The magic of Asia Minor (Anatolia) – that’s how I can best describe Cappadocia!
Cappadocia is located literally in the heart of Anatolia. Nestled between the Salt Lake and the Euphrates River, as well as the Pontic and Taurus Mountains, this amazing place is a kind of an outdoor (open spaced) museum. This land is both – so far and yet so close. You have the feeling that you are in either a dream or part of a fairy tale, where the wind and the sun have sculpted amazing and strange formations on the rocks and hundreds of years ago human hands carved in them the oldest Christian churches and monasteries. There are legends that this is the birthplace of St. George.
Also, this is the place where the Christian culture originates from, the place where the earliest temples of this culture are located. “Land of Saints”, “The Ancient Cradle of Christianity” are just a few of the names with which this incredibly beautiful place is known. Wonderful rocks in the form of pyramids and mushrooms, underground cities, rock churches and air balloons – a small part of the sights that will grab your senses and you will be enchanted by! And I bet that some of them you might have already seen in the Turkish soap series!
In short this is how we can describe Cappadocia! But whatever I say and write about this place it won’t be enough and it definitely worth visiting and seeing it in real. It is extremely easy to get there, and my advice is to do it by booking a trip with a travel agency. You can also organize it by yourself , but believe me and give yourself the pleasure to have a local tour guide at all times, who is going to tell you about everything that your eyes see!
That’s what my sister and I did a few years ago, when we signed up for a trip and literally toured all of Turkey. Apart from Cappadocia, some of our stops were Istanbul, Ankara, Konya and Bursa. But I am going to tell you about these places in my next posts!
So, let’s start!
The Salt Lake
This lake is very shallow – no more than 1-2 meters deep and it is the second largest in Turkey after Lake Van. During the summer most of the water dries out and the lake gets covered with salt that can reach thickness of about 30 cm.
Everything here is white, and you have the feeling that you are stepping on clouds. Tourists from all over the world gather here to admire these beautiful views. Sometimes even ink flamingos can be seen to walk around. Unfortunately, while we were there, there were none to be seen! It is very popular to walk barefoot on the salt and we were told that it was extremely healthy and enjoyable at the same time. Please do not make the same mistake that I did. I took a few steps, and it was as if I was stepping on crumbs, but after about an hour оf walking on salt barefoot, I had the feeling that nails had been stuck into my legs. The salt was constantly pinching me and the moment I washed my feet that feeling went away. But it is still an emotion and in case you are up for it definitely try walking barefoot as we I did!
Kaymaklı – the underground city
After this foot shock we headed to one of the most interesting and ancient underground cities in the area – Kaymakli. These cave cities – troglodytes appeared at the time of Hittites and grew over during the centuries. Various armies roamed Central Anatolia in search of captives and plunder, and these cities also served as a hiding place from them. There are about 36 underground cities in Cappadocia, and the widest is the underground city of Kaymakli, while the deepest is the underground city of Derinkuyu (about 55 meters below the surface).
The underground city of Kaymakli was built under the hill known as the Citadel of Kaymakli and was opened to visitors in 1964. The people of the village built their houses near the tunnels of the underground city. Residents of the region still use the most convenient places in the tunnels, such as cellars, warehouses and stables, which they enter through their yards. The underground city of Kaymakli has low, narrow and sloping passages. The underground city consists of 8 underground floors and only 4 of them are open to visitors, in which the spaces are organized around ventilation shafts.
The first floor of the underground city is a horse stable. The small size of this area suggests that there may be other one somewhere on the floors below but it hasn’t been opened yet. The passage to the left of the stable contains a door with a millstone and leads to the church. To the right of the corridor there are rooms carved as living areas.
The church on the second floor is single-nave and has two apses. There is an altar in front of the apses and seating platforms on the sides. There are also some residential areas on this floor.
The most important areas of the underground city are on the third floor. Apart from numerous storage places, wineries and a kitchen, the andesite block with an embossed texture found on this floor is very interesting.
Curiously, there are many storage rooms and places for placing clay vessels in the wineries on the fourth floor. It can be assumed that the people living in this underground city were economically stable. Here you can see the ventilation shaft, which descends to about 80 meters.
For me personally, this is a unique place and I must admit that it was difficult for me to imagine how the ancient people had built this city. It is estimated that around 3,500 people can gather at once! The tour takes a few hours, but it’s worth it and I highly recommend a visit, necessarily with a tour guide, so you can get better understanding of the place in general.
Our first day in the fabulous Cappadocia was coming to an end and we were all a little tired! So we headed to Jurgup, where we would spend the next two evenings at a local hotel. It is one of the largest cities in Cappadocia, famous for its wine as well as the Turasan wine cellar. If you are a wine lover, this is a great destination for you – you can taste the wines, visit the cellars and the vineyards, where everything is still done by hand. Hotels, restaurants, shops, cafes – everything is available and one thing to note is that despite the lifefulness of this place it is extremely quiet.
The hotel was quite pleasant although it was a little far from the center of town. So after dinner my sister and I went for a walk in order for the the food to settle down a bit! We walked to the center, and it was quite nice and there we met a street dog which really wanted to get into each of our photos!
