In Turkey, it's a hairy affair–literally.
By now, the appeal of Cappadocia’s hot air balloons is well-documented, but what else is there? Plenty, as it turns out. Let’s start with the basics: Cappadocia isn’t actually a city, contrary to popular belief. It is a historic region located in Central Anatolia and comprises five provinces: Aksaray, Nevşehir, Niğde, Kayseri, and Kırşehir. Most visitors end up staying in the tourism hub of Göreme, a town in Nevşehir, but a day trip to nearby Avanos comes highly recommended.
Anchored in the art of pottery, it’s located on the aptly named Red River, where the red clay deposits that lie on its banks have been used to make household products since the Hittite period. These origins have translated into a laidback town that’s home to countless pottery demonstrations, galleries, and stores. One pottery shop, in particular, Chez Galip, has found fame (infamy, even) because of what lies beneath. Here, stone stairs are hidden behind a hanging kilim rug that’s now weathered lead down to one of the world’s strangest museums. Not for the squeamish, the Hair Museum of Avanos was founded by ceramic artist Galip Körükçü practically by accident.
An intern-turned-friend snipped off a lock of her hair as a memento when she was getting ready to leave Avanos—this was back in 1979. “She had wonderful hair, so I asked her to cut a little as something to remember her by,” he recalls. “A customer asked me about it, and when I told her the story, she was impressed and did the same. Then, two more female visitors offered their hair, and I accepted. And so it continued. I didn’t expect our museum to grow like this. It also entered the Guinness World Records in 1998.”
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Today, the hair of an estimated five million women from around the world (Colombia, Lebanon, Belarus, and beyond) adorns every last inch of this subterranean space, ceilings included. They vary in color, length, luminosity, and texture, while a pair of scissors at hand patiently awaits further donations. And twice a year, in June and December, the first visitor to Chez Galip is invited down to the museum to choose ten locks off the walls. The women they belong to are then invited back to Cappadocia for a week of free board, lodging, and pottery workshops.
Entry to this crowdsourced attraction costs a mere five Turkish lira ($0.28), but to the disappointment of visitors, photography isn’t allowed as each ‘exhibit’ is attached to a slip of paper bearing the donor’s name, address, and country of origin, echoing the strands that started this tradition. As for Galip’s stance on collecting the hair of men? No, thank you. Many incorrectly assume that he only collects and displays the hair of women because he has three daughters, and no sons. “I started this museum when I was single, then became a father to three daughters after I got married,” he clarifies. “My first daughter is older, the other two are identical twins. But I don’t display the hair of only women just because I have girls.”
Interestingly, the symbolism of hair–for all genders–dates back millennia. Pterelaus, the King of Taphos in Greek mythology, was granted golden hair that made him immortal and unconquerable–so long as the hair grew on his head. Siddhartha Gautama (better known as the Buddha) cut off his long hair when he decided to renounce secular life and achieve enlightenment. Devout Amish men grow ZZ Top-esque beards once they get married, mirroring the mention of beards in the Bible. In the Rastafari religion, dreadlocks are meant to resemble the mane of a lion, the powerful animal representing former emperor Haile Selassie (whom Rastafarians worship as the Messiah). And in the Himba tribe of Namibia, lustrous hair and thick braids are seen as a woman’s ability to bear healthy children.
To Galip, hair has understandably come to represent peace. “Cappadocia is a place that welcomes people from all over the world, and most of the female guests who stop by the museum leave a lock. With the hair of women from all over coexisting here, I think it has become a symbol for world peace. It started with a love story, grew with women’s solidarity, and now lives together in peace.” Incidentally, the Hair Museum of Avanos is the last remaining shrine of sorts to human hair. Located in Missouri, the equally unique Leila’s Hair Museum was rooted in celebrating the Victorian obsession with hair art, but shuttered its doors in 2021.
We couldn’t help but question what Galip will do with his ever-growing collection once he retires. “Some of our visitors who donated their hair may be dead, but their hair is still intact,” he muses, casting the tresses in a somewhat morbid light. “I have no dreams of retirement. I am now approaching 70 years old, but I continue to be active in my working life. I founded the hair museum, but I want to gift it to humanity in the name of world peace.”