Cappadocia in Turkish Kapadokya

It's name was probably derived from Katpatuka, land of the beautiful horses, in Hittite language. Cappadocia is generally regarded as the plains and the mountainous region of eastern central Anatolia around the upper and middle reaches of the river Kizilirmak (Red River). It was here that several ancient highways crossed and different cultures came into contact with each other. It was also the land of the Hittites. The sparsely inhabited landscape of Cappadocia is characterized by red sandstone and salt deposits of the Miocene (Tertiary) period. However, the relatively small areas of fertile soil on volcanic tuff is where the population tends to concentrate. This southern part of Cappadocia, the more densely populated, is often spoken of as the heart of the region and yet it lies in the extreme south-western corner. As well as cereals, Cappadocia is best known for potatoes, fruits and wine. Here you can taste some of the best examples of Turkish Cuisine.

The origins of this unusual region can be traced to the Tertiary period some 50million years ago, when craters and chimneys dominated the landscape. Since then huge quantities of volcanic material have spewed out of the many volcanoes. Forces of erosion have shaped the incredible and unique Cappadocian tuff-coned landscape. For hundreds of years men have dug into the soft but firm tuff to create dwellings, monasteries, churches and underground cities.

Fairy Chimneys under snow The history of Cappadocia began in prehistoric times. Hatti culture (2500-2000 BC.) had its way during the Bronze Age and in about the 2nd Millennium BC. the Hittites settled in the region. Soon the Assyrians (2000-1800 BC.) had established their trading posts. Phrygians probably ruled Cappadocia from 1250 BC., but the Lydians were expelled by the middle of the 6th century BC by the Persians who ruled until 334 BC. In AD 17 the region became a Roman province, trade and military routes were built and urban centers and settlements were encourage. Once Asia Minor came under Christian influence, the first Christian communities appeared in Cappadocia and those persecuted for their religious beliefs elsewhere sought refuge in the region. Cappadocia thus became a melting pot of a variety of ethnic groups, all of which have influenced the culture and religious beliefs. Basilius the Great (329-379 AD), bishop of Caesarea (modern day Kayseri), inspired many religious colonies and for a thousand years an active monastic way of life endured throughout Cappadocia. Invasions first from Turkmenistan and Mongolia and then from Seljuks and Ottomans put an end to the movement.

a frescoe from the Rock Churches There are many places to "must see" in Cappadocia like; Fairy Chimneys, Göreme Valley National Park and rock churches, underground cities of Kaymakli, Derinkuyu or Ozkonak, Zelve Valley and Pasabag, Avanos with its pottery and carpets, Uçhisar rock fortress, Ortahisar rock fortress, Ürgüp, Ihlara valley, Soganli, Sinasos and Hacibektas. In the summer (from May to November) several alternative tours can be arranged: Hot air balloon trip over the chimneys, trekking, walking, horse riding, motorbike or mountain biking around the valleys.

Kaymakli Underground City
This the widets underground city of cappadocia region, it was carved out underneath a rock hill (Kaymakli Castle). The first three floors were probably carved out by Hittites about 2000 B.C.  After that; Assyrians, Lycians, Persians, Kimmerians settled down in the region. By the forth century B.C. the world famous greek comander Alexander the great occupied the region and become dominant. İn the year of 1000 B.C. Cappadocia Kingdom was established. The kingdom made war against Mecodomans, Galatians, Romans and Pontuses. The Romans occupied the region in the beginning of the 1st. Century B.C. Roman empire accepted Christran Religion in 376 A.D. Before that romans didn’t have official religion, Eraly Christian suffered a lot from the romans, Pagans and arab invaders. There fore they refugied in the Underground cities and they enlarged them. Kaymakli Underground city was opened to the public in 1964. People of the town built their housed around the underground city and they linked their houses to the underground city with the underground tunnels. First floors of the underground city served as stables for the domestic animals, because upper floors were higher and convenient for this use. On the second floor a lying down blocking stone, some living rooms, cometery and Christian Church are available. On the third floor too many storage rooms, mill stone to make flour, wineries to make wine and wine cellars to store wine. In some of the wine cellars, some of the broken wine jugs can be seen.

