Hidden treasures of Cappadocia in Turkey

Aug 13, 2013, 17:14 IST | Waleed Hussain

The historical Anatolian region of Cappadocia has a host of churches, temples and monasteries intricately carved in the arid mountains. There are cities built underground, often spiralling 50 metres into the depths of the earth. Waleed Hussain discovers the amazing journey through the annals of history

While Nicholas Cage may have zipped through the arid terrain of Cappadocia in the Hollywood blockbuster, Ghost Rider, the best way to discover the beauty of this region is actually on foot. The magical shapes that you see across the Cappadocia region have been carved out by nature over millions of years, and later turned into wineries, monasteries and churches by the local inhabitants. In fact even today, some of the locals in Gerome use these caves to store food supplies and their wines.

Among the 30 underground cities in the Anatolian region, Kaymakli is the widest with a network of over a hundred tunnels. Only four levels around the ventilation shafts are open for tourists. Pics/Waleed Hussain

Cappadocia isn’t really the name of a town or a city but it is in fact the name of the region in Anatolia that is synonymous with the fairy chimneys. The main towns in Cappadocia are Gerome, Avanos and Urgup. The early settlers in the Byzantine period were the chief architects of the various churches and monasteries carved out of the rocks in Cappadocia. They were a gifted lot of planners and constructors, and used their imagination and skills to the maximum.

The beautiful paintings that adorn the interiors of the churches till date stand testimony to the amazing art that flourished in the early centuries. The Christians had a long and peaceful period of existence and during that time, they also went on to build several underground cities. Some of these labyrinths stretch for miles into the mountains. The most famous and well-preserved of these underground architectural wonders is Kaymakli, and another city that goes by the name of Derinkuyu.

After exploring the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, enjoy the performance of the whirling dervishes and belly dancers over a meal in a cave restaurant in Gerome

It is said that during the Arab invasion in the 7th century, the Christians sought refuge in these underground cities from the marauders. The city of Kaymakli is a maze of small passages, rooms and ducts that burrows down to nearly 8 stories under the ground. The temperature inside the city is much cooler than the surface and the air ducts can easily provide enough oxygen for over 100 visitors at a time. The average height of the each room is barely six feet and there was no scope for any light during the early days. However, now the tunnels are well lit and there are adequate arrows to ensure you don’t get lost in the tunnels. As you proceed deeper into the city and move from one level to the other, the tunnels begin to narrow down as well. And so does the ceiling. By the time you reach the third level of the city, you would be crouching on your knees to get through to the next room.

The Goreme Open Air Museum has some of the finest frescos and churches from the 12th century

The rooms get tinnier and the passages can make the best of adventurers feel claustrophobic. But once you pass through the mini tunnels, the interiors of the chambers and the churches will leave you amazed at the skills of the architects. Every room has adequate storage space for food, a small cooking area and beds carved into the walls for the inhabitants. In addition, each segment has at least one small church for prayers, as the inhabitants never surfaced from the underground. Draw wells were carved out in such a way that they served as a source of fresh water at each level of the city. And despite being nearly 50 metres below the surface, the caves are free of rodents and bats. Only a few parts of the city are open to the public and you should be able to visit the three levels in about 45 minutes. The entry fee for the Kaymakli city is 10 Lira (Rs 300) and it is open from 8.30 am to 5 pm.

Enjoy the flavours of handmade Turkish ice cream for 10 Lira (Rs 300) a scoop. Pistachio, figs and almonds are the popular flavours

Next stop on the list is the Gerome Open Air museum that has some of the best churches from the Byzantine era. These structures have been carved out of rocks in the 12th century and the frescos inside depict various stories featuring Emperor Constantine, St George, St Theodore, Helena and Jesus Christ. Over the years, many superstitions took over the populace and they scratched out the eyes of the paintings out of fear. While the rest of the painting remains intact, it is really unusual to see the eyes missing.

The Dark Church, the Apple Church and the Church of the Snake are the most breathtaking structures here. Walking from one church to another is quite a humbling experience. The museum opens by 8:30 am and the best time to visit this site is in the morning, as the afternoon can get really hot and the caves are not ventilated. Entry is 15 Lira (Rs 450).

The Pasabag, also called the Monks Valley, served as the secluded residence for the monks in the early 5th century

After having squeezed through the underground tunnels and walking through the churches of Gerome, a very interesting walk awaits you at the Devrent Valley also called the Valley of Imagination. The reason for this title is that the rock formations in this area defy your imagination. Many rocks are shaped like animals, while some depict a human hand or even a head.

The first few rocks look like a group of whirling dervishes in full flow. You can spot a peacock, a lizard, two ducks kissing and even a structure that resembles Mother Mary holding infant Jesus. Talk about imagination! This valley has no churches or tombs to visit but the many rock formations can take well over an hour to see. The beauty of this place is that each time you will discover a new figure in the rocks.

Not very far is the Pasabag Valley, also called Monks Valley. The distinguishing aspect of these rocks is that they resemble giant mushrooms. The Valley gets its name from the monks that resided in these rock structures. They managed to carve out secluded homes where they prayed in peace away from the masses. Here too, exploring the region on foot is the best bet. You should climb up the hill for an excellent view of the entire valley. The climb is steep and quite taxing on the knees but once you get on the top, the view is worth the ordeal.

How to get there
Turkish Airlines flies out of Mumbai every day to Istanbul (6 hours). Take a connecting Turkish Airlines domestic flight to Kayseri (1 hour), and then a taxi or shuttle to the Anatolia House in Gerome.

Getting Around
There is no pubic transport system in Gerome, so either hop on to a private tour bus (Dorak Tours) to ferry you around the valleys or hire an All-terrain vehicle (ATV).

Turkish nights
Having spent the entire day walking through rock structures and valleys, relax over dinner and a Turkish night. Many restaurants are built inside caves and offer a traditional Turkish meal coupled with traditional Turkish dance performances, whirling Dervishes and belly dancers. The show begins at 8:30 pm and goes on till 11 pm. The deal (100 Lira) gets you unlimited food, fruits and drinks to go with the performances.  You can watch the traditional Turkish wedding, a host of Turkish performances including knife-throwing acts. It is the perfect way to end your day in Cappadocia.

Go to top