The unique landscape of Cappadocia has become one of the star attractions of Turkey. Despite being plastered across tour brochures, however, it still retains much of the mystique that makes it so enchanting. While the dryness and omnipresent dust give an impression of barrenness, the volcanic tuff that forms the land is exceedingly fertile, and the peculiar formations of soft, dusty rock have been populated for millennia. The area’s major appeal has to be its startlingly dramatic vistas – light dancing over fields of fairy chimneys and still-inhabited rock caves dotted throughout modern villages. Both local wine, produced since Hittite times, and the renowned pottery works fashioned from the clay of the Kızılırmak River, are still key crafts. In addition, the horses from which the region takes its name – Cappadocia translates from Hittite as “land of the beautiful horses” – still play a big role in local life, and make a popular way for visitors to explore the region.
The most famous sites are located within a triangle delineated by the roads connecting Nevşehir, Avanos and Ürgüp. This region holds the greater part of the valleys of fairy chimneys; the rock-cut churches of the Göreme Open-Air Museum, with their beautiful frescoes; and the Zelve Open-Air Museum, a fascinating warren of troglodyte dwellings and churches. Nevşehir, the largest town, is an important travel hub, while Ürgüp and its neighbouring villages, Göreme, Çavuşin, Uçhisar and Ortahisar, all make attractive bases for tours of the surrounding valleys. Avanos, beautifully situated on the Kızılırmak River, is the centre of the local pottery industry.
A little further out, the underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı are astonishingly sophisticated labyrinths that attest to the ingenuity of the ancient inhabitants. The Ihlara valley near Aksaray, a red canyon riddled with churches cut into its sides, is perhaps the most spectacular sight not to have yet felt the full force of tourism. Kayseri has long been a quiet provincial capital, recommended for its Selçuk architecture and bazaars, and side-trips out to the ski resort on Erciyes Dağı and the Sultansazlığı bird sanctuary. To the south, attractions around the town of Niğde include the Eski Gümüşler monastery, whose frescoes rival the more famous examples in Göreme.
The earliest known settlers in the Cappadocia region were the Hatti, whose capital, Hattuşaş, was located north of Nevşehir. The growth of the Hattic civilization was interrupted by the arrival of large groups of Indo-European immigrants from Western Europe, the Hittites. After the fall of the Hittite Empire, around 1200 BC, the region was controlled to varying degrees and at different times by its neighbouring kingdoms, Lydia and Phrygia in the west, and Urartu in the east. This continued until the middle of the sixth century BC, when the Lydian king Croesus was defeated by the Persians under Cyrus the Great.
Saved from Persian rule by the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 BC, Cappadocia subsequently enjoyed independence for 350 years, until it became a Roman province with Kayseri (Caesarea) as its capital. Despite this nominal annexation, effective independence was ensured in the following centuries by the relative lack of interest of the Roman and Byzantine rulers, whose only real concerns were to control the roads (and thereby keep open eastern trading routes), and to extort tributes. Meanwhile the locals existed in much the same way as they do now, living in rock-hewn dwellings or building houses out of local stone, and relying on agriculture, viniculture and livestock breeding.
This neglect, combined with the influence of an important east–west trading route, enabled various faiths, creeds and philosophies to flourish. Christianity was introduced in the first century by St Paul; suffering from increasingly frequent attacks by Arab raiders, the new Christian communities sought refuge in the hills, where they carved out dwelling places, churches and monasteries.
The Selçuk Turks arrived in the eleventh century, quickly establishing good relations with the local communities and channelling their energy into improving trade routes and building the kervansarays that are strung along these roads to this day. After the Selçuk Empire was defeated by the Mongols in the middle of the thirteenth century, Cappadocia was controlled by the Karaman dynasty, based in Konya, until it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the fourteenth century. The last Christian Greeks left the area in the 1920s, during the exchange of populations by the Greek and Turkish governments.Read More
The small village of MUSTAFAPAŞA, 6km south of Ürgüp, makes for a pleasant excursion or, with your own transport, a good base for explorations. Its charm lies in its concentration of attractive konaks with carved house facades, which date back a century or so to the era when it was known as Sinasos and home to a thriving Greek community.
