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Carried Away in Cappadocia

Mar/02/2024 / by Sugato Mukherjee
Byzantine Frescoes

From underworld cities to riveting landscapes, this up & coming destination often feels out of this world

At first glance, the Cappadocia region in Turkey can look like something out of a dream. Active volcanoes once dominated the landscape here, and lava flows shaped the soft rock into unusual shapes. The earliest settlers in this part of Central Anatolia carved homes out of the naturally-formed cavern shelters, some of which have now been converted into boutique cave hotels. To experience a bit of what the region has to offer, stay in Göreme, where the wind and the rain have sculpted winding valleys of craggy cliffs and conical fairy chimneys. The small town makes the perfect jumping off point to see some of the unique wonders of this part of the world. Here are just a few: 

The establishment of the earliest settlement around Goreme has been traced back to 1800 BC, where for many centuries the area was a watershed between two mighty empires – the Greek and the Persian. In the middle ages, Byzantine Christians fled from marauding Arabian armies and took refuge in the cliffside chambers tucked deep in the folds of this surreal moonscape.  

The religious Christians not only built their rock-hewn living quarters but also a collection of rock-cut chapels and cavern churches, which are housed in the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Despite centuries of weathering and vandalism, many of the beautiful frescoes of the cave churches are breathtaking with their freshness of colors. Created between the 10th to 12th centuries, they depict scenes from the Bible and the life of Christ. 

The Valleys of Imagination

The lunar landscape of the Devrent Valley resembles a sculptural amphitheater with its clustered collections of volcanic cones and pinnacles, which strangely resemble camels, crocodiles and serpents. In nearby Pasabag, also known as Monks Valley, mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys rear up from the surrounding vineyards.  Uchisar Castle, a royal rectangular crag, and the highest point in all of Cappadocia, offers a stunning panorama from the upper floors, reached by a winding outer stone staircase. 

A hot air balloon ride offers staggering panoramic views of the valleys and volcanic spires. 

Subterranean Cities

Kaymakli is one of the largest of Cappadocia’s underground cities, built by the early Christians, where they had taken subterranean refuge in an intricate network of underground cities, each of which could house 10,000 people. In the depths of this ancient city, through narrow hamster tunnels and passageways, you can see living quarters with blackened walls that doubled up as kitchens, granaries with huge millstones, and churches with frescoed altars. The interiors are surprisingly cool and with a lot of air circulation thanks to ventilation shafts cleverly disguised as wells.

The Red & Rose Sunset

The most picturesque part of Cappadocia, the Red and Rose Valley can be reached via the small town of Cavusin, dominated by a cliff where a cluster of abandoned houses tumbles down the slope. Plan a trip for dusk here to see honeycombed hills and towering boulders glow in an otherworldly rust-red.

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