Undeground Cities of Cappadocia

Landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey.

What could be better than relaxing by the sea? Only relaxing by another sea. The Turkish coast is washed by four seas, and the choice of all-inclusive hotels on the Mediterranean, Aegean, Marmara, and the Black Sea is just enormous. But for me, one of the most memorable experiences of the past year was a balloon flight over Turkish Cappadocia. I even feel sorry for those who know this country only by beach holiday or vain Istanbul. That means you have not seen the most important places in Turkey. Yes, this country is not small, and many of its attractions are hard to reach, but that, precisely, is the real challenge!

The Goreme Open Air Museum. Cappadocia, Turkey.

The Goreme Open Air Museum. Cappadocia, Turkey.

The Goreme Open Air Museum. Cappadocia, Turkey.

Cappadocia is a historic region in Central Anatolia. The name of the region is not accidentally translated as a country of beautiful horses. Horseback trips along the unique valleys of Cappadocia are available now, and perhaps it is much more interesting than a balloon flight above it, but we have seen horses only from a distance and in the movies, so we spent our three days in Cappadocia on our legs—and sometimes on all fours—in the underground cities.

What are the reasons to visit Cappadocia? One of them is to look at the frescoes of the 9th-11th centuries in the cave churches near the town of Goreme. When Byzantine Constantinople became Muslim Istanbul, the early Christians found their refuge from religious persecution here. Now, the flight from Istanbul to Nevsehir airport lasts about one hour, but in those days, the road took a minimum of three weeks.

The Goreme Open Air Museum. Cappadocia, Turkey.

The Goreme Open Air Museum. Cappadocia, Turkey.

The Goreme Open-Air Museum will show you about a dozen well-preserved early Christian churches, refectories, and former monks’ cells. There are about 400 churches around Goreme, and the most recent of them was built shortly before the Mongol invasion in the 18th century. The Cave Church of Saint Barbara (the second half of the 11th century) impressed us most of all.

I warn you that number of people who want to look at the unique frescoes of the times of St. George and Basil the Great is more than enough even in the low tourist season. To get inside one church we had to stand in line for twenty minutes, and it was March. Photographing of murals is permitted only in a few places.

Frescoes in cave churches in Turkish Cappadocia.

Frescoes in cave churches. Cappadocia, Turkey.

Frescoes in cave churches. Cappadocia, Turkey.

Another great thing in Goreme is an accommodation in hotels/caves. Rooms in cave hotels are carved into the rocks as it was in the ancient times, therefore don’t be surprised that the night can be very cold, 15-16 degrees, but lighting a bonfire in the middle of the room is not permitted. We slept in our clothes and under three blankets, feeling the full immersion into history. The cost of one night in a modest cave in March was 65 Euros, but you can buy a “luxury cave” with a beautiful four-poster bed and Jacuzzi that is as good as any resort on the coast.

But let’s return to our ancient frescoes. If your plans allow you to visit only one of the underground churches, you may want to choose the St. John’s church in Gulsehir (Gülşehir). This church has experienced a long-term restoration, and was opened to the public in 1995. It has many frescoes, but it is hard to take one’s eyes off the “Last Supper.”

Underground cities of Cappadocia are real skyscrapers, but inverted upside down. It is an indescribable feeling to wander, and sometimes crawl, through tunnels built and occupied in the 2nd-1st millennium B.C., although sometimes it is also scary. Due to technical problems, the light in underground tunnels sometimes goes out for a short while, and you stay out of time. The situation is similar to when you squeeze on your knees through the narrow and stifling passage to the King’s Chamber in the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. But the length of that tunnel is only ninety meters, Cappadocia is a multi-story maze. Low arches of some passages create a clear psychological discomfort. Sometimes you want to stand and raise your head, but it’s impossible.

Underground city. Cappadocia, Turkey.

Underground city. Cappadocia, Turkey.

Underground city. Cappadocia, Turkey.

For people who can not tolerate closed, narrow, and stuffy places, and suffer from claustrophobia, a visit to the Cappadocia underground cities can be a very serious challenge. Moreover, if you have been a frequent visitor to McDonald’s, some passages may be an insurmountable obstacle for you.

The first Cappadocian underground city was discovered only recently, just fifty years ago. Now, the most famous and accessible for tourists are Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı. Derinkuyu goes down eight floors underground, Kaymaklı only five. All the cities are similar. They have ventilation chimneys, spacious rooms for animals and food storage, wine cellars, bedrooms, kitchens, and prayer halls. In Derinkuyu, archaeologists even found underground stables. Old ventilation shafts function perfectly today.

All these rooms were carved in soft tufa rocks with tools of obsidian, and after 48 hours of contact with air, the surface of a new home was solid. It was a simple and very cost-effective way of building. In case of enemy attack, narrow tunnels among floors were overlapped by huge boulders.

You are not a connoisseur of early Christian frescoes and like underground cities even less, but adore hiking? Cappadocia is perfectly suited for active walking around the various holes in the mountains and photographing mind-blowing, almost unearthly landscapes. If you want to visit all the valleys, it’s better to rent a car or take a taxi, because hiking from Goreme to some valleys could take three days.

Landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey.

The valley of fairy chimneys. Cappadocia, Turkey.
A great place with mountains/mushrooms, Pasabag Valley, is located about one kilometer from Cavusin Old Village. It is also called Monks Valley, because for centuries, it was a refuge for hermits. Now, one of the former monastic cells has become a refuge for the police station.

