In Turkey, in the heart of the Anatolian peninsula and an hour from Istanbul by plane, is Cappadocia. Cappadocia is one of those places to visit at least once in a lifetime.
What makes Cappadocia such a special place is its landscape, which seems to have come out of a story. Cappadocia is formed by valleys and capricious conical rocks sculpted over the centuries by wind and rain, mysterious underground cities and stone churches of ancient Christian communities.
Cradle of the first Hittites, the Cappadocia region has been a land of passage throughout history for different caravan routes and has been inhabited since time immemorial by different civilizations; Assyrians, Mongols, Persians, Syrians, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Romans, Turks.
The underground cities of Cappadocia
What makes this region so special is its rock formations, originated millions of years ago by the eruption of two volcanoes.
This land composed of lava, ashes and mud, allowed its inhabitants to dig artificial caves in the soft rock as a refuge against the invaders of the steppes of Central Asia, which periodically ravaged the region.
And it’s not about simple caves. They are entire cities emerged from the rock. With a total of 36 underground cities, the largest and most magnificent of all, the city of Derinkuyu, it was so large that 20 thousand souls took refuge there.
In addition, the city of Derinkuyu had an underground water source, ventilation holes and the possibility of storing food and livestock, which allowed its inhabitants to remain hidden in the underground city for long months.
Likewise, its cliffs and hills were a refuge for some of the first Christians who sought solitude and began to proliferate hermitages, churches and monasteries carved into the capricious rocks of Cappadocia.
However, what attracts travelers from around the world are its conical pillars protruding between its valleys. The Turks call them «Fairy Chimneys», and the best way to see them is from the skies on a balloon trip.
Things to do in Cappadocia
Listed on the list of protected World Heritage sites since 1985, Cappadocia does not only present panoramas to admire because its history, its culture and its admirable sites are not left, while the welcome is there very warm. Cappadocia has so many assets that my list cannot be exhaustive!
The hot air balloon has become a must. It is certainly not mandatory to appreciate Cappadocia, but I sincerely think that anyone would regret not having done it by returning home.
The experience is expensive and very touristy, but the sunrise seen from a balloon and surrounded by this cloud of balloons is worth some sacrifices.
Every morning before dawn, and for about $300, specialized companies pick up passengers at their respective hotels and take them to a meeting point. After a light breakfast the adventure begins.
Together with Badan in Cambodia, it is one of the most beautiful balloon views on the planet. From the heights, the capricious rock formations and their pinnacles, take your breath away.
Browse Cappadocia on horseback
For riding enthusiasts who want to experience the sense of freedom that the open spaces provide, a discovery of a few hours or a few days can be a nice option. The horse allows you to go faster, further, and dominate the territory.
Visit the open-air museum of Goreme
Goereme is the most visited site in Cappadocia. In a very small area, it concentrates a really impressive number of churches and frescoes (but also tourists). At the end of the day and accompanied by a guide (who will tell you the history of each church outside because he has no right to do it inside … people would stay too long), the site is really worth the visit.
The Soganli Valley may be another more secretive option and a little less crowded with tourists. The rock churches are also very numerous.
Admire the paintings of troglodyte churches
More than 3000 chapels are listed in Cappadocia. Between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, the Byzantine monastic communities decorated the churches they had dug in the rock. More than 150 convents, chapels and troglodyte churches are listed by UNESCO for their rock frescoes.
So even without going to Goreme, be sure to visit some troglodyte religious centers. The paintings are often very well preserved.
The Cappadocia is famous throughout Turkey for its gastronomic diversity and delicious cuisine. Local specialties from Cappadocia include lamb ragpût, cooked and served in pottery, or ballı gözleme, a creamy egg-filled galette covered with honey.
During your stay in Cappadocia, you can taste the Turkish specialties:
- kebabs (grilled meat in bread)
- döner (moceaux of mutton on a spit)
- hummus (chickpea puree and sesame cream)
- böreks (dough puff pastry stuffed with cheese or spinach)
In Cappadocia, the population density is really low. For this, public transport is very weak and rare.
The most common way to get around Cappadocia is to engage with some private tour or with some heating of the area. For short trips, you will always have the option to go for walks, very healthy and useful to explore less visited areas a little more solitary.
The best times to visit Cappadocia are spring and autumn. In summer, in addition to finding large amounts of tourists, you will have to withstand temperatures of over 30 degrees. In winter, however, the thermometer can mark -10 degrees.