Combined forces of mankind and nature have created three wonders of Cappadocia- its “fairy chimneys” (coneshaped pillars of tuff capped with basalt) in the unique valleys that look like another planet, ancient underground cities and 1500-year old rock cut Christian churches. All of it is concentrated in the area of approximately 100×100 km in the central part of Turkey. Humans first set foot in the region about 10,000 years ago. Then, from 3,500 to 1,200 BC Cappadocia was a part of a powerful Hittite state. Phrygians took over the administration in the 8th century BC. Five hundred years later they were replaced by Persians. Alexander the Great occupied the territory in 333 BC. Cappadocia’s past history includes being a Roman state, a part of the Byzantine Empire, a place where many early Christian saints including St.Paul found a shelter, where they lived and taught. Finally, Cappadocia has become a noticable region of modern Turkey with predominant importance of agriculture and tourism.
WHAT TO SEE AND WHERE: Fairy Chimneys were created as a result of wind and water erosion when small harder pieces of rock remained on top of larger and softer rock columns. This out-of-this-world landscape impressed George Lucas so much that his original plan was to shoot some Star Wars’ episodes in this area. Located in a spectacular valley between towns of Nevseshir and Urgup there are very different, interesting fairy chimneys. UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage Site. Some of the fairy chimneys have been inhabited for many years, with rooms, windows and staircases being laboriously curved inside creating up to 5-storey structures inside. Today some of these are also providing services to tourism as pensions.
The largest of 36 underground cities in the area is at Derinkuyu. It is at a distance of 29 km from Nevsehir, the provincial center of 7,000 people. Derinkuyu underground city is located under a hill, was found by chance and opened to the public in 1965. It covers a 4 square km area and was calculated as able to shelter 2,000 households on 7 floors beneath the surface, reaching a depth of 70 to 85 meters. Archeologists tend to believe that the Hittites were the starters of the underground communities which in the 6th and 7th were expanded by early Christians into a very extensive complexes with air shafts, kitchens, living quarters, churches, water wells, horse stables and wine cellars. These elaborate subterranean systems were used by the people who had accepted Christianity against their enemies both as a shelter and as a safe place to carry out their worship. Next largest underground city is at Kaymakly, 20 km from Nevsehir. Despite of the fact that only four underground levels have been excavated, there are speculations that there can be as many as 11 in total. There is also a tunnel that connects the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu (9 km long!) that has a width of of over 2 meters, but unfortunatley it is not opened to the public as parts of the tunnel have collapsed.
Among other significant underground communities in the region we should mention the underground monastery of Ozkonak and the Tatlarin underground city with existing Christian frescoes. Rock cut Christian churches. It is estimated that over 400 Christian churches, chapels and monasteries were built in Cappadocia during the Byzantine period until the 13th century. Most of them were hollowed out in fairy chimneys, hills and in underground caves. The Tokali church is the largest one in the region, it was built in the beginning of the 10th century.
Decorated with a cycle containing the life of Jesus, it is located right in the town of Goreme. The Karanlik church, also located in Goreme is among best preserved in Cappadocia with lively paintings depicting the consecration of Jesus, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the apostles. The Eskigumus rock cut monastery (close to the town of Nigde) is the only one where you can see a frescoe with smiling Virgin Mary. Recent discovery of the monastery in 1963 allowed it to escape vandalism to which many of the Cappadocian churches and monasteries were subjected. Well-preserved wall paintings decorate the spacious main church are known to be one of the best examples of the Byzantine art in all of Cappadocia.
Other attractions in the area include but not limited to:
museums in Aksaray, Nevsehir, Goreme, Nigde, Kayseri;
fortress of Ortahisar, the spectacular Devrent Valley;
Seljuk history relics such as Karatay Madrasah, many mosques and caravansaries in Konya;
hot springs in Nar-Golu and Guzelyurt where also one of the oldest existing churches in the area- Kizil Kilise (Red Church) is located, a 6th century artifact;
mountain climbing and mountain skiing at the Erciyes Dagi mountain (3916m above sea level);
hot air ballooning.
WHEN TO GO: Cappadocia has a steppe climate, there is a great temperature difference between day and night. The average temperature is 23 deg.C (73 F) in summer and -2 deg.C (28 F) in winter. It is cooler and drier than in the popular tourist areas of the Mediterranean and the Aegean coasts. April to middle of June and September-October are the best months to visit.
GETTING THERE: Ankara, the Turkey’s capital city is only 350km away. You will find all necessary local contact phone numbers, price quotes and dining recommendations by following these links: Goreme – Nevsehir. Tours to Cappadocia are offered by almost all travel agencies in Turkey, although they are all too short allowing you just enough time for brief sightseeing. Tour guides tend to spend too much of your time at local pottery and carpet shops. We recommend you to rent a car in Ankara (usually $ 75-100 USD/day, check rental prices ) and drive to Cappadocia on your own, or put together a little group and hire a minivan together with a local driver/travel guide (a car and driver would cost you $85- 135 USD/day).
TRAVEL TIPS: Local travel books, information booklets are available on the spot in Cappadocia’s towns. If travelling on your own, a detailed road map would definitely be a must to buy before leaving home. Modest clothes are suggested for women. The rural Turkey’s culture is conservative and immodest clothing (short skirts, shorts, tight clothing) can invite unwanted attention. Do not forget a sun hat, sun protecting lotion, comfortable shoes. Plan ahead to spend at least two full days in the area.
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Stan Trof is the editor and owner of http://www.travelmake.com – one of leading online discount travel agencies, a source of useful travel information.