Cappadocia: 9 exciting sights
Cappadocia (Turkey) is a geologically rare site located in central Anatolia. This mountainous area, which hides underground cities, cave monasteries and churches in its bizarre cliffs, bears great historical significance, for which it was included in the list of UNESCO heritage. The first settlements in the depths of Cappadocia date back to the 3rd millennium B.C., and with the arrival of the Christians to the land its mountains have become a refuge for numerous temples, cells and crypts.
The uniqueness of local landscapes is in their natural origin: all these fabulous buildings were created not by man, but by nature for tens of millions of years. Once upon a time the territory of modern Cappadocia in Turkey was covered by lava tongues erupting from the active volcanic chain and deposited on the earth layers together with the ash. Over time, the surface of the earth rose by about two hundred meters and the ash and lava were transformed into volcanic tuff, a light, porous rock. Over millions of years, wind and rain have eroded the flimsy material into intricate figures and rocks, pyramids and canyons.
Today Cappadocia is one of the most visited attractions in Turkey, and every day there rise up hundreds of balloons with tourists. The site is surrounded by Goreme National Park, which is an open-air museum, which includes numerous rock sculptures and cave shrines. Near the park there is a village called Goreme with hotels, restaurants, and stores, where travelers who come to Cappadocia usually stay.
The history of Cappadocia in Turkey, intertwined with several nations and empires, is quite confusing, so scientists to this day cannot come to a consensus on many issues. It is known that as early as the 3rd millennium BC its lands were mastered by the Hittites, who were later completely exterminated by the Hittites. One scholarly theory is that it was the Hittites who gave the site its modern name, which originally sounded like “Cattapeda” (“the place below”). Other scholars maintain that the name was invented by the Persians who came to the area in the 6th century B.C. and called the place Haspaduya, which translates as “Land of beautiful horses. Because the second version sounds more romantic, it is used in all reference books.
In the 1st century AD. Cappadocia was part of the Roman Empire, and in the 4th century its rocks became a refuge for the Christians persecuted at the time. It was they who discovered the ancient Hittite underground city, perfected it, and began carving large monasteries and miniature cells out of the malleable tufa. In the Byzantine era, with the advent of the 7th century, the area began to be encroached upon by the Arabs, but the state fought back stubbornly, attracting the forces of the allied Armenian empire. However, in the 11th century Cappadocia was invaded by Seljuk Turks who added their traditional buildings in the form of caravanserais, mosques and madrassas to the local landscape.
Despite the arrival of the Turks in Cappadocia, Christians, most of whom were Greeks, continued to coexist peacefully with Muslims on its territory and preach their religion until the 20th century. That all changed with Ataturk’s decision to exchange Greeks living in Turkey for Turks living in Greece. After that, the local monasteries fell into decline, and the remaining locals devoted themselves entirely to agriculture. Interest in Cappadocia revived in the 1980’s when Europeans who discovered the site began to visit central Anatolia. This was the start of the development of tourism in the area that now sustains the entire region.
What to see
The sights of Cappadocia in Turkey cover a huge area, and it is simply impossible to see them all in a day. So that you do not waste time, we have collected in this item the most interesting sites, among them:
This open-air museum spreads over an area of more than 300 km², is a whole monastic complex: it includes dozens of churches and chapels. From the 6th to the 9th centuries, Göreme was one of the most important monasteries of the region. Goreme was one of the major Christian centers, on the territory of which functioned more than 400 shrines. Many monasteries have survived to this day. There are wall paintings of early Christianity as well as Byzantine frescoes. The most famous in the museum is the Church of St. Basil, inside which you can look at the surviving images of saints and scenes from the Gospel. Also worth checking out is the Church of St. Barbara, painted with colorful patterns, and the Apple Church with four columns and a Greek cross.
If you do not know what to see in Cappadocia, we suggest you go to the miniature town of Avanos, located near the banks of the longest river in Turkey, Kizil-Irmak. Due to the fact that the water in the river is rich in ore and red clay, the locals managed to develop craftsmanship and pottery here. Underground structures and fanciful rocks you will not find here, but you will find silence and solitude, harmoniously intertwined with the oriental coloring. Moreover, in the town everyone has the opportunity to visit one of the local workshops and learn the basics of pottery. The attraction is also famous for its carpet factories, Seljuk Aladdin Mosque and Woman’s Hair Museum, the collection of which consists of over 16 thousand exhibits – real locks of hair, once belonged to girls from around the world.
