TURKEY CAPPADOCIA: THE TRAVELLER'S GUIDE TO CAPPADOCIA ; Pat Yale Explores the Underground Cities and Cave Dwellings in the Valleys of Central Turkey
Yale, Pat, The Independent (London, England)
CAPPADOCIA? ISN'T THAT WHERE PEOPLE LIVE IN CAVES?
Indeed it is. Millions of years ago, volcanoes spewed out ash and tufa over a wide part of central Turkey. The wind and rain then worked away at these deposits, carving out deep gorges and leaving behind astonishingly phallic rocky outcrops, known as 'fairy chimneys'. Enterprising locals went on to burrow into the rock to make houses, churches, stables, storerooms, even cave wineries. Many people, particularly in the village of Goreme, still live an extraordinary troglodyte lifestyle, albeit with satellite television and washing machines.
I CAN'T FIND IT ON THE MAP
That's because Cappadocia was actually the name of an old Roman province. Medieval historians used the name to refer to the region, which is renowned for its amazing frescoed churches. More recently, the tourism industry co-opted the name as shorthand for a triangle that turns on Aksaray in the west, Kayseri in the east and Nigde in the south. The villages and small towns of Goreme, Uchisar, Mustafapasa, Urgup and Avanos are the main tourist centres.
DID YOU SAY CHURCHES?
The Ancient Greeks colonised much of what is now Turkey, and their Byzantine descendants carved out hundreds of wonderful churches in Cappadocia between the 7th and 14th centuries. Most of these churches are cut right inside the rock. It's a jaw-dropping experience to gaze on the columns, altars and other familiar church features, all cut out of the stone. Even more amazing are the frescos that cover the walls.
The best frescos are inside the Goreme Open-Air Museum (00 90 384 271 2167), an ancient monastic settlement on the outskirts of the modern village of Goreme. Within the museum, the best churches are the Tokali (Buckle) Church and the Karanlik (Dark) Church (separate admission fee). The museum is open 8.30am to 5.30pm daily, admission 12 lira (pounds 5).
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO SEE?
Cappadocia boasts more than 30 underground cities, some burrowing down eight or nine storeys. The top levels of these cities were probably excavated by the Hittites, but the early Christians turned them into places of refuge during the 7th-century Arab invasions. Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are the largest and most impressive underground cities. Both are open 8.30am to 5.30pm daily, admission 10.50 lira (pounds 4.50).
Uchisar is dominated by a vast plug of rock. Climb to the top and you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. It's open 8.30am to 5.30pm daily, admission 2 lira (pounds 0.85).
In the valleys of Zelve, near Avanos, another Open-Air Museum occupies the site of a village that was abandoned in the Fifties. Full of dark tunnels and scary ladders, it's a great places to bring restless older children. It is open 8.30 to 5.30pm daily, admission 5.60 lira (pounds 2.40).
To learn what goes on behind the scenes in the cave houses it's worth visiting the small Museum of Cappadocian Cultural Life in Ortahisar, which is open 9am to 9pm daily, admission 2 lira (pounds 0.85).
HISTORY'S NOT MY THING
Never fear, because the Cappadocian valleys are perfect for a walking holiday. One of the most beautiful places to walk is the Ihlara Valley, which has the bonus of a cooling stream running through it. The Kizil (Red) Valley, between Goreme and Cavusin, is named for the glorious colour of its rock face, especially beautiful in late afternoon. Mehmet Gungor (00 90 532 382 2069), who grew up in Goreme and knows the valleys like the back of his hands, will happily guide you.
For a stroll that takes in some particularly dramatic fairy chimneys, walk behind the Turist Hotel on the Open-Air Museum road out of Goreme to find the marvellous Zemi Valley.
WHAT ELSE BESIDES WALKING?
One of the greatest of all Turkish treats is to float over Cappadocia's dramatic landscape in a hot-air balloon. …