Discover breathtaking natural beauty and thousands of years of stories in Capadoccia, including Derinkuyu underground city and Goreme. We walk in the footsteps of some of the earliest Christians in the Ihlara Valley and Goreme open air museum and find out how the famous fairy chimneys earned their name.
Welcome to Cappadocia, I’m Fatima. Cappadocia is a world heritage site. For the first stop, we’re in Göreme. Göreme is accepted as the capital of Cappadocia, and most of the fairy chimneys are located here. I think you’re curious about the formation of Cappadocia, and the fairy chimneys. Let me explain now.
Goreme: Geological Formation Of Cappadocia
Approximately 20 million years ago, three volcanoes erupted at different times. The first one was the Argaeus Volcano, in Kayseri, which is 70 kilometres from here. Argaeus is the ancient name for the volcano, which means “white mountain”, or even “august”. The other two volcanoes, Hasan and Melendiz, are situated in Aksaray, which is again 70 kilometres from here. We can roughly say that Göreme is situated between three volcanoes.
Our fairy chimneys actually consist of three layers. The first one is the basalt, which is the hardest. The basalt was eroded by heavy rainfall, sun and wind, and forms our fairy chimneys’ “cap”. The cap is basalt. The second layer is tuff, which is very soft. It’s like sugar powder. That’s why people could easily shape and carve the rock, and thousands of years ago they used the fairy chimneys as churches and monasteries. A seclusion place. As the tuff was more heavily eroded, it forms our fairy chimneys’ “neck”. The last layer is lava, which is harder than tuff, but not as hard as basalt, my friends. It forms our fairy chimneys’ “body”.
The formation of Cappadocia started 20 million years ago, and it is still continuing, non-stop. Let’s look far away. There, you can see the “babies”. They will grow up. Maybe in a hundred years, they will be like Göreme. By the way, I have a secret for you. There are many people – families – living in the fairy chimneys, in the rock formations. They are lucky, because whilst they are living in the fairy chimneys, they receive money from the Turkish government each month. That is because while they are living here, they are protecting and maintaining the houses and caves. Cappadocia has been protected by UNESCO since the 1980s. So the people living here are very lucky.
Look at the Pigeon Valley here, my friends. Pigeons are lovely birds, we love them. People have used them for different purposes. Firstly, they were used as messengers; for communication. Especially during wartime. I want to show you Uchisar, which is right there. It is the highest point in Cappadocia. It is four kilometres from Göreme to Uchisar. People would send messenger pigeons from the top of this castle to Göreme. So people used pigeons at that time to help protect themselves. Secondly, people would use pigeons’ fine bones as needles, to stitch and sew their clothes. Let’s say women have always been talented! Thirdly, their eggs were used in making frescoes. Icons. These are sacred pictures that were painted on church walls. People used pictures to teach the life of Jesus. They depicted all of the stories from the Bible. Lastly, pigeons’ droppings were used as a fertiliser. The fields and lands of Cappadocia are not fertile. In Cappadocia you can see that there are many vineyards. In order to be able to harvest those grapes, we use pigeon droppings.
If you are in Cappadocia, there are many alternative things to do. One of them is hiking in the valleys. There are many, many hidden valleys here in Cappadocia. One of them is Zelve Valley. Here in the valley, you can see that the fairy chimneys have slightly different shapes. Some look like a gentleman, a strong man. You can hold hands with your darling and have a nice romantic time here in the valley. This is perhaps the best valley in Cappadocia. My dear friends, I’m an imaginative girl, so here in Pasabag, Monks Valley, I see many imaginative rock formations. Let’s see them, I will show you now. Look here, it looks like a face, with a nose and ears – well, that’s my imagination. The next one looks like a camel, with its humps. A nice camel. The last one looks like a nice bird in its nest. Look at the right side.
Goreme Open Air Museum
We are in Göreme open-air museum. In Göreme open-air museum, you can see the best five churches in Cappadocia, which are protected by UNESCO and the Turkish Government. Göreme open-air museum used to be a kind of school, a missionary school, to teach Christianity to students. Boys and girls were educated here; monks and nuns were educated about Christianity and the life of Jesus Christ. Let’s look on the left-hand side, where you can see the monastery for boys, which has six floors. Look on the right, and you will see the nunnery, for girls, who were separately educated here in this school. This dates back to the fifth century AD. You may want to ask me who founded these schools. There were three important saints. The first was St Basil. He was born in Kayseri, in Cappadocia. He was educated on Christianity in Egypt, Syria and Constantinople. Then he came back to Cappadocia, and he said “I have to support Christianity”, so with his two friends, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Gregory of Nazianus from Cappadocia, these three important leaders formed this school for Jesus Christ.