On the forth floor, there are some more wineries and grape storages. A long gallery leads people to the communial hitchen, In the kitchen too many food storage areas, ovens, a kind of hard stone which served multi functions, such as morter, melting copper, barricade to block the passage to stop enemies (bazalt or andezit stone).

In the underground city there are some main galleries and inside them same sub division were carved out make the city very complicated to make the enemies confused. There were also some wide areas where some of the important matters were talked and ceremanies were hold. The ventilation shaft is vertical and passes all floors down like on the elevator in an apartment. The depth of the ventilation shaft is abaut 120 meters in total. The underground city was originally carved out as eight floors (eight storoyed), how ever four floors are visitable. In war time about 5000 people refigied in.

Nevsehir is a regional transport hub and provincial town for the surrounding area. It's close enough to the sites of Cappadocia to make it practical as a base from which to tour, but it doesn't have the same 'charm' as the smaller Cappadocian towns and villages. Useful place to find buses and any bus coming from the west will stop here on the way through. The city is about 30 km to Tuzkoy airport and 100 km to Kayseri airport. It's 1150 meters above sea level, experience a Continental climate, has a population of 283,247 (2012), and an area of 5.467 square km.

Hotels and Pansiyons are plentiful here but the size of the place makes it a little tricky to get around without your own transport. It's useful to know that you can find services here that aren't available in the wilds of the interior but with any luck you won't need them.

It does have a decent archaeological and ethnographical museum with Byzantine, Hittite, Roman and Ottoman artifacts and a couple of interesting mosques that are worth a visit if you are here for the day.

Goreme Open Air Museum
This is the one place that everybody who comes through Cappadocia goes. It's a nicely packaged instant version of what the whole area has to offer and it's a good place to start.

The open air museum is about 2 km from the town of Göreme itself and you can comfortably walk it. Walking in Cappadocia is usually fun anyway. As you approach you'll pass the bus park on your right, complete with its row of souvenir shops, and on your left the buckle church (Tokali kilise), one of the finest examples of frescoes in the area. Entrance is included when you buy your ticket at the main gate so you'll probably end up visiting it on the way out of the museum. Try not to forget it.

It is impossible to give details of all the churches and rooms in the valley here as you could easily spend half a day wondering about and looking at them all. Basically what you'll find is the remains of a monastic community who made their home in this valley. Most people are struck by the frescoes and the quality of these varies from excellent to very tatty. Keep an eye open for the strange symbolic decorations in some of the smaller churches and chapels. Bear in mind when buying your ticket that the Karanlik church (recently restored and with the freshest frescoes) is not included in the price and will cost you extra.

Over the last 2 years or so an extensive protection program has been put into place. The churches are very prone to erosion and to prevent this they are slowly being covered with a resilient artificial surface designed to halt their gradual destruction by nature. This looks kind of weird at first glance but it makes sense.

The frescoes that many tourists come to see can be divided up into Pre and Post-Iconoclastic. The earlier works rely entirely on symbolism to communicate their messages and may look childish and simple in comparison to later works. Their form is a result of the early church's disapproval of the portrayal of the human form in religious art. The works which postdate the resolution of the Iconoclastic controversy (mid 9th Century - see Ecumenical Councils) are much more figurative. It is interesting to compare them and realize that both styles are telling the same stories of Christ and the Saints.

Avanos is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, the Red River, which gets its name from the clay that it deposits. This clay has provided Avanos with pottery for centuries and the town is still dominated by this industry despite the inroads that tourism has made in the area. The main street has numerous shops and workshops selling plain and decorated pots and plates and you can watch the potters at work using kick wheels, the design of which has remained unchanged for generations. Many of the workshops will encourage you to have a go yourself. It's harder than it looks.

