder known as a fairy chimneys.

From the 7th century CE (current era) on, the Erciyes valley acted as a highway for Arab invaders headed deeper into Asia Minor. The area was raided constantly, its villages and cities razed until only but a few fortresses remained in the now depopulated wasteland.

Goreme area, Turkey

Beginning in the 10th century CE, the oft-persecuted Syriac Christians and Armenians settled the area in the face of this constant threat. However, the Syriac Christians possessed a special gift for making homes and fortresses out of the natural terrain as a defense against traveling raiders and other unfriendly forces. At Goreme, (which means, “you cannot see here”), the Syriacs carved their houses directly into the hardened volcanic rock of the fairy chimney’s, thus creating one of the more unusual housing projects of the ancient world. Those who would be killed upon the tip of a spear learned to live within the tips of the largest natural spears of their world. Have to love the irony of this.

The spear tip homes are still occupied today as residences, hotels, shops and more and are maintained as an active tourist attraction by friendly and serene locals.

Alien hive towers in the movie Pitch Black bear an odd resemblance to fairy chimneys.

How does this relate to writers? Glad you asked. It can be said that the environment shapes human action and reaction as much as it is shaped by our presence. When considering setting, what unusual features are present in your world that can be used in a new and unique way, like the fairy chimneys, to thrill a reader? Take a look at the picture of Goreme and compare it with the one to the side – the alien hive spires from the movie Pitch Black (sorry for the blurriness, it was the best pic I could find). Humans, aliens or perhaps an odd breed of dwarf or troll – what will inhabit the Goreme of your world?


Kandovan, Iran

In the northwest corner of Iran is the home of the worlds largest termite colony. Well, at least that is how it would appear to a casual traveler from a distance. Kandovan was formed after layers of volcanic ash from Mount Sahand were worn down to hardened pillars similar to those at Goreme, only without the specialized tips. Softer material at first, but just as hard after elemental forging.

The origins of Kandovan’s occupation are a bit sketchy, either those fleeing from the advancing Mongol hoard or late period Assyrians driven out at the collapse of their empire serving is the top candidates. Regardless, the first occupiers found the caves pitting these ash-rock pillars useful for both hiding and housing. They expanded the natural pits, hollowing out the pillars to form 2 to 4 story residences with many of them connected by a network of underground tunnels – handy if an invader happens along. And, of course, they did from time to time. The lowest floor was typically used as a stable while the residents lived and slept above (the smell – which may be the most forgotten thing about past eras).

How would you like to live in this apartment complex?

Modern day Kandovan serves as a tourist destination and spa with the unusual mineral water of the area believed to act as a cure for kidney ailments. As in Goreme, the ancient pillars continue to act as homes, hotels and shops for the current population.

How have the denizens of your world shaped their natural environment? Are they using all the tools that are available to them or do they live in pre-fab medieval/synth-plastic structures?

Goreme or Kandovan would be well at home on Tatooine, Arrakis (Dune) or the desolate broken lands of a fantasy world. One only needs a volcano in the distance (active or not), a steady wind and presence of water (current or lost beneath the sands) to create the basic environment of the fairy chimneys.

Listen. Can you hear the moan of the wind as it winds through pillars of ash? The soft hiss of sand and rock grains drawn away, rasping through a forest of rock? Think this would work as a paranormal setting? A place where horror visits the lost? Where dark beings, human, or not quite, wait for the setting of the sun? I do.

From ancient times to the deepest explorations of space, the fairy chimneys are ready for travel. What will live in your termite towers or wind-hardened spear tips? Only you can decide.

Join me next week when we move from earth above to earth below. Any thoughts on the fairy chimneys? Have you ever visited a fairy chimney in your travels? What do you think would be a fun use of this setting? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Peaceful Journeys!

About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. โ€œOnly the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,โ€ sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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14 Responses to Designing from Bones ~ Fairy Chimneys

  1. Great post. I’ve never heard of these places but the references to Dune, Tatooine, and Pitch Black totally make sense. Truth is stranger than fiction ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. authormarieandrews says:

    Fascinating! A bit spooky too…especially seeing the way they look in the dark. My imagination goes straight to somewhat of a steampunk horror story with mechanical spiders and how they trap unsuspecting travelers inside their lairs of volcanic ash. *shivers* ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for another amazing post Gene!!

  3. Great read, Gene. The land certainly affects us on a multitude of levels. I’m most interested in how these formations might have inspired ancient peoples to create stories about them, myths to explain them, and rituals to worship the events that created them. There’s a lot of great inspiration to mine from the lay of the land ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. lynnkelleyauthor says:

    I’ve never heard of these places, and they’re fascinating. You’re right about them being perfect for a paranormal book. I’d love to see what the insides look like. I wonder if there were inscriptions on the walls, how high the ceilings were, if they had furniture? So many questions. Thanks for sharing the fairy chimneys and the other natural dwellings with us. I’m intrigued!

  5. Loved this post. Spent four days in the Cappadocia in September of 2010. It was part of a two week honeymoon in Turkey. The rock formations through the whole area are just amazing. It is like you are on another planet! I did a post on this myself though I didn’t go into great detail. You can check out some of my pics here:

  6. Reetta Raitanen says:

    Fascinating places! It’s cool how Goreme and Pitch Black alien hive towers resemble each others. My imagination is tingling.

  7. These are so cool! I’ve never heard of them, but love the look of all the structures. They do resemble little faerie homes. It’s amazing to me that someone had the foresight to dig into them and make a house. I wonder how long it took them to carve out the center with all those windows. The spear tip houses, too. I’d love to go see these for myself and I’m fairly certain something like this will make its way into Book 2. Thanks for the inspiration, Gene!

  8. Patricia says:

    I love the pictures, even though the second one is quite phallic. Not sure I’d want to live in a giant . . . um . . . goreme. It’s always interesting to me how humans have adapted to their surroundings and used their creative minds to design wonderful things.

    Another great post, Gene.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  9. Jenny Hansen says:

    Doesn’t ANYONE else have the same dirty mind I do?? I love the history, the stories and the nostalgia of this post (as I do any of your DfB posts) but I looked at the pictures and started laughing.

  10. Great post – have to admit, those houses – well they give a new meaning to the phrase ‘a rude hut’.

    On a MUCH more seemly and swholesome note, apparently C. S. Lewis used Middle Eastern houses as inspiration for some of his Calormen settings in the Narnia stories.

    Matthew Wright

  11. Pingback: Mind Sieve 4/23/12 « Gloria Oliver

  12. Pigeon Heart says:

    Awesome post! You make me wanna go. Ah!

  13. Pingback: Designing from Bones ~ Royal Mountains Majesty | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

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