Surreal landscapes and fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey, Cappadocia is known primarily for its rock. It is impossible to visit the region without coming face to face with some sort of rock formation, whether the eye-catching phenomena known as fairy chimneys, the houses and churches carved out of the rock face or the underground cities hewn into the ground.

Just three and a half hours’ drive south of Ankara or an hour’s flight from Istanbul, Cappadocia is a unique region, created by eruptions of Mt Erciyes and Mt Hasan around 60 million years ago. The soft rock was
subsequently eroded by rain and wind over thousands of years, creating a fascinating landscape of valleys and fairy chimneys. These bizarre rock formations consist of a cap of hard rock perched atop a cone-shaped column of softer rock, some of which rise over 100 feet into the air.

For the best views of Cappadocia, go to Uchisar. Situated at the highest point in the region, some 1,300 metres high, the peaceful town offers panoramic views over the surrounding landscape. The fairy chimneys rising up to the north, east and west of Uchisar were once used as
graves. Tombs were cut inside the rock and bodies were laid out on stone slabs inside. It is definitely worth spending a couple of nights in the town and a range of cheap hotels are available for those wishing to delay their onward travel for a day or two.

Dozens of underground cities abound in Cappadocia. The most elaborate are found at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Carved deep into the volcanic stone, some of the cave cities were excavated as early as 1500 to 1300 BC, during the Hittite Empire. Many were painted between the 8th and 12th centuries, using colours made from local rocks and herbs which still appear vivid today.

Rather than providing permanent abodes, the caves were used for hiding from attacking armies, although they were designed so that people could stay underground for months if necessary. Deep wells and tall chimneys provided essential water and ventilation and the larger cave systems had their own livestock enclosures and wine presses. Some even had churches which were hewn out of the rock.

The original tourist magnet in the area is widely regarded to be Urgup and, with its excellent hotels and inns, it attracts a wide range of travellers. The town is well-known for its cave houses, many of which are surprisingly large, as extra rooms are often excavated in the rock when necessary.

Although Urgup is still extremely popular, nearby Goreme has become the undisputed favourite among budget travellers. The town has a multitude of cheap hotels and pensions and, with its own supply of cave houses and fairy chimneys, has become something of a backpacker’s base.

The area is also home to the Goreme Open-Air Museum – the most famous site in the whole of Cappadocia. Just one mile from Goreme itself, the area boasts the best cave churches in the region, complete with beautifully painted Byzantine frescoes. Particularly worth seeing is the Karanlik Kilise, otherwise known as the Dark Church. The 11th century dome and walls are covered with painted Bible scenes which have only recently been restored.

Both the Goreme National Park and the rock sites of Cappadocia were added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1985, proving that a trip to the region is likely to be the highlight of any holiday. A range of activities are available, including walking, mountain biking and horse
riding through the valleys.

Many people only come to Cappadocia for a couple of days but it is certainly worth spending longer in the region. Accommodation, food and the locally-produced wine are all cheap and it is therefore possible to spend a few days enjoying the sights on a relatively tight budget. The one extravagance that is certainly recommended, however, is a balloon trip from which the picturesque landscape and rock formations can be truly appreciated.

Buses travel to Cappadocia from most of Turkey’s main cities, including an overnight service from Istanbul, and the taxi and minibus (dolmus) service within the region itself is excellent. Flights travel to the region’s airport at Kayseri and regular connections fly to and from Istanbul.

Many people travel to Turkey for its beaches or spectacular cities but around 850,000 foreign tourists make the short journey to Cappadocia each year, proving that the surreal landscape is definitely worth a visit. One of the cheapest destinations in the Mediterranean, Turkey should definitely feature in your holiday plans and Cappadocia will give your holiday that little added extra.

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