The Love Valley stretches for four kilometers between the towns of Goreme and Uchisar. It received its romantic name due to the natural phallic formations. Cliffs here are huge, as tall as a house with multiple floors. What the real traveler will appreciate most of all is the complete absence of tourist crowds. To drive up here by bus is impossible and even by machine it is hard. In the spring, many roads turn into streams, but this is the unique beauty of spring in Cappadocia—everything is blossoming and aromatic, the air is clean and fresh and filled with the scent of herbs.

In Turkish Cappadocia you must see the forty-meter cliffs in the form of mushrooms in Meskendir Valley, Ihlara Canyon, Zemi and Gorcelid Valleys, and the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys.

Landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey.

A balloon flight will be your most expensive entertainment in Cappadocia. Goreme has many travel agencies that offer this dubious pleasure. In March, the price ranged from 110 to 150 Euros per person. If I were you, I would not expect much from this attraction, unless you had a lifetime dream of flying. This is like a gondola ride in Venice.

In the early morning, it is even more interesting to watch this Cappadocian attraction from the terrace of your hotel than being suspended in a basket between heaven and Earth with two dozen other desperate balloonists. This is an impressive view. Cold clear air, the sun rises from behind the mountains, and the first colored balls slowly fly up into the sky, at first a few, then more and more. On a clear day, you can watch 40-45 of them.

Cappadocia’s amazing rock formations are unique, though there is something similar in Serbia: Djavolja Varos (Devil’s Town), or France: Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt. But still, it is hard to doubt the uniqueness of Camel Rock, the hallmark of Cappadocia.

The Camel Rock. Cappadicia, Turkey.

The Camel Rock. Cappadicia, Turkey.

Les Orgues d'Ille-sur-Têt, France.

Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt, France.

Devil's Town, Croatia.

Devil’s Town, Croatia.

We rested in Cappadocia mentally, but were dead tired physically. This is a place for those who want temporarily to forget about all the joys of the 21st century: stress, bad ecology, or modern gadgets. Sometimes, you forget what century, what country, and what dimension you are in, despite the ubiquitous Wi-Fi. From time to time, every citizen of any big city needs this break.

More about Turkey:
Sailors’ Superstitions Couldn’t Stop Us from Visiting Ancient Ephesus
You Can Eat Perfectly in Istanbul Even on a Student Budget

41 Responses to “Undeground Cities of Cappadocia”

  1. wordsfromanneli Says:

    These photos are wonderful. You’ve saved me a hot air balloon trip. When I saw the entrances to some of the rooms and tunnels in your photos, I already got that claustrophobic feeling. I could never go down there, so I’m glad you’ve done the trip and have shared it with us. Very good description too, of all the unique things Cappadocia has to offer.

    Like

  2. Agingadventurer Says:

    I was lucky enough to take the balloon ride and visit area myself…but my photos certainly are not up to par with yours! Fantastic

    Like

  3. Sue Slaght Says:

    Victor when we went to Turkey for our cycling trip we did not go on to Cappadocia. What a shame in retrospect. As always your photos and description are astounding.

    Like

  4. Pam Says:

    Very cool rocks! Beautiful photographs of an amazing site.

    Like

  5. Andrew Petcher Says:

    I like the concept of a ‘luxury cave’. Good post Victor, this place is high on my ‘must visit’ list.

    Like

  6. Frank Says:

    Absolutely fantastic photos. We will make it to Turkey one day and I’d love to stay in one of those cave hotels as long as there are no bats 🙂
    Frank (bbqboy)

    Like

  7. Sue Says:

    Excellent images and words – Cappadocia has been on my list for a while, now I’m even more certain I want to visit!

    Like

  8. wordsfromanneli Says:

    I sent this to a friend and here is her comment: Victor´s pictures are just so wonderful – what a beautiful and interesting place!

    Like

  9. Darlene Jones Says:

    Great post and stunning photos.

    Like

  10. Sisterhood of the Traveling Panties Says:

    Love the post and the Mc Donald’s comment gave me a chuckle. Any tips for a solo female traveler to istanbul/cappadocia?

    Like

  11. Green Global Travel (@GreenGlobalTrvl) Says:

    Cappadocia looks like something out of Star Wars – so intriguing! Beautiful photos 🙂

    Like

  12. thebritishberliner Says:

    I love this post Victor. I’ve only been to Istanbul and that was on my way to India LOL! I’ve never been interested in going to the beach in Turkey as I’m not a huge fan of beaches. Far too boring! I was going to take a trip around Turkey this Spring but I switched it for going to the Baltics instead. Perhaps next year and yes to Cappadocia, but only on a horse!

    Like

  13. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) Says:

    Cappadocia would be a dream come true – the ancient sites look so incredible and those frescoes seem stunning. No wonder there was such a long queue! Interesting to hear that you mentioned the balloon ride might not be worth it. I’ve always thought it sounds magical but it does seem costly and I do wonder whether it lives up to the hype…though I’m going to Venice for the first time this year and wondering the same thing about the gondola!

    Like

  14. francaangloitalian Says:

    These photos make me want to go to Turkey and Cappadocia even more. This country has been on my mind quite a lot recently, the more I read and see photos about it, the more my wanderlust grows!

    Like

    • Victor Tribunsky Says:

      It’s amazing that you and Dave have not reached this place yet. It seems to me to get a visa to Turkey is much easier than to Russia. 🙂
      Thank you for the visit and comment, Franca.

      Like

  15. Kemal Kaya Says:

    Cappadocia is realy great region but we neet to market it more professionally. Especially asian side of the world doesnt know about Cappadocia much. I beleive with a good marketing we can make cappadocia as a favorite destination for them…

    Like

  16. Sarah Says:

    AMAZING! I’m off this week – can’t wait!

    Like

  17. Kemal Kaya Says:

    WOW ! That is the only word I have to say about this place. Amazing pictures.

    Like


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