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All About Cappadocia

What makes Cappadocia so exceedingly strange are the twisted, billowing forms found in the rocks, forming a ream landscape.Over millions of years, erosion covered the land with thick layers of volcanic tuff forming rock pinnacles, which were then hewn out by man into unique, evocative monuments. The name Cappadocia probably derives from the Persian "Katpatukya", meaning " the land of the beautiful horses". It is a land of vast plains, rolling hills, rugged mountains and extinct volcanoes. It is a veritable treasury of historical relics from the Chalcolithic era to the Seljuk Turks period. The visitor may seldom travel more then a few miles without encountering some derelict reminders of Cappadocia's colorful past.

Geological Aspects of Cappadocia

 

The history of Cappadocia begins some 60 millions of years ago, when the corrugating motion of the earth's crust led to the raising of the Tauern chain. These telluric motions were accompanied by volcanic eruptions right throughout the area; the three tall peaks that dominate the region - The Volcano Erciyes (3916 meters), The Volcano Hasan (3268 meters) and Gollu dag - were active volcanoes; these volcanoes are still active, even though they have not erupted since the dawn of history as prehistoric and Roman records reefers to legendary eruptions.However the volcanoes of Cappadocia must have been active 8000 years ago as the frescoes of a city plan from a house in Catalhöyük, a Neolithic settlement dated to 6500 B.C. near Konya in central Turkey.

In addition to the European Alps, the Taurus mountains of southern Anotolia were formed during the Tertiary period of geological development. During the "Alpine period" of mountain-building, deep fissures and large depressed areas were created The fracturing process allowed the subsurface magma to find to find its way to the surface where it formed the Erciyes, Melendiz, Golludag, and Hasan Dagi eruption cones. After numerous eruptions these cones increased in size and formed a chain of volcanoes running parallel to the Taurus mountains. In addition, volcanic material slowly ran towards the depressed areas and drowned previously formed hills and valleys. This geological activity changed the general landscape of the region, giving it the appearance of a plateau.

Wind, climate, mechanical weathering ( forces breaking up rocks ) rain, and rivers are the types of erosion that gave Cappadocia its unusual, characteristic formations. The Cappdocian climate, with sharp changes of temperature, heavy rains, and melting snow in the spring, plays an important role in the formation of the Cappadocian landscape. In addition, mechanical weathering is responsible for fragmentation because rocks expand when heated and break up as they cool. Water freezing in the cracks can also cause fragmentation. However, the most important sources of erosion are rain and rivers. Heavy rainfall transformed the smooth surface of the plateau into a complex pattern of gullies that followed rivers. Sometimes streams and rivers made very sharp vertical cuts into the volcanic soil and created isolated pinnacles at the intersection of two or more gullies. Rain and rivers also formed valleys such as Zelve and Goreme. Fairy chimneys were formed when lava covering the tuff (consolitadeted volcanic ash) gave way along preexisting cracks of sloping areas and become isolated pinnacles. Fairy chimneys,which can attain a height of up to forty meters, have conical shapes and consist of caps of harder rock resting on pillars of softer rock. A Fairy chimneyexists until the neck of the cone erodes and its protective cap falls off. The subsequent disintegration of the remaining pinnacle continues until it is completely leveled down.

Christianity in Cappadocia

 

Christianity arrived early in Cappadocia, probably during the first century, when it was practised secretly in grottos and in cellars in order to avoid persecution of Christians ceased under the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great (313-337 A.D.). After the splitting of the Roman Empire into eastern and western parts, Cappadocia was ruled by the Christian emperors of East Rome, which later assumed the name Byzantium. Under Byzantium rule, Cappadocia was a frontier region subject to raids. The history of Christianity in the region was influenced by the atmosphere of insecurity. Frequent raids by attacking armies forced Christians to seek refuge in the underground cities and practice their religion in camouflaged rock churches.

The oldest churches which can be seen today in the region date back to the 6th century. The most intense period of church building took place during the 9th to 12th centuries. Construction of rock churches continued under Seljuk rule ,which started at the end of the 11th century . The Seljuk Turks tolerated the Christian faith. The Christians had a complete freedom of faith. Early churches have very simple plans with single aisle . Later other types of plan were developed. The churches are decorated with attractive frescos. Frescos were usually applied to the plain rock surface of church walls. Later the frescos were done on a plaster ground. Sometimes , the walls of the whole church were covered with plaster, as in the Buckle Church in Göreme. The artists in most cases were local painters.

General Information about Cappadocia

The geological formation of Cappadocia is a natural wonder of our world and is the result of two contradicting natural forces. One of these forces is the volcanic out spurts of the region which led to its coverage with lava, ashes, tuff, and volcanic residue. The second force then is the territorial erosion that started after the volcanic build up was over.

The Taurus Mountains of South Anatolia emerged at the Tertiary stage of the geological development just like the European Alps have been (65-2 million years prior to our time). In this stage of "mountain building", deep crevasses and subsidences occurred in central Anatolia. The molten rock (magma) at the earth's core emerged to the surface through these crevasses and formed the volcanoes of Erciyes, Develi, Melendiz and Keçiboyduran. These volcanoes formed a volcano chain parallel to the Taurus Mountains and strong eruptions followed. The volcanic lava, ashes and tuff moved slowly towards the subsidences of the region and covered the formerly shaped hills and valleys, thus turning the whole region into the huge plateau we see now.

