The region known as Cappadocia includes Urgup, Goreme, Avanos, Uchisar, Derinkuyu, Kaymakli, and Ihlara. In the Persian language, Cappadocia was called “Katpatuka,” which means “the land of beautiful horses.” It is a stunning area of other-worldly rock formations, subterranean churches, and underground dwellings, the scale of which is over-whelming. The area is also famous for its carpet-weaving, wines, and the distinctive red pottery of the Avanos area. Cappadocia was a refuge for the early Christians, who escaped persecution by living and worshipping underground. There are an estimated 3000 rock churches in this region, not all of which are open to the public. You would enjoy hot air balloons, open-air museums, rock churches, underground cities, cave hotels, and many other activities awaiting you in Cappadocia.
Picture this: you open your eyes to a scene straight out of a fairy tale, complete with a brilliant sun rising in the bluest of skies. Even higher up, hot air balloons slowly climb the sky. This is the first thing most tourists see when they arrive in Cappadocia, but it’s only a taste of what the land of the beautiful horses has to offer.
Parts of the cities of Aksaray, Nevşehir, Niğde, Kayseri, and Krşehir are included in the Cappadocia region. Most people think of Uçhisar, Göreme, Avanos, Ürgüp, Derinkuyu, Kaymakli, and Ihlara when they hear the word “Cappadocia,” all of which are located in an area where the land has been sculpted into fantastical forms over millions of years. There is an ethereal, otherworldly feel to the fairy chimneys and underground cities and temples that extend many meters below the surface.
As a result of the landscape’s malleability, it has served as the setting for countless different cultures and civilizations. Numerous subterranean cities dot the landscape, all of which appear to be stuck in time. Cappadocia is like an open-air museum because the Assyrians, Hittites, Romans, Byzantines, Early Christians, Muslims, and many other groups all left their mark on it.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Göreme, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, radiates an aura of mystery for miles around. The churches hewn out of the soft rocks here stand silent and mysterious.
Residents during the Roman era are thought to have used Göreme as a necropolis. Magical enchantment can be felt at the churches dedicated to Durmuş Kadir, Yusuf Koç, El Nazar, Sakli, Meryem Ana (Virgin Mary), and Kiliçlar. At the Göreme Open Air Museum, St. Basil the Great and his brothers brought Christian thought into harmony. The Tokali church, the Convent of Monks and Nuns, the Chapel of St. Basil, and the churches of Sts. Barbara, Elmali, Yilanli, Karanlik, and Çarikli all have stunning frescoes and intricate architecture that make them look as fresh and vibrant as the day they were built.
Enchanting mural paintings and painted ornaments still decorate the interiors of some of these churches, depicting scenes from the Bible. The Dark (Karanlik) Church and Tokali (Buckled) Church are two of the most notable buildings in the Göreme Open Air Museum. The Tokali Church stands out because it was built at the request of an emperor and decorated with lapis lazuli stone.
Unique features include vibrant wall paintings. The Church of the Holy Cross, also known as the Dark (Karanlik) Church, is a small Byzantine structure that dates back to the late 11th or early 12th century. It got its name because of the scant natural light that entered through a single small window in the narthex. The lack of illumination, however, has allowed the church’s treasures, including the frescoes, to survive. Artwork from the Bible can be found throughout the church and narthex, adding color and awe. It’s no surprise that this church is at the top of every tourist’s list.
Just picture yourself perched atop a huge, porous rock that stretches up into the clouds. Uçhisar Castle is the best place to take in the scenery unless you’re flying above it in a hot air balloon, plane, or hawk. Uçhisar is home to Pigeon Valley, which is home to one of the most stunning hiking trails in all of Cappadocia. You should take a stroll through the giant formations in the valley, knowing that they were sculpted by nothing but nature itself while listening to the pigeons flap their wings as they leave their nest and pass through the tunnels opened up by the stream’s mighty flow. There are now shops and stalls all around the castle selling a wide variety of souvenirs, from carpets and marble ornaments to mirrors and, of course, tasty dried nuts and fruits.