Avanos is a possible base for exploring Cappadocia with accommodation and services available at reasonable rates. The town has retained some of its charm and is a pleasant place to spend half a day or to stop for lunch. The town has a tourist targeted Hammam (Turkish bath) which is popular with tour groups and is also close to the Selcuk built Yellow Caravanserai, a restored Han (travelers 'service station'), and the Özkonak Underground city, a smaller version of those at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

Uchisar castle in winterIf you're not looking for a party Uçhisar makes an excellent base from which to explore the unique Cappadocian landscape. It's a sleepy little town, less dominated by the tourist trade than Göreme or Avanos and with an atmosphere that can fool you into thinking you're in Turkey in the late 70's rather than the late 90's.

There are some pleasant mid-range and cheap hotels and pensions here and food is acceptable at several establishments. Uçhisar's Kale or fortress is visible for miles around and has become the town's major tourist attraction, offering, as it does, fine views over the surrounding countryside.

Uçhisar is also a good place to begin a walking tour from because it's down hill in every direction and because you can take in Pigeon Valley, named for it's myriad nesting holes carved to encourage said birds.

Ortahisar, meaning middle fortress in Turkish, is 6 km from Ürgüp and about 10 km from Nevsehir city center. The village is at 1200 meters above sea level with about 4,000 inhabitants, and its name is coming from a massive 90 meter high rock, similar to Uçhisar. This rock was used for many centuries since the Hittite period as a castle to protect local inhabitants from invaders and to scout the region. There are many rooms and tunnels inside, and the top is accessible by a staircase. Once you get on top, there is a breathtaking view of Cappadocia and the Erciyes mountain at the background. Carved tuff rooms around the village are used as a natural cool depot to store citrus, apple, potatoes etc. The village is surrounded by vineyards as well.

Besides this castle-rock, there are several churches in and around Ortahisar from early Christians; Sarica church, Kepez church, Pancarlik church, Tavsanli church, Cambazli church, Balkan stream church, Hallac dere hospital and monastic complex, and Uzumlu church in Kuzulcukur area. These are all Turkish names given by the local people, not their original names.

There is a private Ethnography museum in Ortahisar, recently opened in 2004 and showing examples from the daily village life, agriculture, kitchen, carpet weaving, Hammam, Henna night and marriage. It also has a cafeteria and a restaurant to relax and enjoy the local food.

The unfortunately named Ürgüp is probably the busiest of the small towns in the vicinity of the Cappadocian sites. It's possibly the tastiest as well, recent development has mushroomed leaving a grim legacy of poorly designed and serviced buildings. The road down into the town however does take you past some pleasant rock carved dwellings, accommodation and restaurants. It's worth wondering around the old town for a taste of what the place must have been like before we all arrived.

This said it does offer services, such as banking, which are a little scarce elsewhere. It has a scattering of hotels and pensions of varying degrees of sophistication and a couple of good places to eat. The town has also a certain night life with small bars and discos.

A strong contender for favorite place status, the Zelve monastery complex is situated about 10 km out from Göreme on the Avanos road. Lacking the elaborate frescoes of Göreme and other sites there's still plenty here to see. The series of valleys can provide you with a couple of hours walking, climbing and crawling about and in addition to the marked highlights (the Fish and Grape churches) there are innumerable rooms and passages to look at.

Zelve was inhabited until quite recently but you can almost see the place crumbling before your very eyes. There's probably an element of risk involved in exploring too enthusiastically but a guide should be able to balance the thrill of stumbling through pitch black tunnels by torchlight with an element of safety.

It's probably a good idea to make the most of the place while there's still something to see. There seems little chance of a restoration scheme along the lines of that in place at Göreme and even if tourists were to stop visiting today natural erosion processes do their damage every winter.

Ihlara Valley
The Ihlara valley is very nice. Removed a little from the rest of the Cappadocian sites it can be a little tricky to get to but it's worth a full day if you can spare one. The gorge is 16 km long and both sides are lined with rock carved churches, about 100 in all. You can look at the more important of these in a couple of hours but it's very pleasant to spend an afternoon following the river down the valley and exploring on your own.

The climb down to and especially up from the gorge can be demanding and probably shouldn't be attempted if you're feeling frail. To make the most of your time here a full day and a picnic is a good idea and will repay the effort in terms of a relaxed days pottering about admiring the churches and the valley's beautiful scenery.