The silent town, located 4 km from Goreme, is more like a small village with no banks or supermarkets. The settlement itself does not cause much interest, but the Uchhisar fortress located on its territory attracts tourists. This structure made of tuff with a sharp top can be seen from any observation platform in the city. The fortress appeared in the era of Hittite Empire and was able to seat up to 2,600 people. The structure is gradually deteriorating, and travelers here can see only a small part of the building. It is definitely worth climbing up to the observation deck, which offers a large-scale view of the expanse of Cappadocia with its picturesque valleys.
One of the most popular attractions in Cappadocia and Göreme are the Fairy Chimneys, which have long been the trademark of the area. The unique rock sculptures, shaped like stovepipes or giant mushrooms with cone-shaped hats, can be seen in different parts of the valley adjacent to the town of Zelve. Of course, tourists are told romantic legends that magical fairies live in the pillars, but in reality, the bizarre formations were the result of the destructive effects of rain and wind on the tuff rocks.
The Caimaklys is a huge underground complex with eight stories. Each of them has dozens of tunnels and rooms that once served as warehouses, kitchens, stables and cellars. Ventilation and water supply systems were arranged here, there was its own chapel and pottery workshops. Here, scientists found a long tunnel stretching for 9 km and connecting Kaimakly with another attraction – the cave settlement of Derinkuyu. It is believed that the underground dwelling could accommodate up to 15 thousand inhabitants. Today only the first 4 floors of the town are open for tourists but even this is enough to feel the ancient atmosphere of the once inhabited caves.
When visiting the city of Goreme and Cappadocia in Turkey be sure to see the underground complex Derinkuyu. The history of the site dates back to the 8th century BC. For a long time, Christians persecuted by Arabs for their religious beliefs took refuge in the structure. To date, archaeologists have excavated 11 floors, which go deep into the 85 meters. Scientists estimate that they will be able to excavate another 9 floors.
It is believed that on the territory of the underground attractions could simultaneously live up to 50 thousand people. Like in Kaymakly, there was a ventilation system with a half-meter shaft, as well as water pipes that provided all the floors with water. Today Derinkuyu is the largest underground city in Turkey.
Pashabag is one of the most picturesque valleys of Cappadocia, often referred to as the Valley of the Monks. Many hundreds of centuries ago the area was home to Christian preachers, so today you can see the results of their activities – churches and chapels. The most famous structure in the valley was the chapel of St. Simeon Stolpnik, who came to Pashabag back in the 5th century. The temple is located in a rock sculpture with three cone-shaped hats. Several churches have been preserved here, and ancient frescoes have been preserved in their walls.
If you are looking for information on what you can see on your own in Cappadocia, do not miss the unique historical monument of Zelva. The first settlements within the walls of the complex appeared in the 2nd-5th centuries. By the early 11th century, Christians came to Zelva and converted a number of its rooms into churches and cells, so today you can look at their creations here. Until 1952, the caves remained inhabited, but due to the gradual collapse of the rocks, people were forced to leave the complex. The destruction of Zelwe continues to this day and staying within its walls is dangerous, so visits to the museum are limited. But even a glimpse of the complex from the outside will allow you to appreciate its grandeur and scale.
This is one of the most famous valleys in Cappadocia in Turkey, stretching closer to the village of Chavushin. It was named after the pink hue of the rocks. The valley has two canyons that run parallel to each other and join at the approach to the lookout point on Aktepe Hill. One of the spurs stretches for 2 km, the other for 3 km. There are 5 ancient temples in the Rose Valley, the oldest of which is the Church of St. Joachim and St. Anne, dating back to the 7th century.
Balloons in Cappadocia
One of the most popular activities in Cappadocia is hot air ballooning, which gives tourists a unique opportunity to see the lunar landscapes from a height of almost 1 km. Balloon tours are organized during the whole year, but the real parade of mongolfiers can be observed during the summer time, when up to 250 balloons are in the air. The flights usually take place early in the morning at dawn and last from 40 to 90 minutes. Read more about hot air balloon tours in our separate article.
Where to Stay
The nearest settlement to Cappadocia is Goreme, and that is where most of the hotels are concentrated. Almost all hotels in this area have no stars, which by no means detracts from the quality of their services. It is interesting that many hotels are located in the rocks, so tourists have a great opportunity to experience living in these caves.
