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This historic region in Central Anatolia is known for its collection of ethereal rock formations and interesting things that lie beneath its surface – including thousands of subterranean dwellings and churches. This region was a refuge for early Christians who often lived and worshipped underground to avoid persecution. Known as Hatti in the late Bronze Age, Cappadocia was known to be the home of the Troglodytae, or cave dwellers, who made their homes in caves – both man-made and natural – in the mountains. With a succession of rulers from the Hittites, the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great, it became a refuge for Christians during Roman rule. This led to Cappadocia becoming home to several underground cities, such as Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı, both of which can be visited.
The cities had as many as eight levels underground, with full kitchens, chapels, and monasteries that kept them safe from the Romans and later the Arabs. The defence system was sophisticated, the narrow corridors making it hard for the Romans to stay in any formation, making the soldiers easy to attack. Huge rock boulders could seal off passages and small holes in ceilings that could allow a resident to use a spear against attacking forces.Read more
Back on the surface, it’s often the famous ‘fairy chimneys’ that have visitors’ attention. The result of volcanic action more than two million years ago and the subsequent action of wind and rain, these cones are quite soft. Many have been dug out or contain caves, creating a surreal sight for visitors. The best place to start a visit is the Goreme Open-Air Museum, a monastic settlement with churches containing exquisite Byzantine frescoes dating from the 9th to 11th century – the post-Iconoclastic period. The area of the Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are UNESCO World Heritage listed and despite man’s constant presence here, the most damage to the area has been from seismic activity.
That isn’t to say the area isn’t popular with tourists. Today you can stay in a boutique hotel or B&B set in a cave dwelling, where you can sip local wines from your balcony as the sun goes down. As the sun rises, you can take a hot air balloon ride over the surreal landscape and later buy some local pottery or a hand-woven rug. However the area has a laidback and local atmosphere, and is a ‘must do’ on any Turkey travel itinerary.