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Göreme Milli Parki, Cappadocia, Turkey

GPS: 38.653505375572, 34.86366499267

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The historic region of Cappadocia (Kapadokya) is is known as the “Land of Wonders” and is located in the heart of Turkey, on the Anatolian peninsula. Shaped by wind, water and erosion, it is distinguished by its lunar landscapes created from major volcanic eruptions. These occurred several million years ago by Mount Hasan (Hasan Dağı) and Mount Erciyes (Erciyes Dağı), the two most important volcanoes in the area. Criss-crossed by fabulous valleys, Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia have curious rock formations of limestone and soft stone, volcanic tuff. These take various forms of cones, needles, pinnacles, arrows, pillars, pyramids, mushrooms or fairy chimneys.

Despite its inhospitable appearance, Cappadocia has been inhabited for several thousand years. The Hittites were the first to develop underground living and cities in the 2nd millennium BC before the region was coveted for its mining resources. It was conquered by the Assyrians, the Luwians, the Phrygians, the Achaemenids, the Medes and the Cimmerians, attracted by its deposits of silver, copper and gold. Occupied in turn by the great ancient civilizations (Persians, Greeks and then Romans), Cappadocia was Christianized in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It became an important religious and monastic centre from the early Middle Ages under the impetus of the Bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia (corresponding to the present-day city of Kayseri). Numerous churches and chapels were built in the tuff in the Göreme Valley and decorated with magnificent interior decorations (frescoes, bas-reliefs, domes, columns, arches, vaults…). A trade route linking the West to the East prospered for several centuries despite wars, earthquakes and series of plunders. The Turks made several incursions into the region and were victorious in the battle of Manzikert in 1071 against the Byzantine army. The Sultanate of Rum was then founded by the Seljuk leader Suleiman I, but Christians and Muslims managed to live in harmony in order to preserve the many richness passing through the Silk Road. It was during this period that Cappadocia was adorned with its most beautiful architectural achievements. Despite an invasion by the Mongolian army in the 13th century, the Ottomans finally settled permanently in Anatolia (Asia Minor) in the 16th century and built many mosques while living with the Christian and Orthodox communities. The latter were forced to leave massively the region after the conflict of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922).

Throughout history, the inhabitants of Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia have taken advantage of their singular environment to build an underground network of remarkable troglodyte cities as well as churches and monasteries dug directly into the rock. These complex developments allowed the inhabitants to hide for several months with their livestock and food reserves in case of an external attack. Some of these rock dwellings are still occupied today by families or transformed into charming hotels for tourist purposes.

