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Cappadocia occupies the centre of Turkey, the region between the Black Sea in the north and the Taurus Mountains, and between the capital Ankara and the city of Malatya to the east. Famous for its spectacular natural rock formations and valleys, Goreme National Park, as it is known today, is strewn with underground cities, stone chapels, monasteries, and dwellings that were hewn out of the eroded volcanic rock as early as 400 BC.
Thousands of years of wind and rain erosion on a landscape of soft, volcanic stone, topped with hardened larva caps has created a fascinating landscape of rock cones and pinnacles that are known as 'fairy chimneys'. The Valley of Fairy Chimneys is the most popular area, and lies roughly within the triangle formed by the three main towns of the region, Avanos, Urgup, and the main transport hub of Nevsehir.
Outside the triangle to the south are the remarkable underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, where layers of tunnels and an intricate system of caves hid generations of settlers and sheltered early Christians fleeing persecution. The Ilhara Canyon is another religious hideaway with more than 100 painted churches and about 4,000 dwellings carved into the rock walls or concealed within the cliffs; its river bed and lush vegetation stand in stark contrast to the dusty, seemingly barren land above.
Cave dwellings, ancient monasteries and painted chapels are well camouflaged, with entranceways that are barely noticeable among a landscape of perforated cliff walls and rock fissures. Houses of volcanic stone blend unobtrusively into the natural surroundings, pigmented in natural shades of ochre and yellow, to pinks, greys and greens, and many people still inhabit the cones and chimney formations. In tourist towns such as Goreme, delightful little hotels and pensions are built partially into the rock or are housed within a rock cone and offer cave-style rooms.
The Goreme Open-Air Museum is the most visited of the monastic communities in Cappadocia and is one of the most famous sites in central Turkey. It is a complex comprising more than 30 rock-hewn churches and chapels, which contain some superb frescoes, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Inconspicuous from the outside, the interiors are characteristically Byzantine with a central dome and a floor plan in the shape of a cross. The three columned churches, the Elmali, Karanlik, and Carikli churches are the best known, and are superbly painted. The largest and best preserved is the Tokali Church, its interior walls covered in some of the richest frescoes in the region, depicting scenes from the New Testament.
Cappadocia was overlooked by most as a dusty and barren landscape, making it a perfect refuge for the Christians who established the first communities here. They carved chambers, vaults, and labyrinthine tunnels into the soft volcanic rock for use as churches, stables, and homes. Of the 40 underground settlements, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli are the biggest and most interesting, inhabited by Christians fleeing persecution in the 7th century from Arab invasions. These cities were well-hidden complexes, a safe and self-sufficient environment that could accommodate up to 30,000 people. The most thoroughly excavated is Derinkuyu, consisting of eight floors with stables, a school room and dining hall, churches, kitchens, living quarters, wine cellars, store rooms, and a dungeon. Original airshafts still function and the maze of tunnels and rooms are well lit.
The small town of Goreme is situated in the middle of the Valley of Fairy Chimneys, surrounded by the eerie shapes and fantastic rock formations that have made the region famous. It is one of the few remaining villages where fairy chimneys and rock-hewn houses are still inhabited, and several restaurants and cafes are carved into the rock. Its biggest attraction is the Goreme Open-Air Museum, which has over 30 beautifully frescoed Byzantine rock churches. The town makes an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding rock formations, villages, and vineyards. For shoppers, carpets and kilims are plentiful.
Cappadocia has a continental climate characterised by hot dry summers and cold snowy winters. Rainfall is sparse and the region is largely semi-arid to arid. April to June and September to October are the best months to visit Cappadocia. There is a sharp difference in the temperature between day and night and it is not uncommon to have freezing cold nights interspersed with scorching hot days.
The average temperature during the summer months is 73F (23C) while winter's average is much lower at 28F (-2C). Cappadocia is much cooler and drier than its Mediterranean and Aegean counterparts, which are more popular tourist destinations.
The towns of Cappadocia each have their own unique flavour and appeal, so visitors exploring the region will have plenty of activities and sightseeing opportunities to enjoy. The town of Goreme is certainly a must see attraction in Cappadocia, with its fairy Chimneys, wonderful hotels, restaurants, carpet merchants and beautiful antique shops. The friendly residents openly welcome tourists to their little town, so this would be a good place to start an adventure through the Cappadocia countryside.
Like Goreme, the many other enchanting villages in the region are carved out of the hillsides and each will hold their own little treasures: Byzantine rock-cut churches with dazzling frescoes and labyrinthine underground cities, where early Christians once hid from invaders. With so much history and truly unique landscape and architecture, Cappadocia really is a magical wonderland that both nature-lovers and history-buffs can appreciate.
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