The geological formation of Cappadocia is a natural wonder of our world and is the result of two contradictory natural forces. One of these forces is volcanic eruption in the region, which led to its coverage with lava, ashes, tuff, and volcanic residue. The second force is the territorial erosion that started after the volcanic build up was over.
The Taurus Mountains of south Anatolia emerged at the Tertiary stage of geological development just like the European Alps (65-2 million years prior to our time). In this stage of "mountain building", deep crevasses and subsidence occurred in central Anatolia. The molten rock (magma) at the earth's core emerged to the surface through these crevasses and formed the volcanoes of Erciyes, Develi, Melendiz and Keçiboyduran. These volcanoes formed a volcano chain parallel to the Taurus Mountains and strong eruptions followed. Volcanic lava, ashes and tuff moved slowly towards the areas of subsidence in the region and covered the hills and valleys, turning the whole region into the huge plateau we see now.
The causes of the erosion, which gave Cappadocia its present scenery, were the winds, the rivers, and the rains. Other factors were the climate, with its sharp temperature changes, and the melting snow of the mountains.
The sharp changes in temperature created splits in the rocks, which were filled up with rainwater. As these water filled splits froze in winter, the rocks cracked and separated.
But the main factors of erosion were the rain and the rivers. The Nevşehir and Damsa streams which flow into the Kızılırmak River played a major role in the formation of the famous Cappadocian valleys. In particular the area between Nevşehir, Avanos, and Ürgüp, where the thickness of the tuffs in the old valleys reached almost a hundred meters, was extremely affected by erosion. Rainwater filled up the crevasses on the surface of the plateau and gave birth to the streams and rivers. The volcanic residues and the eroded earth got carried away by the rivers, which sometimes cut the volcanic surface so sharply, that separate hills came into existence.
Göreme has the most beautiful setting in Cappadocia, the hotels and pensions fade into the village and the village fades into the fairy chimneys, hills and valleys.
Göreme has seen many changes particularly over the last 20 years as tourism has developed in the area. Nevertheless this small town still has a thriving community working the fields tucked away between the fairy chimneys and carrying on community seasonal activities such as the autumn harvest of pumpkin seeds and the preparation of pekmez (grape molasses) and village bread to see them through the long winter months.
In Göreme you can see the old and new Turkey side by side and as you wander through the winding village streets you will probably be invited to take tea in one of the ancient cave houses still lived in by local families. Göreme has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere but there is cafe society and nightlife in the centre of the village for those who fancy something more lively.
There is plenty to see in Göreme itself, and the famous Göreme Open Air Museum is just up the road, but Göreme also makes an ideal base from which to explore the rest of Cappadocia. Walking maps are available at ShoeString and just about every other form of transport can be hired (including camels for the really adventurous) for longer trips and tours.
Çavuşin is a village about 4 kilometres from Göreme. The old village is largely deserted because the area has been plagued by rock falls. For this reason it is best to take a guide if you want to visit Çavuşin and to watch your step. At Çavuşin you can visit the Church of John the Baptist which probably dates from the 5th century with paintings from the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries.
Quite nearby another church contains frescos commemorating the passage of Nicephoras Phocas (a Byzantine Emperor) through Cappadocia in 964 to 965 during his military campaign against Cilicia. Nicephoras may have visited the Church of John the Baptist which was an important centre for pilgrimage at that time.
Uçhisar is a troglodyte village situated 4 km east of Göreme. It is famous for the huge rock formation once used as a fortification. This extraordinary rock is the highest peak in the region and offers a magnificent panoramic view of the whole of Cappadocia with Mt. Erciyes in the distance.
The Citadel, carved out and tunnelled by the cave-dwellers of the past, and concealed from view and used for defence purposes, has now been destroyed by erosion, revealing the inner honeycombed architecture. A secret tunnel from the castle to the river bed 100 m below, hewn out in order to provide the water supply in the event of siege, has been recently discovered.
In the Pigeon Valley in the south of Uçhisar there are the best example of the pigeon-houses in Cappadocia.
Avanos is about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Göreme. The town has a lively shopping center with all the usual amenities including a modern, tourist orientated hamam (Turkish Bath). A travelling market visits Avanos on Fridays.
