Cappadocia in Turkey - A Land of Fantasy
By Joyce Kiefer
Imagine a desert-like place where people carved homes inside of mushroom-shaped rock formations, chiseled tiny churches in the cliffs, and dug underground cities eight or nine stories deep. You’d think you were in “Dune” or Middle Earth or some Star Trek planet.
But no, you’d be in Cappadocia, a World Heritage Site in the region of Anatolia in central Turkey. When I was there last spring, I had to pinch myself to realize I was not living out some fantasy film.
My husband Bill and I discovered Cappadocia (“Kapadokya” to the locals) by joining a church tour that took us to Istanbul, Ephesus, Antalya, and Izmir. In between these coastal areas we veered inland on a two-hour Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Kayseri, a city in the heart of Anatolia. A tour bus picked us up at the airport for an hour drive to Göreme, the center of Cappadocia.
Snow-capped Mt. Erciyes, 12,848’, rose up on the horizon beyond the flat farmlands. “Erciyes Dagli” is the main volcano responsible for the fanciful formations we were about to see. Eons ago Erciyes and other volcanoes covered the area with ash that solidified into soft rock. Erosion from wind and water carved out the fairy castles, chimneys, cones, and mushrooms – whatever your fancy would call them.
Soon the landscape around us changed to dry, whitish cliffs that reminded me of the American Southwest. As we reached Göreme, the famed fairy castles, chimney and mushroom formations began to appear at the feet of the cliffs. As we got closer, we could see that some of them had doorways and windows.
Resourceful people from as far back as the Hittites in 1,800 BC carved out practical homes, which were cool during the hot summers and which made good family fortresses whenever invaders showed up. Some of these formations still house homes, restaurants, gift shops and inns.
It’s hard to say which is the most magical place in Cappadocia but the village of Uchisar tops my list of favorites. A huge fairy castle forms the backdrop of this hillside town. It once served as a hotel but is still open for tours. I didn’t have time to check it out. Instead, I walked the road that wound to the top of the town and beheld a valley filled with black-topped cone formations, stone buildings, a minaret, and ridges that rippled into the distance. In the cliff above me, the ever-present feral cats sunned themselves at the lips of small caves.
The first stop we made when we arrived in Cappadocia was at the Göreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We entered the world of monks that dated back to the 4th Century when Basil the Great of Caesarea (modern Kayseri) sent groups of hermits into the area. The monastic community peaked during the Byzantine period. We explored a few of the cells and tiny churches they dug into the cliffs. As I got used the low light, faint frescos emerged from the walls. A popular subject was St. George slaying a dragon which represented paganism. To enter one church I gingerly walked over several glass-covered tombs.
After the iconoclastic period (725-842), the churches were richly decorated with bright paintings. My favorites were the indigo scenes from the New Testament and the life of St. Basil in the “new church” section of the 10th Century Tokali Kilise (Church of the Buckle). The artwork was restored in 1980.
As if what’s above-ground isn’t enough, there are underground cities – at least 37 have been unearthed and there may be 100 more. We explored the subterranean city at Kaymakli – the widest excavated underground city in Turkey where some 3,000 people hid to escape various enemies. The Hittites were the first dwellers around the second millennium BC. Kaymakli flourished during the Byzantine era, when the Christians needed to hide out from persecution. The diggers thought of everything - rooms for cooking, places to keep the horses, a curch, nooks for storage, and deep ventilation shafts to keep the fresh air flowing. Just seeing those shafts kept me from getting claustrophobia. We walked down four levels. At least four more lay below.
Above and between it all
There are numerous spots to stop and walk among the rock formations. Just be sure you know how to get back, as you may not find trail markers. Hot air balloon rides are available. They seemed like the ultimate magic touch, but I didn’t have time to try one out. As we departed on our bus for the coastal city of Antalya, I felt I was leaving behind another planet.
When You Go
Cappadocia - http://www.cappadociaturkey.net/
Goreme Open air Museum - http://www.goreme.com/goreme-open-air-museum.php
Kaymakli Underground City -http://www.goreme.com/kaymakli-underground-city.php
* At present one Turkish lira equals about $0.51. Turkey is not on the Euro system. In spring temperature and weather in Cappadocia are mild. Summers are hot.
* Cappadocia has many Turkish delights in the town of Avanos, such as carpet dealers and ceramics workshops and the nearby medieval Sarihan Caravanserai where you can watch the whirling dervish ceremony upon appointment.
* Plan to spend at least a couple of hours in the early part of the day inspecting the churches at Göreme and try to avoid the crowds of weekends.
* Even though I was on a tour, I found the Lonely Planet book on Turkey to be helpful in a practical way. It also provided good cultural background info. If you want to stay in a cave or fairy castle, this guide recommends a number of places.
* In Avanos our group enjoyed a delicious lunch at Hanedan Restaurant Cappadocia, a restaurant built like a caravanserai. Beautiful setting, tasty food, reasonable prices. http://kapadokyahanedanrestaurant.com/restoran/?lang=en
* We stayed at Lykia Lodge Kapadokya in Nevsehir. It’s upscale but its caravansarai-like appearance, out-of-town location, and great buffet were just what we needed at that point in our trip. http://www.lykiaworld.com/lykialodgekapadokya/en/accommodation.html
Joyce Kiefer is a columnist for Bay Area Family Travel and loves to journey far and wide.
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