5 Must-Do Experiences on an Capadocia Vacation
Welcome to Cappadocia, the amazing wonderland right in the middle of Turkey.
In an extraordinary meeting of nature’s artistic splendor and humankind’s resourcefulness, Cappadocia is one of those rare places that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. With soaring rock formations, uniquely-rippled landscapes, splendid walking trails, mysterious underground cities and rock-cut churches, Cappadocia is the must-see destination in Turkey.
Located just one hour away from Istanbul or Izmir by plane, adding this wonder of nature & man to your Turkey Itinerary couldn’t be easier.
The region of Cappadocia reveals fascinating tales of civilizations long past with its honeycombed hills characterized by geological rarities, including two World Heritage Sites. Sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and ignimbrite deposits from erupted volcanoes left soft rock formations scattered across the land, which were then carved out to create houses, churches, and monasteries in 300 CE.
Rich in history going back to Hittite times (+4000 years) and once a province of the Roman Empire, Cappadocia is now the sprawling area of central Turkey which lies between Aksaray in the west, Kayseri in the east and Nigde in the south. Modern Cappadocia is an incredible place, criss-crossed with valleys and dotted with dramatic rock formations. Whatever your expectations or travel style, it’s impossible to go home disappointed.
Goreme and the Cappadocia region is easily accessible from all parts of Turkey. Once here you can easily comfortably explore all the highlights and the hidden gems that this area is known for. By far the best introduction to Cappadocia is gently floating above the rippled landscape in a hot air balloon. Known world-wide as one of the best places to fly hot air balloons, you will glide just above orchards, between the famous fairy chimney rock formations and up and over the rippled ravines. Alternatively, saddle up and travel like the first European explorers and the Scythian nomads on horseback through the many trails and valleys. The valleys and villages of Cappadocia are also easy to explore on foot. We offer several guided hiking tours as well as daily tours (private and group) to see the highlights of the region.
1. Underground Cities
Beneath Cappadocia’s rock formations are underground cities, not just one or two, but 36 of them! Believed to have housed up to 10,000 people each, they were used by the first inhabitants of Cappadocia to escape the harsh winter and wild animals. Later, they became the place of hiding of the first Christians who escaped persecution at the hands of Roman soldiers. I visited Kaymakli Underground City, believed to be the widest one, which consists of eight floors below, out of which only four are open to the public. I was amazed by this architectural masterpiece and the excellent engineering. There was a winery, ventilation shafts, storage rooms, bedrooms, stables, even a church; hard to imagine how they could have built all this with hand tools and no electricity!
Travel Tip: Between rooms there are tunnels where you would need to bend and crouch to get through, so be prepared.
2. Goreme Open Air Museum
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely on my list of top things to do in Cappadocia. From being an important Byzantine monastic settlement that housed monks, to a pilgrimage site from the 17th century, the Goreme Open Air Museum houses some of the finest rock cut churches. These are beautifully painted from inside with murals dating from 900-1200 AD. Even today these wall frescoes retain their original freshness.
Travel Tip: Visit the Dark Church whose walls were long protected by pigeon droppings. Here you will get to see the best examples of Byzantine art, including scenes from the New Testament.
The most famous sight in Turkey’s Cappadocia region the Göreme Valley holds the region’s best collection of painted cave-churches. Medieval orthodox Christian monks (1000-1200 AD) carved the caves from the soft volcanic stone and decorated them with elaborate Byzantine frescoes.
The Dark Church is the most important sight in Goreme open-air museum and is the most richly decorated of the churches here. Lit by only one skylight, the darkness has preserved the frescoes, which have been carefully restored and can now be seen in all their glory. In one of the frescoes, representing the Last Supper, Jesus and his apostles are depicted with remarkable skill and portrayed with gentle, serene expressions. This masterpiece was the work of a brilliant artist from Constantinople.
the narthex and the church itself are richly decorated with scenes related to the lives of Mary and Jesus. As in the Apple and Sandal Churches, there are also scenes from the Old Testament. The Deesis scenes in the main apse was painted using the fresco technique (directly onto wet plaster), which is very rare in Cappadocian churches, and one can still see the fingerprints of the artists on the faces of Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist.
This church was originally built by donatiofis from eight sponsors: two of whom can be seen depicted in the narthex, two in the apse, and four near the archeangels on the walls. The name of the donor in the narthex, depicted while praying to Jesus, is Nicephorus, and his inscription reads, “icephorus’ prayer, the servant of God”.
The donors were painted on the most honoured parts of the church, a feature unique to this part of the world. The other important scenes in the church are the four Evangelists, painted on the northern and eastern walls, and the doctors Domian and Cosmas who were also saints on the northern wall, shown with medical instruments in their hands. This Church dates from the end of the l2th and the beginning of the l3th centuries.
3. Pasabag (Monks Valley)
Pronounced Pah-shah-bah, the area is famous for its peculiar fairy chimneys. These stunning natural structures are the result of erosion that took place millions of years ago and locals often refer to them as mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys. According to folk tales, the area was inhabited by fairies who lived underground, hence the name. Later, monks took refuge there in the early period of Christianity, around 4th to 5th Century.
Travel Tip: In one of the three-headed fairy chimneys, there is a chapel and a seclusion room dedicated to St. Simeon. You can visit the inside of this fairy chimney and even climb to the top.
4. Devrent Valley
Devrent Valley, which is also known as Imaginary Valley and also as Pink Valley does not have cave churches like the other valleys of Cappadocia. There are no Roman castles or Roman tombs in Devrent Valley, either. Actually it was never inhabited. So what makes it so famous? The lunar landscape!
Devrent Valley (also spelled as Dervent Valley) reveals many different rock formations and is only a 10 minute drive from Goreme. The small fairy chimneys in the valley form a lunar landscape, or moonscape, by their strange look. The valley also has many animal shaped rocks. It looks like a sculpture zoo made by nature. Some of the most important, or the easiest seen animal shapes are camel, snake, seals, and dolphin. If you let your imagination run free you will find many others. It is like looking at clouds and seeing a dragon. There is even a rock pillar which looks like Virgin Mary, holding Jesus Christ.
5. Hot Air Balloon
If you’re wondering why I left this to the end, this experience left me on a high (quite literally!). It is one thing to see the dramatic landscape of Cappadocia from the ground, but a whole new experience to see it from above! Soaring above the valleys and dramatic rock formations, peeking into pigeon holes and caves, and floating among a hundred multi-coloured hot air balloons was nothing short of spectacular! There were moments of ooh-ing and aah-ing and at one time all 15 of us on the balloon went absolutely quiet, as we tried to absorb the incredulous beauty that lay before us.
Travel Tip: If weather conditions do not permit, the flight may get cancelled and delayed to the next morning. However, if you do not have another day to fly your money will be refunded.
Turkey is shrouded in history, mystique and legend, and Cappadocia is the jewel in its crown. Come and live your very own Cappadocian dream.