Charming Cave Hotel.
The choice of hotels in Cappadocia in Turkey is very rich: only in Goreme you will find more than a hundred different hotels. A double room costs an average of 140 TL per night. Most establishments include free breakfasts in the total amount. The most budget accommodation options will cost 80 TL for two people per night, the expensive ones will cost 700 TL.
Prices are for December 2018.
In addition to Göreme in Cappadocia, there are other, more remote settlements where you can also rent a room: these are Urgup, Uçhisar, Ortahisar, Çavuşin and Avanos. The cost of living in these villages varies about the same range as the prices of accommodation in Goreme.
How to get to Cappadocia
There are three ways to get to Cappadocia in Turkey: by plane, by bus and on your own by rented car. There are two airports not far from the sight – in the cities of Nevşehir and Kayseri, where there are daily flights from Istanbul. You can read more about how to get to Cappadocia in our separate article.
Your visit to Cappadocia in Turkey will be much more entertaining if you familiarize yourself in advance with the most interesting facts about the sight:
- Cappadocia has a total area of over 5,000 km².
- Despite the desert landscapes of the site, the land here is even very fertile: here grows a large number of grapes, which supply almost all of Turkey. Also in Cappadocia grows beets, apricots, chickpeas and other crops.
- There is a legend that the landscapes of Cappadocia inspired director George Lucas to create the planet Tatooine in the famous “Star Wars”. The area has also been the setting for famous Hollywood movies such as Empire of the Wolves and Ghost Rider.
- Many locals still use the caves as their permanent home.
- In total, scientists have discovered 36 underground settlements in Cappadocia, but today only 3 of them are accessible to tourists.
To make your trip to Cappadocia a smooth one, we have prepared a number of recommendations for you based on the experience of travelers who have already been here.
- If you want to see absolutely all the sights in Cappadocia, you need at least 2 days. If you have only 1 day then you can spend it visiting Goreme Park.
- It is better to go to Cappadocia on your own, not with a tour. Firstly, you will save money, and secondly, time. Tour guides take tourists to onyx factories, sweets and carpets, which takes up the lion’s share of your precious time.
- If you are going to see the valleys of Cappadocia, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the rules of safety in the mountainous terrain. Many tourists neglect the basic norms of behavior, resulting in injuries.
- The ideal months for visiting Cappadocia are May, June, September and October. During this time it is not so hot, but also not cold, there is practically no rainfall and cloudiness.
- If you decide to see Cappadocia from a hot air balloon basket, do not be in a hurry to buy a flight from the first company you meet. It is always better to buy your ticket from the organizing company on the spot rather than through an online service.
These are, perhaps, all the main points to consider when visiting such a picturesque place like Cappadocia, Turkey. We hope that our article was useful for you and will help you in organizing your own tour of the sights of the region.
Author: Catherine Unal
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All the best places in Cappadocia
Discover the main beauties of Cappadocia! I tell you what is definitely worth seeing, and help you make an itinerary for 1, 2 and 3 days.
Alexei Sinitsyn, website creator . Rarely does a tourist spend more than a couple or three days in Cappadocia. We wandered the dusty roads of this unique land for almost a whole week. I can say with confidence that 5-7 days is the ideal time to get to know the Land of Beautiful Horses. During this time you will see all the main attractions, visit the famous cave cities, which are many stories deep into the ground, walk through the most expressive valleys, which somehow magically unlike one another, although they stand side by side, you will see stone mushrooms and old cave churches with frescoes, walk through the canyons and enjoy the views from observation points, of which there is an abundance. In general, you will enjoy a lot of impressions and delight for eyes. Cappadocia is beautiful and unique, I advise you not to jump on the peaks, and to give yourself a week rest in these parts to fully and at a relaxed pace to discover all the local beauty.
Ten Valleys Around Goreme
In my opinion, the valleys are the most interesting and beautiful things to see in Cappadocia by yourself. I counted ten of them, and that’s just around Goreme: Red, Pink, White, Honey, Zemi, Sabel, Pigeon, Meskandir, Love Valley and Görkündere (Love Valley-2). It is an indescribable pleasure to walk alone through these beauties, discovering ancient churches with half-faded frescoes hidden in the rocks, walking through dark tunnels, climbing to viewing platforms, admiring bizarre remnants and marveling at the bright colors. Learn more about the valleys of Cappadocia and see photos.