Now let’s go to see St Simon’s church, but first of all I would like to show you St Simon’s garden. Here, he harvested grapes. He was a Christian, and in the Bible, it says, “wine is my blood, bread is my body”. These are all vineyards, which we can still see even today. The huge, gigantic fairy chimneys were used as a shelter. We are in St Simon’s church. He lived alone for 35 years. No television, no neighbours, no friends. Just for Christianity, he used to live alone here. He used this place for a long time and there are many different sections here. For example, he used to live here, and that’s the kitchen section that he would use for cooking. That’s the prayer room, to pray and worship to God almighty all the time. We cannot climb up to the church section unfortunately. He used to live here in the stable section with animals, and he would keep himself warm from the heat of those animals, especially in winter.
Now we are in the kitchen of St Simon. He used this place to do his cooking. That’s a tandoori, which was part of the chimney’s cooking system. The blackness that we can see on the ceiling and walls shows us that he probably used fire, mostly. It is believed that this was the winery. He used to consume wine; he was Christian. In Christianity, wine is sacred. Jesus Christ said, “wine is my blood, and bread is my body” in the holy book.
We are in the living room of St Simon. He used to live here. It is not very decorated, but he used to pray here. Next, we are in the stables, which were for the animals. He used to live here with his animals because he would get the benefit of their heat, especially in winter, and he would also use their milk and meat. The animals would be tied to these places.
Goreme: History of Cappadocia
Cappadocia has hosted many civilisations. It has a five-thousand-year-old history, which starts with Hittite; the Hittites. Five thousand years ago, they used to live in Cappadocia. We love them a lot, because they first discovered pottery-making in Cappadocia, which you can see in Avanos. We use two types of clay in our pottery. Even today, people do this job to make money. We also love them because they were the first to discover Cappadocia wine.
When you come to Cappadocia you should definitely test the delicious Cappadocia wine! Their capital was Hattusa, which was in the Anatolia region. After the Hittites, came the Phrygians. Their capital was Gordium, near Ankara, the Turkish capital of today. They had kings, and one of them was King Midas. Whatever he touched turned to gold. I’m sure you remember about the golden touch and King Midas. After the Phrygians, we see the Persian Kingdom. We love them a lot, because they were the first to give the name “Cappadocia”. The old name was Katpatuka, which in the Persian language means “the land of the beautiful horses”. The land of the wild horses. They came from Iran and they used to live here. They had many victories at that time, which is why they gave the name Katpatuka.
After the Persian Kingdom came Alexander the Great. He was a great soldier, a great warrior. He expanded the borders of Cappadocia as they were at that time, gaining many victories. Then, we will see the Roman Empire, and
Cappadocia was very important. The Roman Empire was a huge, magnificent empire. In its later period, it was divided into two parts, the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. Romans believed in Paganism, which has many different Gods and Goddesses. After the separation of the eastern and western empires, the Eastern Roman Empire became a new empire – Byzantium. Constantinople is the old name for Istanbul.
The Byzantine people accepted Christianity, and they were the first empire to do that. We can say that Byzantine people were the children of the Roman Empire. The Romans were Pagans, but their children accepted a new religion, and the Romans became angry. They said, “why did you accept Christianity?” – I’m dramatizing here to give a better understanding. “We were Pagans, we were happy, why?” The children felt scared, and they fled to Cappadocia. That’s why they used the fairy chimneys as a shelter, and to perform various activities. They dedicated themselves to Jesus.
Today in Cappadocia, you can see a thousand cave churches. Byzantine, orthodox cave churches. On the walls, they painted frescoes, icons. By icons, I mean sacred pictures that explain the life of Jesus from the Bible. When Christianity was first accepted in the world in the fifth century AD, the first Bible was written in the Roman alphabet, so it was hard for people to understand. So they found a solution, and using a picture technique – we call them frescoes – they tried to explain the life of Jesus Christ. To make the frescoes, they used pigeons’ eggs and mixed them with natural root dyes. Pigeons’ eggs make these frescoes strong and polished.
