It seems like a long time ago, in the very beginning of human evolution. Caves were human’s first home. That is where we learnt to live within a “space”. For the first time, there was a divide between outside and inside. The two separate worlds – one was dangerous, the other was secure. From simply satisfying the need of safety, gradually, caves became homes. A place where man began to seek comfort. Today, it is very obvious for all of us to live in a house. A house that has walls and boundaries. A house that has modern day comforts. A house that we feel safe in. These holes in the rocks, were foundation of how human civilization developed its sense about spaces.
To understand the founding ideas of space design and architecture, I needed to go back in time and start from the very scratch. I had almost built my time-machine to fly thousands of years back but then, I met Ibrahim.
“Hello, How are you? Would you like to come in and have some tea? I don’t charge any money. You are most welcome in my home.” He cried out from the terrace on the hill where we, the two travelers, were lost while hiking off-route. There was not a flutter of sound between the huge hills and no sign of any other human presence. At first, my mind which has been hammered with negative stories by our daily news media, hesitated to climb up on his stone piled stairs. But before I could make any judgement whether to trust his peaceful and calm face, my feet had already started to climb up. “Welcome”, greeting us with a smile, he approached us with his little black kitten that he had just found that day lying in the rocks, his suspicious dog and his hyperactive sheep. The rock terrace was filled with strange collection of items – a big bench covered with Turkish carpets, an antique style carved sofa, a big empty bucket of yogurt and a lot of discarded wooden furniture. Behind the terrace, hidden in the rock, there was an arch and a door inside it. He noticed curiosity in our eyes and asked “that is my home. Would you like to see?”. Oh ya. It was like someone just pressed the green button on my time machine. It was a door not only to a cave but to his home where many generations of his family had lived.
I know what you are thinking. Were there paintings on the wall?
Well, No. But there were king size beds, electric heater, a fully functional kitchen and a nice shower ! This is the irony of time. The change in the human lifecycle is so much faster than the change in nature, that we end up recognizing only the changes that we bring onto the world. The caves have been here for millions of years and have seen many generations of human life in different forms. This is the 21st century portrait of human life living in the caves.
Ibrahim is no fanatic. He is neither eccentric nor primitive. And yes, he did not come here to seek enlightenment. He is simply living in his family home. Not only Ibrahim, a large population of Cappadocia, a region in Turkey, has been living in caves since a very long time. Making their home in the holes of the widespread volcanic rock formations, Cappadocians have shown how man and nature together can live and evolve with time.
The very purpose why the local people still continue to live here, remains the same as it was thousand years ago. They love the caves. Caves form a natural space in the rocks which keeps the inner temperature constant throughout the year – no matter how cold or hot it is outside. Most caves suitable for habitation are cozy and smaller in spaces compared to what we are used to living in today’s modern city life. Turkey, specially the Cappadocia region has many underground cities carved out of the rocks. These cities were created largely by christian monks who were looking for a space to hide from the Roman attacks. These caves, each carved out by hand have the low ceilings, the soft walls and interweaving spaces, each telling a story of its own as well as connecting the dots of the history. The architecture that we have grown up with is locked in a box.Our space is “rectangle”, at least for most of us who live in city houses, work in offices, exercise in gyms and goes out to restaurants. We are used to having corners, in our homes and often in our thoughts and even in relationships. Today, the modern caves in the same Cappadocia region are carved out using machines, like some parts of Ibrahim’s cave house which he extended over the last years are rectangular. I wonder how did we learn to build our spaces in straight lines when nothing in nature was given to us that way. Perhaps, it was the invention of wheel or perhaps it was the industrialization that created tools that transformed the curving womb like spaces into a rectangular industrial box.
Caves remind us that humans did not learn to live in a box. Sometimes, things are so obvious that we stop questioning them. It is not wrong to live in a box like spaces. Perhaps that is the need of the hour. Perhaps that is the best fit for our industrialized furniture and equipment. Perhaps the box, is, the cave of the 21st century man which fulfills all the needs of its time, the way the caves in the rocks did for the caveman.
So, the caves aren’t really yet extinct, are they?
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– Bansri (20 August, 2015)