Goreme is convenient to live in because it is easy to walk to any route through the valleys from the village. Pictured here is the valley of Love. These landscapes reminiscent of the Wild West are the Red Valley and Aktepe Hill.
Goreme Open-Air Museum
This is a complex of many cave churches, which is included in the UNESCO list. You can only visit some of them and it is forbidden to take photos and videos – and the entrance costs as much as 100 liras! In fact, you’ll see similar things in the Cappadocia valleys for free, but it’s still worth seeing the museum too, because the frescoes there are much better preserved and some have been restored.
A curious fortress that looks like Maasdam cheese. It’s not touristy, so for now you can crawl through it for free. Climb up to admire the views and look for the church of John the Baptist or ask the locals to show it to you. However, they will suggest it to you. Behind the fortress, about a kilometer away, there is the church of Phocas and the most beautiful stone mushrooms. I advise to come before sunset!
We explore the fortress Chavushin. About a kilometer from the fortress there are such nice “mushrooms”. They are also called chimneys or fairy fireplaces.
Another cheese fortress, but paid, equipped and popular. From the top there is a 360 ° view and that’s all – in a similar fortress in Chavushin was more interesting. Tourists advise to meet the sunset at the fortress, and I would recommend meeting the sunset with a view of it and the neighboring “fairy chimneys”. At this time, everything around is flooded with gold. You will get colorful photos!
Uchkhisar fortress and a happy dog who found a companion in us. Uçhisar fortress is especially beautiful at sunset. There is a wonderful cozy valley with “fairy chimneys” near Uchhisar fortress.
Pashabag – the valley of monks
A small toll-free valley with “fairy chimneys”, mushrooms, a camel like in Devrent and the church of St. Simeon. It’s nice to walk around marveling at the local specialty – multi-headed mushrooms, which, like beech mushrooms, grow out of one place.
Pashabag is the valley of monks.
Zelve – abandoned city
Zelve is another open-air museum that I suggest you see on your own in Cappadocia. It is not as advertised as in Goreme, and more ascetic – there are almost no frescoes. But it is a real abandoned city with a mosque, churches, a tunnel and a lot of cave tiered houses. It is located in three gorges at once. Just think, here without any facilities and communications until the 50s of XX century, lived the Turks! Do not be lazy to go, because the city is spectacular and little visited. Our pleasure was unlimited.
Zelve. Zelve. Mosque in Zelva.
Devrent – the valley of the imagination.
The Valley of the Imagination is the name given to this little patch of fanciful figures. They say that among these mushrooms you can see figures of animals, people and God knows what else. Tourists are really into this stuff and come in busloads. We did not understand the excitement – perhaps it is necessary to walk through the valley to feel it. We took a quick look at the poor, photographed camel and drove on.
Camel in the valley of fantasy.
Three Beauties – Uch güzeller.
This is another very popular place, a symbol of Urgup and the whole Cappadocia! There are three mushrooms just by the road, and you can look at them from wooden bridges. We have seen exactly the same ones not far from Cavushin, so we were not impressed. We must admit, the beauties are pretty, and you can spend a few minutes with them.
The three beauties are the symbol of Cappadocia and Urgup. The Three Beauties.
It is interesting to walk along the valleys, but it is no less cool to climb the observation platform after a long hike and capture with the tired gaze the panorama of the places you’ve just passed! However, many viewpoints can also be reached by car. Learn about Cappadocia viewpoints.
The most popular observation point is in Goreme, where you can watch the sunrise and sunset, as well as admire balloons and have a glass of wine.
The farthest valley from Göreme, the deepest and probably the longest! It is a stone canyon, resembling a wound on the Earth’s body from above. At the bottom of the valley runs a rivulet, and on the rocks it hides churches with stunningly beautiful frescoes and just monks’ dwellings. Some people prefer to see this valley on their own, but I think it is better to visit it as part of the Cappadocia Green Tour and see only the most beautiful part.
Ihlara Valley (Ihlara). A fresco in one of the rock churches of the Ikhlar Valley.
Selime cave monastery.
Amazing rock monastery, preserved since the 8th century. There’s a cathedral, churches, a caravanserai and various outbuildings. And you can also partially see Star Wars Valley from here, which George Lucas was once impressed with. We didn’t expect much from Selime, but we really liked the monastery. It is located next to the Ihlara Valley and is part of the Green Tour.