From the west, in Göreme, you can easily reach the east, where the endless wonders of Ürgüp await. As the most populous spot in all of Cappadocia, it’s a great starting point for exploring the region’s otherworldly landscapes. The juxtaposition of a bustling Anatolian town full of hotels, restaurants, and shops with nearby cave dwellings creates a picture that is unlike any other. The distinctive feature of this area is the stone mansions built atop these rocks. In addition to the intricate mysticism that permeates the town, Ürgüp is also home to some of Cappadocia’s liveliest nightclubs and bars.
Mustafapaşa Village (Sinassos)
Mustafapaşa, a town just 6 kilometers to the south of Ürgüp, is a cultural and architectural treasure trove. There were many Greek Christians (known as Rûm) who coexisted with their Muslim neighbors in the Cappadocia region for many years without incident. Mustafapaşa, formerly known as Sinasos, is one such town; today it is a quiet oasis far from the madding crowds. Beautiful mansions (konak) feature intricate stonework that conceals itself behind imposing neo-classical facades. Simpler times can be relived with just a short stroll among them.
The minaret of a Seljuk mosque built in the 17th century dominates one of the town’s two squares, and other major landmarks include the Ottoman-era Şakir Paşa Madrasa and the impressive Church of Constantine and Helen, built in the late 19th century.
Between the first and eleventh centuries, early Christians flocked to the Gomeda valley to the west of Mustafapaşa. A smaller version of the valley of Ilhara. Houses, churches, and caves have been carved out of the valley’s live rock over the centuries. If you make it there, be sure to look down at the river winding through the valley below.
The Ortahisar citadel, located 6 kilometers from Ürgüp, is a must-see location due to the concentration of excellent examples of Cappadocian vernacular architecture at its foot. The Üzümlü Church, located on the western side, is another must-see attraction. For its time, Ortahisar Castle was a groundbreaking architectural achievement, as it was one of the earliest examples of a multi-story building. A massive fairy chimney guarded caravans traveling the Silk Road during the Hittite period. Positioned among the highest points in the area, a trip to this castle is like taking a time machine back to the Middle Ages.
Carved-out storage areas used for preserving local products like apples and potatoes, as well as citrus imported from the Mediterranean, dot the valley sides. The surrounding valleys are dotted with beautiful religious buildings like churches and monasteries. Among these are the Hallaç Deresi Monastery and the churches of Balkan Deresi, the Deresi of Tavşanli, the Deresi of Sarca, and the Deresi of Cambazli.
Avanos (Vanessa) is fascinating because of its peculiar way of life. The Kzlrmak has been steadily making its way through Avanos for thousands of years, and the town’s reputation as a pottery center dates back to the time of the Hittites, thanks to the oily, soft clay found in the riverbeds. Clay, with its inherent imperfections, is used to create these one-of-a-kind works of art, which are then painted in natural tones and, of course, turquoise to highlight their unique qualities. Participate in a pottery class and have your own “happy accident,” browse the wares at a bustling bazaar, or simply relax by the river.
Valley of the Red Rocks (Kizil Vadi)
If you’re looking for the most breathtaking sunset, look no further than Red Valley. Locals and visitors alike flock to Red Valley, which is close to both Çavuşin Village and Ortahisar, to watch the sunset. Before the sun goes down, visitors are encouraged to begin their trek through the unique formations that red tuff creates so that they can be in the perfect spot on the viewing terrace to take in the splendor.
Although your next location might not scream “Come see me!” from afar, I guarantee that you will be completely blown away by it once you set foot inside. The nearby Çavuşin village is only a few minutes drive from Göreme. Passing through this seemingly normal village will lead you to ancient ruins and fairy chimneys leading up to the town square. Following the paths will lead you to a region well-known for its churches and clergy houses, where you can continue your exploration of the ruins. Through this passageway, you can reach the earliest churches, which were constructed between the 1st and 10th centuries. After a half-hour stroll, you’ll reach the churches of Güllüdere and Kzlçukur, but the most alluring site is waiting for you near the base of a cliff: the Church of St. John the Baptist, the largest and one of the oldest in all of Cappadocia.