If some of the places here seem familiar to you be sure that there is a reason for that! Most of the hotels in the rocks or the houses have been the scenery for a number of popular TV Series that we have all seen on the small screen.
If our first day in Cappadocia was dynamic and full of emotions, then what about the second! As I like to say, the best is yet to come and once again this was the case for us. After breakfast we headed to Uchisar Castle, which is a very interesting and wonderful!
It can be said that Uchisar is one of the highest points in Cappadocia. From the top of the castle an incredible view reveals all of the surroundings and great photos can be taken. The castle itself is a high rock, which seems to be perforated and slightly resembles yellow cheese with holes.
Many rooms were carved into the rock, connected by stairs, passages and tunnels. There are stone gates at the entrances of the rooms and they have been used to control the access. Unfortunately, due to erosion, not all rooms of the castle can be visited. Curiously, most of the rooms on the north side of the castle were used as dovecotes. Over the years, local farmers have built pigeon houses in the caves so that they can use their feces as fertilizer for gardens and vineyards.
There are other pigeon houses in the Valley of the Pigeons, which is not far from Uchisat. Many of these caves are painted white so that they can naturally attract birds so that the can collect their feces.
Here you will notice a lot of fabulous chimneys in the west, east and north of Uchisar, as they were used as tombs during the Roman times. In these rock tombs, the entrances face west, placing the bodies on stone slabs.
Many rock churches have been found not only in the outskirts of the castle, but also in its insides. This is because one of the nearby towns, Goreme, had many churches and monasteries.
At the top of the castle there are Byzantine tombs, which are not very interesting because either they have long been devastated or the erosion has had its impact. It has been suggested that in citadel cities such as Uchisar, Ortahisar, and Jurgup, the defensive tunnels used to reached quite far up to the neighboring areas. Unfortunately, this theory cannot be fully confirmed, because in some places these tunnels have collapsed.
After climbing to the top, we decided to eat in one of the restaurants, at the entrance to the castle, as it was already noon. We ordered Adana kebab and it was so delicious, even though it was sprinkled with a lot of parsley, and I don’t like parsley at all!
After had gathered some energy and our stomachs were full along with our group we headed to the neighboring town of Goreme.
The open-air museum in Goreme looks like a huge monastery complex, made up of dozens of monasteries standing next to each other, each with its own fantastic church. Here you can see some of the best rock churches, with beautiful frescoes (wall paintings), whose colours still retain all their original shades. This city also presents unique examples of rock architecture and frescoes. The Goreme Open-Air Museum is a member of the 1984 UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.
Most of the churches in the Goreme Open-Air Museum date back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. You will definitely convince yourself that there are many churches and chapels around and the most important are: St. Barbara’s Church, the Apple Church, the Church of the Snake, the Dark Church, the Church of Karikli and others.
Personally, I think the most interesting and impressive is the 8-storey church known as the “Nunnery”. That’s why I will allow myself to go a bit off from my general story and tell you a bit about it!
The dining room, kitchen and some other rooms on the first floor, along with the ruined chapel on the second level are still accessible and can be visited. The church on the third floor, which can be reached through a tunnel, has a cruciform plan, a dome with four columns and three apses. The temple of the main apse is rare in the churches of Goreme. In addition to the fresco of Jesus painted directly on the rock, you can also see drawings painted in red. The various levels of the monastery are connected by tunnels and gates of millstones (similar to Uchisar), and those located in the underground cities were used to close these tunnels in times of danger.
The dances of the dervishes
After touring all day and having dinner there was an additional program with a visit to a local restaurant, where we could watch the amazing dances of the dervishes. At first my sister and I were quite surprised, but we said to ourselves why not go and see – it might be interesting! And indeed it was. Actually, it was an amazing performance. Admittedly, we were told a lot about these dances, but looking at these spinning men in white, I felt hypnotized and I wasn’t focused mainly on the dance. In short – they must be dressed in long white robes (clothes) and while dancing they fall into a trance and by doing so they merge with God. Personally it is very difficult for me to describe what I witnessed.
The only thing we couldn’t do was to see the sunrise while being on a hot air balloon, but unfortunately it was raining the night before and on the day we were supposed to do so they cancelled as it was inappropriate for fyling. But, as they say, in order to come back you need to have a reason. And trust me, I would definitely come go back there again!
And so our adventure in Cappadocia was unfortunately over and for me it was a very real tale! A fairy tale that everyone should experience. Whenever I travel and I’m in some amazing place, I say always say goodbye to it. But not this time! Leaving there, the local guide told us something and said that Cappadocia is also known as the “Land of Beautiful Horses”. At that moment, imagine how the horses race freely and how they are constantly moving in new directions and horizons. And I said to myself that one day, as a happy racehorse, I would come back here, and that’s why I didn’t say “Goodbye” or “Bye.” Cappadocia just stayed behind me as I was hoping to see it once again soon. But until then I will return to this magical place in my daydream in order to experience the magic of Asia Minor once again.
This post is also available in: Български (Bulgarian)