We can say that, after Bethlehem, Cappadocia was the second most important centre for Christianity during the Byzantine people’s empire. After the Byzantine people, came the Seljuks. The Seljuk Turks from the Ottoman Empire used to live here. But there was great tolerance. What does tolerance mean? That Christians and Muslims were good friends; good neighbours. You can even see some Seljuk sultans in the frescoes on the church walls, and they are shaking hands with the bishops. The Ottoman Empire ruled for 600 years in Cappadocia, in Anatolia. Again, many people lived here together peacefully, regardless of their race, language or religion.
That’s the lovely history of Anatolia and Cappadocia my friends.
So my friends, now we’re going to Ihlara Canyon. Ihlara Canyon is one of the best valleys in Cappadocia, and it is the second biggest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the United States. First of all, remember that in the formation of Cappadocia and the fairy chimneys, three volcanoes erupted. I will show you Hasan and Melendiz volcanoes. Luckily, they are not active. It is very snowy, as you can see. In the morning, we could not see the Argeaus volcano because it was so cloudy.
So my friends, finally we have arrived at Ihlara Canyon. Do you know what “ihlara” means? It means hot spring water that comes from underground. Which means that there are many spa centres in this region. Spa centres are very beneficial for your skin especially. Ihlara Canyon is an important part of Cappadocia, because the first Christian men – hermits – used to live here. Such as St George, St Simon, St Theodore, St Thomas. I want to show you over there, where we can have a look at some caves. There are hermit caves over there in the valley. Later, these hermits’ caves were converted into churches. In Ihlara Valley, you can visit 100 cave churches.
My friends, when you arrive at Ihlara Valley, you should definitely see the Melendiz River. It comes from the Melendiz Mountain, and especially in spring and summertime when the snow is melting and feeding the Melendiz River.
So my friends, do you understand better now why these people chose this place to live and pray? Because it was such a peaceful and relaxing place for them to pray to Jesus.
Now friends, luckily we are in a nice, small village – Ihlara Village – on the outskirts of the Hasan and Melendiz volcanoes. Local people choose to live here. The
population is approximately 1000 people – it’s a small community. In this village, they’re so happy.
Finally, we are on this side of the Ihlara Canyon. So what about the formation of this valley – are you curious? In the formation of this valley, two volcanoes – Hasan and Melendiz – erupted 20 million years ago. And then this area was full of basalt and it was flat. But some huge earthquakes resulted in it cracking apart, until the valley became separated. As time passed, as a result of heavy rainfall, sun and wind, the valley got larger and larger, and deeper and deeper. If you look on the other side, you will see the holes of pigeons and hermit caves, and the Melendiz River, which comes from the Melendiz volcano.
While you are walking through the valley, you can find a nice drink of water. This water comes from volcanic mountains, so it’s nice. It’s relaxing, definitely. You can taste it.
In Ihlara Canyon, there are 100 cave churches. So for you, we are going to the best one together, St George’s church. Let’s go. My friends, finally we are at St George’s church. Do you know who St George is? In Christianity, he was very famous. You probably know the story of St George. Why do we call it St George’s church? I will show you with a fresco – it is St George fighting a big snake, or a big dragon. After killing off the dragon, he was portrayed here with a big snake, on a white horse. Actually, the snake symbolises bad wishes in the hearts of human beings in Islamic culture and Christianity, as we know. What about the frescoes from the Bible? These are all explaining the life of Jesus from Christianity and the Bible. I will start with the Pantocrator Jesus, my friends. He looks like a king. Pantocrator means he is the creator of the Universe. And he is with four angels you can see here on the roof of the church, an ascension story from the Bible. You can see the Twelve Apostles, students portrayed here together. And then I will show you the crucifixion story from the Bible – here Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers. Here you can see – and please pay attention – the old Greek alphabet. The Greek Roman alphabet. Why did people paint these pictures onto church walls? Because the old Roman alphabet was difficult to understand. People were reading the Bible, but they couldn’t understand anything. And then they found a solution – they made pictures. Another example, we can see the Nativity – the birth of Jesus Christ, who was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Some animals there are getting warm with their breath. It is all about the life of Jesus Christ; these spectacular and incredible frescoes. Even today you can still see them, because thanks to the pigeons’ eggs, these pictures have been very well preserved.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Now, friends, we are at Derinkuyu underground city. Cappadocia is famous for its many underground cities. There are almost 40 underground cities. We will visit the deepest one for you. We will be 65 metres underground, and we will go down eight floors. We are finally in the underground city, and the first floor is a kitchen. How can we understand that we are in a kitchen? That’s a tandoori, a traditional Anatolian cooking system. We have a chimney here, which would have taken out the smoke at the time. But in my opinion, these people couldn’t use fire during the daytime. Because if they used fire during the daytime, enemy soldiers could see them easily, because of the smoke. These deep underground cities date back to 2000BC, which is 5000 years ago. It is still in its original condition, there has been no reconstruction in this underground city. Firstly, the Hittites used this as a refrigerator, for food storage. When we go further down, we will see many food storage sections. Then, we will be able to see the Byzantine people, who date from the fifth century AD. They accepted Christianity. It was hard to persuade the Romans of any religion, so they were escaping from the Roman pagans, and they used this as a shelter during wartime. They lived here for five or six months. After the wartime, they were free like us. In this underground city, people made many tunnels. Do you know why they made them? It was to confuse their enemies. When enemy soldiers came in, they would be confused and that would give the Byzantine people more time to escape. And they went down.
