Cappadocia, or Cappadokia, as the locals prefer to pronounce it, has a rich and long political history going back to bronze-age cave dwellers. It includes being a province of the extended Persian Empire, as well as the Roman Empire, being a stop on the Silk Road, a safe haven for persecuted Christians, and more recently, being one of the most exotic and rewarding tourist destinations in all of Turkey.
It is a region comprised of five provinces with several important villages, of which Goreme is one of the most central and most fully developed, as far as touristic infrastructure is concerned. What has made Cappadocia what it is today is a fascinating geological history. The entire valley once was under water leaving bizarre cone-shaped towers standing that today are referred to as Fairy Chimneys, based on the many legends that developed around these unusual geological shapes.
Every other day, I treated myself to one of the locally organized tours, or ventured out on my own. You can avoid those tours if you have your own car, but without a car, you are definitely well-served by the minivans that take between 8 and 16 people around from 10 AM to 6 PM.
I saw an amazing number of view points, visited two underground cities, hiked through two valleys, walked an amazing mountain path with 4th century rock-cut churches, explored two abandoned rock-cut villages, visited the Roman archaeological site of Sobesos as well as the former Greek village Mustafa Pasa, with wonderful old doors and a church that traced its origin back to Constantine’s mother Helena, and more.
I ultimately endured four stops at tourist-trap stores, which is an unfortunate byproduct of these organized tours, but you will survive those well. Along the way, I had some tasty lunches that were included in the tour, and met some interesting people (mainly couples) from all over the world.
This was a somewhat unusual way for me to do sightseeing, but it was worth it. By local bus, I would have only seen a fraction of it all. But I did take the local bus and visited two towns on my own. Urgup’s weekly market was underway when I got there and I stumbled on one of the most wonderful carpet shops ever… Not only did Murad, the owner, have some of the most incredible and unusual collections of carpets anywhere, he seemed like an honest guy on top of it! Way to go.
Two open-air museums (OAM) are in Goreme and Zelve, easily accessible. I managed only one of them. Some of the best-preserved rock-cut churches and dwellings can be found there; nothing short of breath-taking. Due to some extensive restoration efforts, frescoes from the 10th century shine as bright as if they had been painted yesterday. Simple ochre decorations predate even those — but more often than not they have been painted over with the more colorful “modern” frescoes.
I would have never noticed this on my own, but our lovely guide pointed out some doors carved into slopes, or some chimneys sticking out of seemingly empty planes — those, to this day are vast underground storage areas. And more… some people recognized the beautifully consistent temperatures underground and turned these areas into usable spaces, such as a fabulous Ceramics museum in Avanos or a tourist-spectacle restaurant where almost every night is “Turkish Night” with traditional performances, a belly dancer, a fire dance and ridiculous amounts of delicious food. And yes, I signed up and went, ending up with two lovely Russian ladies at a table that had more food than 10 of us could have eaten…
There is not enough room to describe all the wonders of this Cappadocian world, so I will make this mainly a picture essay. And since I celebrated my birthday in Goreme, I decided to do something out of the ordinary and went on a horseback-riding sunset tour. And wouldn’t you know it — Brit and Bekir, from the Anatolian Cave Pension got me a birthday cake! Thank you guys — that was too, too nice of you! And thanks for Mustafa and Ethem, who helped me eat it.
Enjoy the pictures and, if I may make a recommendation — put Cappadocia on your bucket list!