The reasons of the erosion whish rendered Cappadocia its present scenery have been the winds, the rivers, and the rains. The other factors of the scenic formation of Cappadocia are the climate of the region with its sharp temperature changes, and the melting snow of the mountains. These sharp changes in temperature gave way to splits in the rocks which were filled up with rain water. As these crevasses froze in winter, the rocks cracked and separated, but the main factors of erosion have been the rains and the rivers. The Nevşehir and Damsa streams which flow into the Kızılırmak River played the major role in the formation of the famous Cappadocian valleys. Particularly the area between Nevşehir, Avanos, and Ürgüp, Where the thickness of the tuffs in the old valleys reached almost a hundred meters, got extremely affected by erosions. The rain waters filled up the crevasses on the surface of the plateau and gave birth to the streams and rivers. The volcanic residues and the eroded earth got carried away by the rivers which sometimes cut the volcanic surface so sharply, that separate hills came into existence.

Göreme has the most beautiful setting in Cappadocia, the hotels and pensions fade into the village and the village fades into the fairy chimneys, hills and valleys.

Göreme has seen many changes particularly over the last 20 years as tourism has developed in the area. Nevertheless this small town still has a thriving community working the fields tucked away between the fairy chimneys and carrying on community seasonal activities such as autumn harvest of pumpkin seeds and the preparation of pekmez (made of wine) and village bread to see them through the long winter months. In Göreme you can see the old and new Turkey side by side (my personal favorite is the donkey tied up for a rest outside the Internet Cafe) and as you wander through the winding village streets you will probably be invited to the tea in one of the ancient cave houses still lived in by local families. Göreme has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere but there is cafe society and nightlife in the center of the village for those who fancy something more lively.

There is plenty to see in Göreme itself, and that famous Göreme Open Air Museum is just up the road, but Göreme also makes an ideal base from which to explore the rest of Cappadocia. Walking maps are available and just about every other form of transport can be hired (including camels for the really adventurous) for longer trips and tours. There is a wide variety of accommodation available in Göreme from basic camp sites right up to the beautiful Ataman Hotel, set at the edge of the old village in the Uzundere valley and offering a complete range of service in a traditional setting.

Çavuşin is a village about 4 kilometres from Göreme. The old village is largely deserted because the area has been plagued by rock falls. For this reason it is best to take a guide if you want to visit Çavuşin and to watch your step. At Çavuşin you can visit the Church of John the Baptist which probably dates from the 5th century with paintings from the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries.

Quite nearby another church contains frescos commemorating the passage of Nicephoras Phocas (a Byzantine Emperor) through Cappadocia in 964 to 965 during his military campaign against Cilicia. Nicephoras may have visited the Church of John the Baptist which was an important centre for pilgrimage at that time.

Ihlara Valley, near Mount Hasan (one of the three volcanoes of Cappadocia) is a canyon with a depth of approximately 100m and was formed by the Melendiz River thousands of years ago. It begins at Ihlara village and ends at the village of Selime after making 26 bends along 14 kilometers.

It is believed that the valley housed more than four thousand dwellings and a hundred churches. It is estimated that around eighty thousand people once lived here.

It is very pleasant to walk through the Ihlara valley by the vineyards, poplars and pistachio trees to the soothing sound if the rushing water and surrounded by a rich wildlife of lizards, frogs, butterflies, birds and sometimes eagles and other mammals like lambs and sheep.

In the middle of the Ihlara valley in Belisırma village there are good restaurants to be found.

The churches in the Valley can be divided into two groups: the Ihlara group, including the Ağaçaltı, Pürenli Seki, Kokar, Eğritaş and Yılanlı churches that reflect Oriental influences, and the Belisırma group, comprising Sümbüllü Church and others with Byzantine characteristics.

The churches of the Ihlara group display scenes dissimilar to the scenes depicted in other Cappadocian churches. In fact, they are reminiscent of the early churches of Syria and the Coptic churches of Egypt. The texts in Ihlara group churches are unusually long. In this group special emphasis was laid upon Satan and women as the source of evil.

There are many churches in the valley. However, relying on the yet undisputed information given in Mme. and M. Thierry's book, we have chosen 11 of them for you to visit.

Uçhisar is a troglodyte village situated 4 km east of Göreme. It is famous for the huge rock formation once used as a fortification. This extraordinary rock is the highest peak in the region and offers a magnificent panoramic view of the whole of Cappadocia with Mt. Erciyes in the distance.

The Citadel, carved out and tunneled by the cave-dwellers of the past, and concealed from view and used for defense purposes, has now been destroyed by erosion, revealing the inner honeycombed architecture. A secret tunnel from the castle to the river bed 100 m below, hewn out in order to provide the water supply in the event of siege, has been recently discovered.

In the Pigeon Valley in the south of Uçhisar there is the best example of the pigeon-houses in Cappadocia.

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