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  • The geological and architectural heritage of Cappadocia shaped in countless volcanic layers; the picturesque landscapes of giant mushrooms and forests of stone pinnacles sculpted by erosion over thousands of years; the countless caves, dwelling sites or places of worship carved into the rock
  • The monastic centre and open-air museum of the Göreme Valley; the geological formations of fairy chimneys of Pasabag, Zelve, Nevşehir and Pasabaglari; the colourful shades of the volcanic rock
  • The density of ancient rock churches, chapels and monasteries with thousand-year-old Byzantine paintings and frescoes (Carikli, Elmati, Cavusin, Hacli Kilise…); the presence of ancient Hellenistic tombs
  • The Belha Monastery (the largest and oldest monastery in Cappadocia); the Dark Church (Karanlık Kilise) and the Church of the Buckle (Tokalı Kilise) among the most beautiful in Cappadocia; the Girls Monastery arranged on several levels (Kızlar Manastırı); the drawings, paintings and geometric forms of the Saint Barbara’s Church (Azize Barbara Kilisesi); the Snake Church (Yilanlı Kilise) and the Apple Church (Elmali Kilise) also worthy of interest
  • The incredible number of cave dwellings and constructions; the ancient underground cities (Derinkuyu, Kaymakli, Özkonak, Maziköy, Ozlüce, Tatlarin…) composed of a heap of floors and rooms
  • The many historical sites: Ortahisar (rocky towers), Uçhisar (fortress), Urgüp (wine), Avanos (pottery), Sobedos (Roman archaeological site)…
  • Hiking, horse riding, cycling in spectacular landscapes: the Ihlara Valley (deep ans wild gorge with many rock churches), the Devrent Valley (lunar scenery), the Love Valley (fairy chimneys in form of penis), the Red and Pink Valleys (dotted with small churches and chapels), the Pigeon Valley, the Tulips Valley (Soğanlı) and the verdant Zemi Valley
  • Numerous cultural events: the Salcano Cappadocia Cycling Festival (late June or early July), the Forgotten Flavours of Göreme (gastronomic event in late September) and the International Wine Festival in Urgüp (early October); local handicrafts (pottery, terracotta objects, musical instruments, kitchen utensils, hand-woven carpets…); traditional dances (Mevlevis or whirling dervishes); local wine production
  • Climbing the Kale Rock and the panoramic view from the top (city of Uçhisar); skiing in winter on Mount Erciyes (volcano) and the surrounding snowy landscape; flying over the region in a hot-air balloon
  • It is the lava generated by volcanic eruptions about 30 million years ago that laid the foundations of Cappadocia, a land where nature, history and heritage have been intertwined since ancient times.
  • Volcanic tuff is a soft rock that is easy for humans to dig and carve. It is a perfect material to use as a habitat or hiding place because it has the characteristic of solidifying in contact with air and water.
  • Anatolia was the birthplace of Christianity in Turkey. The first inhabitants converted in the first century by Paul the Apostle (better known as Saint Paul). Other Christians moved into the region in large numbers to escape Roman persecution. They began to hide in the underground tunnels which were originally used as shelters during periods of extreme cold. Little by little, underground cities with places of worship took shape (the oldest troglodytic cities date back to antiquity). They were not permanently inhabited, but were used on a large scale as a refuge in the same way as a fortress in medieval times. A system of sliding doors in the form of millstones was used to block the entrance from the inside to prevent any intrusion from the outside.
  • Cappadocia is a particularly fertile soil rich in minerals and one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world. The culture of wine-making dates back several centuries to a time when this land was inhabited mainly by Christians. Today, only 3% of the harvest is made into wine, most of which is used to produce table grapes or vinegar by Muslim families who continue this age-old tradition on a small scale. The vines have to face extreme temperatures in this region of central Turkey (-20 °C in winter and 40 °C in summer) at high altitudes (up to 1,500 metres).
  • The underground city of Derinkuyu was so secretly well-guarded that it was discovered late in 1963. While renovating a house, a passageway leading underground was discovered by chance. The hidden city, which lies 85 metres below the surface, contains a vast network of galleries cut into the volcanic rock. The underlying rooms are accessible through multiple tunnels, doors and stone staircases on 11 levels (the last 3 of which are not accessible to the public). The inhabitants used to take refuge here to escape persecution or invasion. They could remain hidden for long periods of time thanks to ventilation systems (canals and chimneys), wells and water reserves, food storage areas, stables for animals, chapels, churches and burial rooms as well as living spaces that could accommodate up to 20,000 people.
  • Cappadocia is home to hundreds of dovecotes mostly dug between the 19th and 20th centuries between the cities of Uçhisar and Göreme. They were employed to accumulate pigeon droppings which were used as agricultural fertilizer. The oldest dovecotes in the region date from the Byzantine period and were attached to monastic communities.
  • In 2018, Cappadocia broke its attendance record by welcoming nearly 3 million visitors.
  • Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are easily accessible by bus from all major Turkish cities (including Istanbul, Ankara, Pamukkale or the nearby Kayseri airport).
  • It is best to visit Göreme’s attractions at the beginning or end of the day to enjoy the beauty of the place while avoiding the crowds. Due to the mountainous climate, temperatures can be very cold in winter.
  • The Love Valley (or White Valley) is home to the largest fairy chimneys in the region.
  • Cappadocia is one of the most popular destinations in the world to fly over in a hot-air balloon. Almost daily flights are available from €150 per person, which is a very competitive rate for this type of service.

Where to eat

  • Cafe Safak
    (meals on the go)
  • Topdeck Cave Restaurant
    (in a troglodytic setting)
  • Ocak Restaurant
    (on the heights of Göreme)

Where to go out

  • Sultansazligi National Park
    (vast wetlands)
  • Haci Bektas Veli Museum
    (on the history of Bektashism)
  • Güzelyurt
    (large underground city)

Where to sleep

  • SOS Cave Hotel
    (pleasant and well located)
  • Esbelli Evi Cave Hotel
    (built into the rock)
  • Yunak Evleri
    (in a fairy-tale frame)

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