Paşaba, also known as “Monk’s Vineyard,”
Located about a kilometer away from the Göreme-Avanos road that leads to Zelve is Paşabağ, also known as Monk’s Vineyard. Here in this enchanted land, you’ll find some fairy chimneys, some of which are home to local chapels and others to human settlements. Tuff and volcanic ash from the conical bodies of the capped fairy chimneys here. The hat is made of tough rocks, making it more durable than the body’s rock composition. Because of this, the fairy chimneys took their distinctive shape.
In Paşabağ, one such three-headed fairy chimney houses a chapel honoring St. Simeon as well as a hermit’s shelter. Crosses adorn the chimney-like, narrow tunnel that leads to the cell’s entrance. From the top down, they carved out 10- to 15-foot-long rooms in the chimneys. They slept on rock mattresses and were fed by locals who lowered buckets of food to them on ropes.
Zelve, one of Zelve’s three valleys, has the highest concentration of fairy chimneys. The best time to go hiking to see the sights is first thing in the morning. The valley is home to several significant churches, including Balikli and Üzümlü, both of which depict the eerie beauty of the ancient monastic lifestyle.
Cappadocia is a popular tourist destination in central Anatolia because it has a lot to offer in terms of nature, history, and culture. The “Three Beauties” fairy chimneys are a symbol of the area.
The “Three Beauties” are three fairy chimneys that look like a father, a mother, and a child. They are in the Ürgüp district of Cappadocia, which is in the central Anatolian province of Nevşehir.
Gülşehir, 20 kilometers northwest of Nevşehir and south of Kizilirmak (the Red River), was formerly known as Zoropassos and later as Arapsun under the Seljuks. The Açksaray Ruins are located 3 kilometers from Gülşehir, an important episcopal center known for its 9th- and 10th-century rock churches and Roman Period rock tombs carved into tuff rocks. Gülşehir’s iconic mushroom-shaped rock formations can be found in this area as well. Backgammon (Horse Roof), Small Palace (Multi-Storey Settlement Area), Four Column Monastery, Cradle Vaulted Building, Twelve Columned Church, and Staircase Residence are all important religious and architectural landmarks. Nowadays, hikers tend to favor the Aksaray Ruins over other nearby options. There is a 7-kilometer-long track that winds through the valley and serves as a cultural and sports hub.
Cities Beneath the Ground
Derinkuyu Underground City, in the Nevşehir neighborhood of Derinkuyu, is one of the top attractions in the city. For centuries, locals have retreated there when threatened. There are about 85 meters of depth in Derinkuyu’s underground city. Barns, cellars, a refectory, churches, boileries, and other structures typical of an underground city can be found in this mysterious location. Additionally, the second floor houses a missionary training academy. A barrel vault was chosen for the school’s ceiling because it is not typically found in subterranean communities. The classrooms are to the left of the main corridor. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairwell after traversing the third and fourth levels of the underground city, one will find a church designed in the shape of a cross. Wells and ventilation shafts that run to lower levels are not accessible from the upper levels, and the tops of some wells are hidden from the upper ground level to prevent poisoning during any invasion. Derinkuyu Underground City opened in 1965, but only 10% of it is currently open to the public.
Going south from Nevşehir, you’ll reach the roads leading to the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. The Kaymakl underground city is a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms carved into the earth eight levels below Kaymakl Castle. There are living quarters, a church, and even a cemetery above the first-floor stable. Nearly 100 tunnels connect the surface with the city below, and the residents of Kaymakl village built their homes around them. Even though there are eight levels below ground, only four are open to the public.
Nearly 15 miles (24 km) away from Avanos is the underground city of Ozkonak. The tuff layers created by volcanic granite were used in its construction, which explains why it can be found in such abundance on the mountain’s northern slopes. The galleries cover a sizable area and are linked via underground passages.
