The fairy tale chimneys and honeycomb rock formations of Cappadocia capture the imagination of all who set eyes on them. Situated in the historical region of Central Anatolia, Cappadocia sits on a plateau, interspersed by volcanic peaks, whose eruptions created the rock sediments that, over centuries of erosion, have formed the weird and wonderful landscape that tempts travellers to travel to Cappadocia today! From the Roman period onwards, the people of Central Anatolia made good use of these soft stone deposits, crafting them into homes, churches, monasteries and cave dwellings, with Göreme, today Cappadocia’s most visited destination, established as a monastic centre around the year 300. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of Cappadocia, aside from its spell-binding landscape, is what lies beneath its otherworldly rock formations.
Complex underground cave systems such as Derinkuyu and Kaymakli defy belief with their multi-storey cave dwellings, once used by early Christians to hide from persecutors. Nevşehir, Ürgüp and Göreme are the three largest cities and the focal point of most tours to Cappadocia, although some of the strangest and most impressive natural wonders lie outside the inhabited centres, where vast valleys and gorges hide a number of hidden gems. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cappadocia’s sunset landscapes, dotted with buoyant hot-air balloons, is the stuff that dreams are made of, not to mention a hiking enthusiast’s paradise.
There are countless hidden gems and fascinating thing to see in Cappadocia if you know where to find them. Pop on a pair of hiking boots and explore the area on foot to discover the secret churches and elaborate cave systems that make this region so unique. The best place to start on a tour of Cappadocia is the Göreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the top attraction in the region. Dating back to Byzantine times, when it was a thriving monastic centre of Anatolia, Göreme’s rock-hewn churches contain beautiful examples of Byzantine frescoes. There are over ten churches, as well as dwellings, refectories and a religious school that have been preserved over the centuries and visiting Göreme you get a fantastic idea of what life was like here during medieval times as you wander through the cave structures and carefully carved chapels and chambers. The Dark Church is one of the highlights of Göreme, as it’s lack of windows and sunlight, have ensured the preservation of some of the most vibrantly coloured frescoes in the entire region.
The Cappadocia region encompasses a number of different valleys, each known for its unique geological formations, and the Devrent Valley is one of the most astounding. Also known as ‘Imagination Valley’, Devrent is home to fascinating rock formations. In this lunar-like landscape, rocks have taken the forms of all manner of animal and human shapes, prompting your imagination to run wild. Almost like a natural sculpture gallery, a hike in Devrent Valley in one of the most rewarding things to do in Cappadocia.
Nearby, the Rose Valley offers an altogether different landscape of pinky-hued rocks and gorges, in contrast to the browns and greys present throughout the rest of the region. Another popular hiking spot, the Rose Valley is one of the best places in Cappadocia to watch the sunset, which only serves to accentuate the beautiful colours of the landscape. It’s also home to the ancient Church of the Three Crosses, whose interior is adorned with early Christian frescoes.
For a look at how locals have lived in Cappadocia across the ages, visit Çavuşin, an old village, built into the hillsides surrounding the Red Valley. Traditionally home to Christian Greek communities, these magical rock-hewn dwellings are still inhabited today. One of the highlights of Çavuşin is the Church of St. John the Baptist, the second oldest church in Cappadocia as well as the Church of Nicephorus Phocas, home to amazing frescoes depicting the entire life of Jesus, built by order of the Byzantine Emperor of the same name in the 960s.
If there’s one feature that typifies Cappadocia, it’s the fairy chimney, and Monk’s Valley is home to fairy chimneys galore, some measuring up to 15-metres tall! Gigantic mushroom-shaped ones, perfect cone-shaped ones and pointy, minaret-shaped ones; the fairy chimneys of other-worldly Monk’s Valley will leave you awe-struck. This amazing destination owes its name to the monks who once lived here, tempted by the quiet tranquillity and isolation of Cappadocia. Within the valley, you’ll find St. Simeon’s Hermitage, where the saint and his disciples set up home in one of the fairy chimneys. Today, if you visit Monk’s Valley you can even climb up inside the hermitage and ascend to the top of the fairy chimney for good views across the landscape.
Finally, curious Pigeon’s Valley is another of the most famous things to see in Cappadocia. The valley owes its name to the pigeons who have carved their nests and dovecotes into the soft rocks over the centuries, creating a fascinating landscape of polka-dotted rock formations and fairy chimneys. Unlike most other destinations in Cappadocia, there’s an absence of churches but it’s caves and hiking trails make it a good option for a day trip from Göreme.
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