Starting just outside the shopping center the old village of Avanos winds up the hills leading away from the town and is a beautiful maze of old stone houses, some restored, some converted and some sadly abandoned to their fate. In some of the abandoned houses the features of traditional Ottoman architecture can be seen along with ancient decorations, motifs and murals.
About 14 kilometers (9 miles) from Avanos is the underground city of Özkonak and the 13th century Seljuk caravaserai, Sarıhan (which is now a museum), is only about 3 kilometers (2 miles) away.
The Kızılırmak (red) river separates Avanos from the rest of Cappadocia, and is the longest river in Turkey. It is by this river that the red pottery clay is found from which Avanos derives it's main livelihood and it's foremost claim to fame.
Pottery has been produced in the Avanos area for several centuries and some of the techniques still used date back to Hittite times. Avanos is a mass of family run potteries, most of which are only too pleased to let visitors have a go on the potters wheel and give them a full history of the many and various pottery goods on offer. Avanos pots make wonderful souvenirs and are available at a wide range of prices from simple ashtrays and mugs to ornate plates and chess sets.
Avanos is also famous for carpet weaving and, more unusually, for knitting. Hand knitted garments can be found on sale along with wool, needles and all the other equipment you might need if your holiday is incomplete without that familiar click click !
Avanos really specializes in handicrafts, there is a permanent handicrafts bazaar and a three day Handicrafts Festival in late August.
Ürgüp is about 7 kilometers from Göreme and is a modern town catering to the needs of tourists as well as a market town for the whole area on Saturdays.
Ürgüp has grown enormously over the last twenty years or so in response to the needs of tourists, and is now a major shopping centre especially for carpets, jewelry, antiques, leather, ceramics, and hookahs. A permanent handicrafts market (the El Sanatlar) offers a variety of souvenirs and the Turkish Bath (hamam) is geared to the needs of tourists as well as locals. Ürgüp has some lively nightlife with a theatre, discos and bars offering Turkish evenings of food, drink and traditional dancing. Around Ürgüp the long standing Ottoman and Greek tradition of wine making continues. Many wine shops offer free wine testing all year round and a Wine Festival is held every year in the first week of June.
The old dwellings of Ürgüp are now principally used for storage and stabling but there are still some strikingly beautiful houses of Greek and Ottoman origin to be found and in the streets winding away from the town centre many locals are living their lives in the old traditions.
Ürgüp has a "Wishpoint" for those who require lasting benefits from their holiday. The route to the wishpoint is interesting in itself as it starts opposite the 13th century Kebir Camii (mosque) then follows a long tunnel to the top of Temenni, the hill of wishes, where you will find the Seljuk tomb of Kılıçarslan IV, a park where you can relax and admire the view and a medrese (Islamic college) which is now a cafe where you can refresh yourself and decide just what to spend your wish on.
Zelve, which once housed one of the largest communities in the region is an amazing cave town, honeycombed with dwellings, religious and secular chambers. Here, the Christians and Moslems lived together in perfect harmony, until 1924.Then Christians had to leave the Valley because of the exchange of minorities between Greece and Turkey, and the Moslems were forced to evacuate the Valley in the 50's when life became dangerous due to risk of erosion. They left the site to set up a modern village, a little further on, to which they gave the name Yeni Zelve (New Zelve).Now old Zelve is a ghost town and the erosion still continues.
The three valleys in the Zelve region are a paradise for the rock climbers. It takes at least two hours for a good trekker to walk through these valleys, which also house the oldest examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings.
Start your excursion by visiting the first valley on the right taking the stamps in the second valley, then turning right. While walking along the path, you will see on the right some paintings on the surface of the rock. These paintings on the surface of the rock. These paintings are what remain from the now totally collapsed Geyikli Kilise (the Church with the Deer) and afford examples of the oldest paintings displaying the principal religious symbols of Christianity, like the Cross, the deer and the fish.
On entering the first valley you will see a rock-cut mosque on the left, with a lovely minaret obviously influenced by the bell-towers of the monasteries, (Byzantine ciboria) which consist of a baldachin of four collonettes supporting a pinnacle. You will then notice a monastery complex on the right resembling an upside down bowl cut of the rock. Immediately opposite, there is a rock-cut complex accessible by a metal ladder and connected to the second valley by a tunnel, but safety considerations make any attempt to go thought it inadvisable. On leaving the first valley you can enter the second valley by following the path in front of the Mosque.