Let’s see the tunnels over there. And this is the end. All the tunnels are blocked. Archaeologists came and excavated here for ten years, from 1954 to 1964. But the archaeologists were only able to dig out ten per cent of this underground city. There is still 90 per cent of it that we don’t know, which is surprising and incredible. Another important thing, and something else that surprises me, is that all of the underground cities in Cappadocia – all 40 of them – are connected to each other by tunnels. We have the proof, when you go down there, you will see a nine-kilometre tunnel, which goes to Kaymakli underground city.
Do you know how to make wine at home? I know. First of all, before the wartime, Christian people would come together and store all the grapes from their vineyards. They would keep them here. Then they would use big grinding stones to crush the grapes. After crushing them – can you see the stone pipes there? – the grape juice would be funnelled through the pipes and collected here. It would be left to ferment for two months, and then they were able to produce delicious Cappadocia wine. As they were Christians, they consumed the wine in particular for religious ceremonies.
Now we’ll go and see the food storage section. Before the wartime, people would store all of their food there. The cool air would help to keep their food fresh for longer. Let’s see it now. These are all food storage areas. They would use big amphorae to keep their food. Probably, they wouldn’t have enough food to last them for five or six months, but what could they do?
Byzantine people used to put boiling oil into amphorae, and put them here so that if enemy soldiers came in, it would fall on them and they would be burned, unfortunately, in a bad way. In these underground cities, there are 100 traps for enemy soldiers. It shows us that there was a greatly worse energy at that time. The people may not have died immediately, after the oil fell on them. The people here would have tried to get information off them about the enemies’ upcoming plans, and then they would have killed them and taken the dead bodies to the cemetery section further down.
Ok my friends, we are going to go further down now, we’re continuing to go through these tunnels together, and we’re going to the second floor.
I have a secret for you here. And a surprise. Remember how I explained that all of the underground cities are connected to each other? So if you don’t like this one, you can use this nine-kilometre tunnel to get to Kaymakli underground city. Good luck!
You might want to ask me why these people made these tunnels so narrow and low. Any ideas? If they made them larger, more enemy soldiers could get in next to each other. As it is, they killed them one by one. So they made these tunnels low and narrow to help defend themselves.
If you don’t like this underground city, you can arrive in another one using this nine-kilometre tunnel. It might take you three days to arrive there. Another important thing you might want to ask me is why did they make the spaces in this underground city so narrow and low? Were these people very short? No, actually they were taller than us, and bigger than us. But if they were to make this underground city bigger, many enemy soldiers could easily get in. As it is, they were able to kill them one by one, especially in the tunnels, which are only wide enough for one person. So that’s why they did it. They were very smart, definitely.
If we pay close attention, at the ends of these tunnels, we can see huge rolling stone doors. Each one would weigh 500 kilograms. The Byzantines were smart – they could close the tunnels, block them, and escape down underground. Let’s go down there. We’re escaping now. This is one of the stone doors. It is so heavy, it is so hard to move, but they were successful in defending themselves. They could escape. In the middle of the door, as you can see, is a hole. That was so they could see if there were enemies coming or not.
So friends, now we’re on the third floor. To go from the third floor to the fifth floor, we need to pass through this tight tunnel. Let’s go down to the fifth floor.