Mustafapaşa is also central to a cluster of little-visited churches. Its main square holds the Aios Konstantine Eleni Kilisesi (daily: summer 8am–7pm, winter 8am–5pm; TL3), dedicated to Constantine and his mother St Helena, while a monastery complex across the village, reached via streets of houses cut into the tuff cliffs, includes the churches of Aya Nicolas and Aya Stefanos.
The church of Ayios Vasilios, overlooking the Üzengı Dere ravine, holds some well-preserved frescoes, although the faces are damaged, as well as four rock-cut pillars. Below it, pre-Iconoclastic and tenth-century paintings in the partly rock-cut Holy Cross church include an attractive Christ of the Second Coming.
- Southern Cappadocia
With its cool mountain climate and fertile volcanic soils, Cappadocia is blessed with the ideal climate for growing grapes. Wine making here dates back four thousand years, and many vineyards remain small and family run. Their crops are used for both wine and grape juice, as well as being boiled to produce pekmez, a sweet grape syrup. Local wines are celebrated in Ürgüp’s International Wine Festival, held each October, and can be sampled on vineyard tours (try Kocabağ Kav Butik or Turasan).
The geological formation of Cappadocia
The geological formation of Cappadocia
The peaks of three volcanoes – Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz Dağları – dominate Cappadocia. It was their eruptions, which covered the former plateau of Ürgüp in ash and mud some thirty million years ago, that provided the region’s raw material: tuff, formed by compressed volcanic ash. Erosion has worked on this soft stone ever since, to form the valleys and curious fairy chimney rock formations for which the region is so famous.
The original eruptions created a vast erosion basin, dipping slightly towards the Kızılırmak River, which marks an abrupt division between the fantasy landscapes of rocky Cappadocia and the green farmland around Kayseri. Where the tuff is mixed with rock, usually basalt, the erosion process can result in the famous cone-shape chimneys: the tuff surrounding the basalt is worn away, until it stands at the top of a large cone. Eventually the underpart is eaten away to such an extent that it can no longer hold its capital: the whole thing collapses and the process starts again.
In the Cemil valley, near Mustafapaşa, the cones give way to tabular formations – table mountains – caused by the deep grooves made by rivers in the harder geological layers. Another important region lies northwest of the Melendiz mountain range – the valley of the Melendiz Suyu, or Ihlara valley. The most individual feature of this region is the red canyon through which the river flows, probably the most beautiful of all the Cappadocian landscapes.
Christianity in Cappadocia
Christianity in Cappadocia
Cappadocia today holds more than a thousand churches, dating from the earliest days of Christianity to the thirteenth century. For many centuries the religious authority of the capital of Cappadocia, Caesarea (present-day Kayseri), extended over the whole of southeast Anatolia, and it was where Gregory the Illuminator, the evangelizer of Armenia, was raised. The region also produced some of the greatest early ecclesiastical writers, including the fourth-century Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa.
By the start of the eighth century, the political power of Cappadocia’s increasing number of monks was beginning to cause concern, leading to the closure of monasteries and confiscation of their property. The worst period of repressive activity occurred during the reign of Constantine V, marked by the Iconoclastic Council of 754. All sacred images, except the cross, were forbidden, a ruling that had a profound effect on the creative life of the region’s churches.
After the restoration of the cult of images in 843, the religious activity of Cappadocia saw a renewed vigour. The wealth of the Church increased to such an extent that in 964 monastery building was prohibited, an edict only withdrawn in 1003. Meanwhile, the religious communities were brought to heel, controlled to a greater extent by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even though Cappadocia continued to be a centre of religious activity well into the Ottoman period, it had lost the artistic momentum that had produced the extraordinary works of earlier centuries.