Before leaving this open-air museum, be sure to pay special attention to the rocks at the entrance of the third valley. Here you will find a rock-cut mill with a grindstone which remained in use until the 50's.Recently, its entrance has collapsed. Then follow the path to the Üzümlü Kilise (The Church with Grapes) named after the bunches of grapes, a symbol representing Christ himself, in a country famous for its Dionysiac rituals. Just next to Üzümlü Kilise is the Balıklı Kilise (The Church with Fishes). On the apse above you will be able to discern paintings of fish in a very faded red.
The nearby Paşabağ area contains some of the most striking fairy chimneys in Cappadocia with twin and even triple rock caps.
In the strange and wonderful landscape of Cappadocia is the old, tranquil and picturesque town of Mustafapaşa 5 km from Ürgüp. Known formerly as Sinassos, this is a small town of 2500 inhabitants where originally Turks and Greeks lived side by side, and the sound of church bells mingled with the call to prayer from the mosque. The road to Mustafapaşa winds through a green valley watered by many tiny streams and is lined by rustling poplars. The old houses of the town nestle at the foot of Golgoli, a high hill of Cappadocia's yellow volcanic rock. As you enter the central square you encounter a magnificent building on the left. This is Sinassos Hotel, originally the private residence of an Anatolian Greek who owned shops in Istanbul's Fish Market and had this house built in 1892. Further along the road leading off the square is Şakir Paşa Medrese, an Ottoman period university college with an intricately carved portal now housing a traditional carpet centre. It was constructed in the 19th century by Mısırlı Şakir Paşa to educate the sons of Turkish families in the town. Adjoining the medrese are two houses with large courtyards dating from the beginning of this century. Over the gate of one is the date, 1900, and the name of the owner. Opposite Şakir Paşa Medrese is the Aşağı Mosque, formerly known as Camii Kebir, dating from 1600, although the portico and one minaret are recent additions. The old minaret is in Seljuk style, in interesting contrast to the new minaret.
Mustafapaşa was given tourism site status in 1981, and the 93 traditional stone houses in the town dating from the late 19th and early 20th century are under conservation order and awaiting restoration. Passing several of these brings you to a second square, on which stands the Church of Constantine and Helen, one of the town's foremost monuments. It is dedicated to Constantine the Great and his empress, Helena. The frescos date from 1895 and were executed by a Greek artist named Kostis Meletyades who had been trained in Venice. Seated at tables on the pavement outside the cafés around the square, elderly men sip their tea as they play backgammon or watch the visitors to the town with curiosity and smile in greeting. Another old building on the square houses the local library, and next to that is the Taş Fırın bakery of Mustafapaşa whose bread is famed throughout Cappadocia. The town is surrounded by apricot, apple and pear orchards, and vineyards. Wine production is a major part of the local economy, and there are two wine factories with a total output of around 600 tons per year, all of which is sold to local hotels and restaurants. As well as wine, the small black grapes of the region are used to make pekmez, or grape treacle. When autumn comes the local women tuck up the legs of their baggy şalvar and set about the task of making pekmez for the winter. The technique is the same as that used by the Hittites thousands of years before! The grapes are heaped into shallow stone pits and the women tread barefoot on them to crush out the juice, which is then siphoned off into huge cauldrons placed on wood fires in the garden. The people of Mustafapaşa are friendly to strangers and always ready for a chat or to invite them into their homes. Two of the oldest inhabitants of the town, Şabat Topuz and Süleyman Temur, are delighted to find listeners for their ancient local tales. The houses built of the soft local stone are cool in summer and warm in winter. Some are now run as guest houses or small hotels. The hills around are filled with Byzantine rock churches, chapels and monasteries. In the Gömede valley are the churches of St. Steven and St. Basil, and 2 kilometres away is the Church of St. Nicholas. Another church of St. Basil in a nearby valley is a three story rock church whose interior is decorated with frescos depicting scenes from the bible. So if you plan a holiday in Cappadocia, do not miss visiting Mustafapaşa, or perhaps make it your base for touring this fascinating region of Central Turkey.