So friends, now we’re on the fifth floor. If you remember, I explained before how they had these ventilation shafts, which these people used to get oxygen, to get fresh air. Without oxygen, it would be impossible to live underground. It is believed that there are 50 ventilation shafts in this underground city, to get oxygen. So, now is the time to get some oxygen, some fresh air, and we’re going to go even further down. On our way, you will see a second stone door. Please pay attention here – these are living rooms for families. This is the second stone door. Here, you can see the living room for poor people, maybe a family used to live here. These people had no privacy, my friends. They had to live here like A family, B family. There are many small living rooms. Here’s another stone door. You can see another living room here. There was actually a big community here. The population was between 500 and 1000 Christian people who used to live here. 800 people used to live here, approximately. Incredible. You can see a third stone door here. Another stone door here. And then another living room for a family. Now we’re going down into the deepest level of this underground city.
Now, we’re on the deepest level, and we are 65 metres below the ground, my friends. Please, from now on, behave in a kind way, because I know how to get out!
Finally, we are on the deepest level of this underground city, my friends. This section is amazing. I want to show you these columns here. These were used to give punishments to people. We are in a meeting room now. Probably, these people were very unhappy, during the wartime especially. Ladies like chatting, you know? Maybe they would come together here to have some chatting time. And they used to practise democracy at that time, my friends. So, if a man or a woman made a mistake, all of the Christian people would come together and decide whether to give a punishment or forgiveness.
So, how can we understand that we are in a church now, my friends? It is a cross-shaped church. Probably, these people were very tense and unhappy – they were escaping from their enemies, and the Roman soldiers – so, they came here and prayed to Almighty God. They said, “Please save us from these bad enemies”.
That is the grave section, the cemetery section. The dead bodies were probably piled up. Thanks to the cool air, these bodies would stay fresh for five or six months. They would use this section as a morgue and hospital. They couldn’t go outside when someone died. There was nothing they could do; they had to wait. After the wartime, they took all of the bodies outside and they buried them. Let’s go over there. It’s scary, help me! Dead bodies were piled up here.
So my friends, finally we are on the eighth floor, and we are 65 metres underground. My friends, in this underground city, there are two wells, which were to meet their water needs. But during the wartime, I think they used this one, it is a small one. Remember how outside there was a well? They couldn’t use it during wartime, because if the enemy soldiers noticed, they might drop some poison into the well. That is why, for the people’s safety, they used this one. The enemy soldiers could not see this one, so it was better. We are approaching the exit, but before we leave I want to show you the stable section, which was for animals. This is the last section, for animals. They put bedding down for the animals, and they could tie them to the wall here. This was a special place to tie the animals. You may want to ask me why they would build a stable section when they were closed-off to the outside? Because it had to be easy for them, after and before the war, my friends.
Love Valley and Rose Valley
My dear friends, now we are in Love Valley. It is one of the best valleys in Cappadocia, and there are many, many valleys here. So, why do we call it the Love Valley? Because it is a very romantic place for lovers. It is just the place for lovers to meet for a kiss. So, my friends, in Love Valley, you can see different kinds of shapes in the fairy chimneys. In the eighteenth century, a Frenchman came here, and when he woke up in the morning – it was a snowy day – the fairy chimneys looked like white angels with the snow on them. They had a conical shape, like a chimney. That is why he named them “fairy chimneys”. But in this valley, they look like different shapes, and different beautiful rock formations.
My friends, now we are in Rose Valley, its other name is Red Valley. Do you know why we call it Rose Valley? Because of its colour. In the formation of Cappadocia and the fairy chimneys, three volcanoes erupted 20 million years ago. From each volcano came some kind of volcanic material, and minerals. In them, you can see some pigments. This one looks red-ish. So thanks to its red colour, we call it Rose, or Red, Valley. You can also see that some monks, some early Christian men, used to live here, to pray in a peaceful and lovely atmosphere.
So, my friends, now we are in a cave house, a cave house for hermits. Why did they choose to live here? During the Roman Empire, it was really hard to proceed with a new religion. So they isolated themselves from society. They used this valley as a seclusion place. Maybe they worshipped almighty God and Jesus here for a while here – it is even believed that they lived here for 35 years, more or less. I think that they were not happy, because it was not easy for them to believe and to persuade others. My dear friends, in two days we have visited Cappadocia for you! We are so happy here, and it is your turn now. In your lifetime, I definitely recommend that you visit the land of the beautiful horses, and have a nice escape to Cappadocia with your darling, with your lover, with your family, with your friends. Enjoy, and good luck!