The so-called Star Wars Valley. The cathedral of Selime monastery. Faded frescoes.
There are 40 multi-story underground cities in Cappadocia, but the most famous are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli. To see at least one of them is a must. We went down to the Hittite-founded city of Derinkuyu, and it was something! An underground anthill with an intricacy of tunnels and caves, which are easy to get lost in without a guide. Just imagine how everything was intricately arranged there: there were elevators and ventilation shafts, cattle lived inside, there was a morgue, churches, a bathhouse, a school, and other necessary facilities for life.
We visited the city with a guide during the Green Tour, but you can see it on your own or replace it with another underground city in Cappadocia, Kaimakli or Mazi. However, such cities are better explored with a guide, otherwise the purpose of many underground rooms will remain unclear.
Let’s go down to the underground city of Derinkuyu! In some places there are such narrow staircases and tunnels that two people will not be able to pass each other. On one of the floors of the underground city of Derinkuyu.
Crater Lake Nar.
A picturesque green lake surrounded by the walls of a volcano vent. Not a bad place to take a break and eat with a beautiful view, but I would not go here specifically. Nearby there are hot springs and thermal hotels.
Crater Lake Nar.
It is a nice village with well-preserved Greek mansions. In addition to the beautiful houses, I suggest seeing the Church of Constantine and Helena, the Church of St. Basil and walking in the Monastery Valley. There are several cave churches and the rock monastery of St. Nicholas. There are several other valleys near the village: Gomeda, Yuzedengi, Sakla, so if you want to walk through them, it makes sense to stop for a couple of nights in Mustafapasha.
Mustafapasha is very different from other villages in Cappadocia with Greek mansions. The entrance to the Church of Constantine and Helen.
This is a unique well monastery! One of the best preserved Byzantine underground monasteries. It also has beautiful frescoes. We didn’t have time to go there, but we really wanted to.
There is also a cave-formed rock fortress, as in Chavushin and Uchhisar. But the town is more interesting with its churches: Balkanskaya, Panjarlik, Hallach.
Keşlık Manastırı is another rock monastery. We have not been there yet, but we plan to go. It is interesting with well preserved frescoes from the iconoclastic period, unlike other Cappadocian frescoes.
Guzelyurt and the Monastery Valley
A town with pretty Greek mansions and a monastic valley – just like Mustafapasha. The valley is called Cappadocia in miniature. There is also the underground city of Gaziemir, the remains of the Hittite settlement on the hill of Analipsis. Here we have not yet reached.
A nice valley with interesting frescoes, tourists hardly ever visit it. Included in the rare Blue Tour, but the valley can be seen on your own by car and visit other places in Cappadocia on the way: Derinkuyu, Mazi, Mustafapasha. We have not visited it yet.
Avanos – the city of potters.
To somehow dilute the valleys, stone mushrooms, rock monasteries and cave churches, go on your own to the pottery town of Avanos. This is where all the pottery sold in Cappadocia is made. You can buy souvenirs or learn how to make pottery at a master class.
What to see in Cappadocia in 1 day
If you only have 1 day for Cappadocia, be sure to pre-book this hot air balloon tour (it’s cheaper and has reviews). If you’re afraid to fly, at least watch them at sunrise, and after breakfast at the hotel, go to the Open Air Museum. Then walk for a while in one of the valleys (like Love, Pink or Sabel), take a cab to Zelva or Pashabag, and in the evening go up to the observation deck in Göreme and meet the sunset with a glass of wine.
If you don’t want to plan your own vacation, take the Red Tour of Cappadocia.
Take a walk to the Sabell Valley from Goreme. It’s quite close, and it’s easy to get there by walking past the ranches.
What to see in Cappadocia in 2 days
If you have a day for Cappadocia, see the description of the first day above. And for the second day, plan a great independent route through the valleys. For example, this: Goreme – Valley of Love – White Valley – Honey Valley – “chimneys of fairies” – Uchhisar fortress – Goreme. You can also pass it in reverse order. I like this route most of all because it is spectacular, simple and fast. A person with normal physical training can pass it.
The valleys are the most beautiful and interesting things in Cappadocia!
What to see in Cappadocia in 3 days
On the third day, I advise you to take the Green Tour, even if you have your own car. We did, because with a guide to drive this route is more profitable in time and money. Without a guide Ahmet, we did not have time to see half of the places in a day!