On a windy night and after a little bit of a scary landing (due to the wind), we touched down in the city of Nevşehir in central Turkey. We flew to this area to explore Cappadocia, a region with fascinating rock formations, ancient cave dwellings, and enormous underground cities.
We awoke the next morning in awe of our surroundings. Everywhere around us rock pinnacles over 100 feet high, called ‘fairy chimneys,’ jut abruptly out of the Anatolian Plateau. Ancient volcanic eruptions from three nearby volcanoes blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff. Wind, water and time then eroded the soft rock to create the unique and distinct forms of the fairy chimneys.
For more than a thousand years, the people here took advantage of the soft rock and carved their homes into the fairy chimneys. They carved living quarters, staircases, tunnels, churches, stables, and storehouses into the soft stone, creating multi-level homes in the 100 foot high pinnacles.
Hundreds of meandering trails wind in and out of the valleys in Cappadocia. We spent our time exploring as many of the valleys as we could and enjoyed getting lost from time to time.
On two of our hikes we were accompanied by some furry friends. This puppy hiked with us for most of the day in Rose Valley. Our other furry companion was quite imposing at first. He barked and charged through a barbed wire fence, which made us want to start running. Luckily, he turned out to be a gentle giant and just wanted to play and get some pets.
A walk through the aptly named, Love Valley, gave us a view of hundreds of phallic-ly eroded fairy chimneys. The upper layer is slightly more resistant to weathering than the softer, crumbly shafts below. It was hard to not make inappropriate jokes at times. As one visitor commented, this valley may not be suitable for children.
The best part about hiking in Cappadocia was finding caves that you can climb into and explore. On one hike we entered a small opening and discovered an enormous church carved into the rock. The church contained several floors that included living quarters and a top floor of pigeon houses. Pigeon houses are common to find at Cappadocia. The locals encouraged pigeons to roost in these rock houses so that they could use their droppings as fertilizer for their crops.
On a hike in Red Valley, we encountered a young boy who asked if we wanted to see an ancient cave house on his property. We of course said yes! When we entered the dark, hollowed out fairy chimney and turned on our head lamps, we were stunned to find rooms and a staircase that plunged over 100 feet into the earth. We timidly descended the stairs and luckily found a way out through a storage room at the base of the pillar.
Cappadocia was a religious refuge for many during the early days of Christianity, especially for Christians fleeing Roman persecution in the 4th century. Byzantine Christian monks began carving hidden monasteries into the rock, some of which contain beautifully painted walls and ceilings.
On one afternoon, just before sunset, we witnessed a storm roll across Red Valley. As the rain subsided we were treated to a double rainbow at sunset.
Not only did the ancient peoples of Cappadocia build up into the rock pillars, they also built massive underground cities deep in the earth. More than forty underground cities have been discovered so far in the Cappadocia. We visited Derinkuyu, which is eleven levels deep, extending 200 feet into the earth.
This underground city housed up to 20,000 people and contained rooms for sleeping and eating, stables for livestock, wells, ventilation shafts, and tombs. The people who built this city did not live here permanently and only used it when the area came under attack. Cappadocians would retreat underground and block access to the tunnels with round stone doors until the threat had passed.
We spent 4 full days hiking in Cappadocia and I don’t think it was enough. The region is breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly diverse. The unique geology and the fascinating history of the area makes me want to go back and explore more! From Central Anatolia, we headed south to the appropriately named Turquoise Coast for more hiking and a visit to some even older ancient ruins.