Communication The ducts between levels are extremely narrow and lengthy, unlike in the Derinkuyu and Kaymakl underground cities. Narrow chimneys measuring only 5 cm in length allow air to circulate when the doors to the intricately carved rooms are shut. In another departure from the norm for underground settlements, ducts were cut into the tunnel walls, presumably to pour hot oil on a pursuing enemy. Like in Kaymakl and Derinkuyu, the underground city of Ozkonak features air chimneys, water wells, fountains, and bolt stones.
The village of Maz, also known by its ancient name, “Mataza,” is situated 18 kilometers south of Ürgüp, to the east of the Kaymakl Underground City. There are four distinct entrances to the underground city of Maz, the main one being a corridor lined with irregular stones. Because of the massive bolt stone installed in the narrow passageway, no one can enter or leave the underground city without permission. The interior is purposefully narrow to allow for smooth movement of the bolt stone. From the stables, you can take a short passageway to the church of the underground city. Another bolt stone can be used to seal off the entrance to this area. In contrast to the church in Kaymakl Underground City, which featured a central apse and relief-adorned facades, the one in Maz featured an apse carved into a long side corner. Though the renovation isn’t yet finished, you can still get a sense of the eerie atmosphere of what it was like to live here before and marvel at the ingenious ventilation system.
With its underground city, churches, and residential architecture, Tatlarin town, 10 km north of Acigöl district, is another captivating place in Cappadocia. It rests on the side of a hill with the same name. The church’s narthex, which connects the two main sections of the building, is now a ruin. There is a clear delineation between the various scenes in the remarkably preserved frescoes. The floor is a dour shade of gray, and the walls and figures are painted purple, mustard, and red. The size of the venues, the number of food stores, and the abundance of churches in the 1991-opened underground city make it feel like a military garrison or monastery complex. The two-story underground city is still open for tourism, and its standout amenity is a flushing toilet.
The Vale of Ihlara
Ihlara Valley is the place you’re looking for if you want to go where no human has gone before, both in terms of time and geography. The 14-kilometer-long valley has been a religious hub ever since the early days of Christianity, as evidenced by the abundance of ancient temples and churches dotting its landscape. In keeping with the monastery’s ideals, frescoed churches have been carved into the rocks throughout the area. You’re in luck if you want to see the buildings and explore their mesmerizing interiors. The Aaçalt, Sümbüllü, Ylanl, Kokar, Prenliseki, Eritaş, Direkli, Saint Georgeus, Karagedik, Ala, Bezirhane, Bahattin Samanl, and Batkn Churches are just 14 of the many that welcome visitors. You’d better get ready because this 382-step ladder down to the valley floor can take anywhere from two to four hours. Don’t let the time of day put you off; there are gazebos along the Melendiz Stream where you can rest and drink some tea to wash the dust of your journey away.
Church of Selime
The Selime Cathedral, with its two stories and origins in the eighth and ninth centuries, is the largest of all the churches in Cappadocia. Images of Christ and Mary ascending to heaven are just one of many found in the cathedral. Just outside the Selime cathedral and monastery is a high corridor that was used to transport camels. Caravans stopped in Selime because of the market, and the camels were herded into the cathedral. The entire structure was constructed to serve as a haven for worshippers and those seeking a place to relax. There is no more significant aspect of Selime Monastery than its role as a seminary for local clergy. In addition, Selime Cathedral hosted the first raucous ritual. Byzantine influences can be seen in many of the rock-cut buildings, which are primarily churches. It’s also worth noting that the cathedral’s upper levels were designed to resemble a castle.
In honor of Hac Bektaşi- Veli
As the Islamic religion spread to Anatolia, many great Islamic thinkers and scholars made the region their home. Mystic Hac Bektaşi- Veli, better known today as Hacbektaş, was born in Turkey and converted to Islam. He moved to Anatolia at the end of the 13th century. The central tenets of this sage’s philosophy embody the spirit and substance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948 and was instrumental in bringing together the various Turkish groups in Anatolia. A 14th-century mosque complex in Hacbektaş, 45 kilometers from Nevşehir, includes the tomb of Hac Bektaş- Veli in addition to a mosque, guesthouse, kitchen, wishing tree, and area for ascetics. The building, which is now a museum, is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.