The name Cappadocia (Kapadokya in Turkish) is believed to have come from the Old Persian Katpatuka meaning ‘land of beautiful horses’ this sentiment remains significant today as horses still feature strongly in the area.
A trip to Cappadocia should surely feature on every traveller’s itinerary. It is easily accessible from anywhere in Turkey, served by two airports, in Kayseri and Nevsehir, with flights from Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya. There are also road, bus and train routes that provide transport links throughout the country.
Situated in the middle of the Anatolian Plain (Asia Minor), between Aksaray in the west, Kayseri in the east and Niğde in the south is the region known as Cappadocia. At its heart is the charming town of Göreme, the most popular place for visitors to stay. This is not simply because of its central location but because there is nowhere in the world quite like Göreme!
Göreme has to be experienced to be believed. The National Park setting, the famous Open Air Museum and the special geology of the region provide the perfect backdrop for this spectacular little town. With its cave hotels and restaurants offering typical local hospitality and cuisine, it is nestled in the valley and surrounded by a fascinating topography. Although it has opened its doors to visitors from all around the globe, somehow the unspoilt local feel and charm has been maintained.
The ancient volcanic mountains, Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz, have dominated Cappadocia for 50 million years dating from the Tertiary Period, but don’t worry; the last eruption of these volcanoes is believed to have been around 2 million years ago! The eruptions were a geological occurrence that blanketed the area with streams of lava 150 metres thick and covered a vast area. Over time the erosive affects of wind, rain and ice, have left us with the sculptured landscape that has become the trademark of Cappadocia.
As the lava from the volcanic eruptions cooled, the hard-set honeycomb effect that can now be seen in the rocks, structures and landscapes was formed. Anatolian man recognised the value and uses of the natural materials it created and utilised them to carve out houses, caves, churches and even build underground cities; generating the rich and harmonious combination of nature, history and culture that is Cappadocia today.
In addition to the rolling and softly undulating flows of lava that cascade down the hillsides, where folds of rock form gullies and ravines, a spectacular peculiarity exists in the valleys. This is in the form of unique towers, known locally as fairy chimneys or peri bacalar to give them their Turkish name. These basalt pillars are the result of an erosion of the lava that left isolated pinnacles of consolidated volcanic ash, formed in conical shapes. They stand up to 40 metres high and some have been adopted as homes, storage areas or churches. They often have a cap of harder rock sitting atop a cone of softer rock, and, depending upon your perspective, can be seen as resembling mushrooms or phalluses. Eventually the caps will fall off and erosion will take its toll on the softer rock below, in the meantime they create fabulous and totally original scenery to be marvelled at and enjoyed by everyone.
Cappadocia held a strategic position, being situated on several of the ancient trade routes, including the Silk Road. Some of the Caravanserias that served as refuge for travellers and traders with their camel trains are still in existence today. They provided not only accommodation and food for the people and their animals but also medical help, shoes, clothing and other provisions. Cappadocia was known for it’s extensive trading resources and so became a target for invasion, raiding and looting.
From the Hatties of the Bronze Age (2500 to 2000 BC) and Hittites that followed (1800 to 1200 BC) there have been invasions and occupations from Phrygians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines who brought Christianity, the Seljuks who introduced Islam, and on to the Ottoman Empire. Cappadocia has been a hub throughout these times, a region where people of all faiths and philosophies met and influenced one another, this has resulted in a welcoming, secular way of life where all cultures and religions are accepted and tolerated.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though and it was the early Christians seeking safety and refuge from persecution by the Romans that led to 35 underground cities being built. Some cities remain and can be visited to witness the wonders of engineering that produced subterranean dwellings on such a large scale. The best of these are Kaymakli, the widest, with 8 floors and 1200 rooms and Derinkuyu, the deepest, with 12 floors and 1200 rooms and able to accommodate 10,000 people. They include an infrastructure to cope with the volume of people, many chapels and churches with beautiful frescos and even monasteries. There is also an underground road 10km long that links the two cities.
In addition to the underground cities the people of the region also carved out fortresses in the hills of volcanic tuff from which they could defend themselves against any attack. These labyrinth structures can be seen at Uçhisar, Ortahisar and Ürgüp.
It is little wonder that people flock to Cappadocia. Not only does it have a beautifully unique geological history, this spectacular landscape holds a detailed history that dates back to Neolithic Times. The earliest fresco, discovered in the 1960s, in Çatalhoöyük near Konya is believed to date back to 6200BC. It is now housed in the reconstructed shrine of the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara.
It is estimated that over 500 chapels and churches existed throughout Cappadocia and many are available to visit. Some of the most accessible can be found at the Göreme Open Air Museum, located just 1km outside the town and also at the nearby village of Cavusin. Many contain superb examples of frescos, some dating back to the 11th Century. Although many examples of iconoclastic frescos were damaged or destroyed when the Islamic faith took hold of the region, happily there is now a programme of restoration underway, a joint initiative between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and UNESCO.
The special landscape of Cappadocia remained a well-hidden secret until 1907 when a French Priest re-discovered the rock-hewn churches that had been created centuries earlier. Inevitably others came to see these beautiful structures. The 1980s saw the beginning of a new era of travel, with tourists eager for sights and experiences of other worlds and the result is a thriving industry that continues to grow and bring prosperity to the region.
To explore Cappadocia fully would take weeks, but even a few days would give a taste of what this unique place has to offer. Famous for its Hot Air Balloon flights, an unforgettable event whether you are lucky enough to take a flight, or witness as a spectator 150 balloons flying low over the valleys in the dawn sunlight. Either way it is something not to be missed. There are a multitude of other tours and excursions to enhance your trip and you can be assured of a warm welcome whenever you visit Cappadocia.