Cappadocia is an area in central Turkey known for its unique moon-like landscape. For millions of years, the volcanoes of the Central Anatolian Plateau spewed their contents across the lands that would later become the cradle of civilization. Blessed with a moderate climate and fertile volcanic soul, one of the world’s earliest communities was founded 10,000 years ago at Catalhoyuk along the river banks of the Casambasuyu near Konya. Mankind’s first nature painting, found here, portrays the most recent eruption of Hasan Dagi nearly 9000 years ago. Now, its snow capped peaks dominate the Konya plain.
Here, in the shadow of another great volcano – once called Mt. Argeus and known as the “Abode of the Gods”– rise the “Fairy Chimneys”, cones and strange rock formations sculpted by the wind. Into these chimneys, the local peoples carved subterranean towns, seeking shelter from the conquerors. Assyrians, Hittites, Mongols, Persians, Syrians, Arabs, Romans and Western Europeans have all passed through the region leaving behind some of their traditions as well as their genes and rendering Cappadocians as exotic as their surreal surroundings.
The greek-era kingdom of Cappadocia once encompassed a far greater area than the current region. Guide books and tour buses focus on the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, ignoring the opportunities for a unique travel experience in the hills. For those looking for a custom travel experience, Cappadocia is a land of discovery. Away from the major tourist centers there are partially explored churches, Hittite town centers and even more cave dwellings to be discovered.
The two largest of Cappadocia’s underground communities are located at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Both are believed to be temporary refuges for the Hittites as they sought to escape the Phrygians as they came under attack around 1200 BC. Some archaeologists, however, believe the oldest caves are substantially older. These rooms were later expanded into an extensive complex, used by Christians escaping Arab persecution in the 7th and 8th centuries.
The discrete entrances of the tunnels give way to elaborate subterranean systems with air shafts, wells, chimneys and connecting passageways. The upper levels became living quarters while the lower levels were used for storage, wine making, and worship. There is a connecting tunnel between Kaymakli and Derinkuyu that allowed multiple people to walk through at the same time. Just to the east of Kaymakli is another cavetown at Mazikoy that may be connected with Derinkuyu. This community was built within the walls of a cliff. Notably, this community is not nearly as complex as those of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Mazikoy is often bypassed because a certain amount of agility is required to fully appreciate its features as there are no stairs between levels. Instead, there are carved footholds in the walls of the shafts. However, for those looking for bespoke adventures, the caves at Mazikoy may be the best place to go.
Many of the newer settlements at Cappadocia were established as monastic communities. It was here that St. Basil the great wrote the rules for monastic life that are still followed today by monks and nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Tokali Kilise or the “Buckle Church”, near Goreme, is easily the loveliest of all the churches with graceful arches and beautiful frescoes.
An impressive monastery, Eskigumus Monastery, lies close to the route taken by the invading Arabs in the south of the region. The entrance, while nondescript, was designed to shield the monastery complex from passing invaders. It was so successful that the monastery was not discovered until 1963. The large inner courtyard is surrounded by storage chambers and monastic rooms. The main church boasts well-preserved frescoes considered to be the best example of Byzantine art in all of Cappadocia.
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