Things to Do in Cappadocia
Pigeon Valley, just outside Göreme in Cappadocia, is one of Turkey’s most beautiful landscapes.
The unique rock formations known as fairy chimneys, or peri bacalar, which are made from wind and water erosion on soft volcanic rock, rise high from the valley floor like chimneys and are dotted in their tops with birdhouses. Some reach at tall as 130 ft (40m). Pigeons live in these dovecoats carved into the rocks and cliffs. Years ago the pigeons were used to carry messages from this remote region, and their droppings have long been used by local farmers for fertilizer. Today, however, there are fewer pigeons in the valley.
Pigeon Valley is a great place for hiking. The whole area around Göreme is made up of valleys with almost no fencing and there are well-marked trails. The mildly hilly trail through Pigeon Valley is free of charge and about 2.8 miles (4 km) long running between Göreme and Uçhisar.
The “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia make up the surreal landscape of unique rock formations and valleys of this area of Turkey. They were formed centuries ago of ash, lava, and basalt from the activity of three volcanoes here. What is left behind today is dozens of these fairytale-like, otherworldly formations that look straight out of a fantasy or science-fiction film (in fact, parts of Star Wars were filmed here.)
As the rock formation base is often soft, throughout history those who have inhabited the area have carved their homes and dwellings out of the fairy chimney rock. As a result, Cappadocia is filled with fascinating Byzantine churches, historic homes, even entire underground cities to explore. The tops or caps of the chimney-like pinnacles are harder, which has protected the structures throughout many years. The Open Air Museum of Goreme is a spectacular place to view the many uses of the formations throughout history, as early as the 4th century.
Famous for the castle-like rock formation looming 90 meters high above the town, Ortahisar, or Middle Castle, is, well, right in the middle of the Cappadocian towns of Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar, and Neveshir.
Though it is becoming more popular with visitors, Ortahisar is still a quiet farming town that’s sleepier than many of the other Cappadocian hotspots that are today bursting with boutique hotels. Life in Ortahisar is based around the cobbled streets which extend from the central square, and wandering the streets lined with stone houses is a great way to get a taste of life in a traditional Cappadocian town.
The town is also known for the Culture Museum Restaurant, where a series of dioramas in the upstairs room displays traditional life in Cappadocia, while downstairs the restaurant isn’t a sideline next to the gift shop, it’s in the actual museum. Just a few kilometers is a museum of another kind, Goreme Open Air Museum.
This is a place to let your mind run free in a seemingly lunar landscape with rock formations that look like animals.
The Devrent Valley, also known as Imagination Valley, has none of the cave churches, Byzantine frescoes or Roman citadel ruins that are famous throughout the rest of Cappadocia; but what it does have is an extraordinary landscape shaped by nature to make you laugh and wonder and explore.
Only a 10 minute drive from Göreme, between Avanos and Ürgüp, the valley is like a rock-formed zoo. Walk the trail and you’ll see a landscape filled with snakes, camels, seals and dolphins and whatever else your mind chooses to make of the twisting curving rocks. Maybe even a dragon. There are also small fairy chimneys, the rock pillars so distinctive of Cappadocia.
It’s one of the strangest landscapes you’ll ever see: the cliffs and valleys and fairy chimneys of Göreme National Park in Cappadocia. Wind and water erosion scoured out this land of soft volcanic ash (tufa) leaving this extraordinary place of valleys and pillars, some of which rise to 130 feet (40m).
The earliest settlers were Christian exiles in Roman times and they carved churches into the rock, along with houses and tombs. In the Middle Ages Göreme became an important religious center with monasteries, churches and chapels; many of which have impressive Byzantine religious wall paintings. Some of the most important are Basil Kilise (St Basil’s Church), Elmali Kilise (Apple Church), and the richly decorated Tokali Kilise (Buckle Church), which is the oldest. The best-preserved and recently restored frescoes can be found in the Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church).
One of Cappadocia’s most famous sites is the Göreme Open Air Museum, a ring shaped collection of churches cut into the soft volcanic cliffs.
In the 4th century the area became known as the Land of the Three Saints after the theologians St. Basil the Great, his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. In the Middle Ages the importance of this area again soared and many monasteries, churches and chapels were dug out of the rock. The best of these still have vivid Byzantine frescoes of religious scenes.
Churches include Basil Kilise (St Basil’s Church), Elmali Kilise (Apple Church), and the richly decorated Tokali Kilise (Buckle Church), which is the oldest and lies just outside the gates of the museum. The best-preserved frescoes are in the Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church) which has been restored after being used as a pigeon house until the 1950s. Göreme Open Air Museum is just a 15 minute walk (1 mile/1.5km) from Göreme or a short drive from Ürgüp.
Of the 100 underground cities in Cappadocia, Derinkuyu is the deepest at 280 ft (85m) below the surface.
The city has been open to the public since 1965 but only about half of it can be visited. There are around 600 doors down into the city, leading from the courtyards of the above-ground buildings. In the underground city you’ll find the various levels of stables, cellars, storage rooms, kitchens, wineries, churches and more. The upper floors can be reached by narrow, sloping passageways, while from the 3rd and 4th floor down there are staircases. The lowest floor houses a church.
It’s unlikely that these underground cities were meant for full-time residency, but more likely made to withstand attacks from marauding tribes over long periods of time. Derinkuyu had everything needed for day to day life including wells and around 15,000 ventilations shafts. Derinkuyu is 24 miles (40 km) or about half an hour’s drive from Göreme, the main tourist town in Cappadocia.
Kaymaklı is a city dug deep into the soft volcanic rock in the Cappadocia region. There are around 100 underground cities in the area although only a few are open to the public. Kaymaklı is the largest of them. It is estimated that around 3,500 people once lived here.
Built under a hill known as the Citadel of Kaymaklı, the city consists of 8 underground levels made up of low, narrow, sloping passageways. The city is arranged around the ventilation shafts which bring in air. Early inhabitants chose to live some of the time underground as protection against the heat and the marauding tribes who regularly passed through the region looking to attack and plunder. The city was opened to visitors in 1964 although only 4 of the 8 levels are accessible. The first level was meant for stables, the second level had a church and some living areas, the third level was kitchens and storage.
Cappadocia’s Grand Canyon, the 328 ft (100 m) deep Ihlara Valley was formed by the Melendiz River thousands of years ago.
Around 4,000 people lived in the valley and there were 80 churches carved into the cliff faces, 12 of which can be visited today. These days the valley is home to one of the most popular hiking trails in Cappadocia with 26 bends along an 8 mile (14km) route that passes vineyards and pistacio trees.
The valley begins at the village of Ihlara and ends at Selime Monastery in the village of Selime, but there are two other entrances depending on how far you are willing to hike. Around 2.8 miles (4 km) into the valley is the most popular entry point with 300 steps down to the valley floor. Or you can drive to the village of Belisirma in the middle of the valley. The best section for seeing churches is between Ihlara and Belisirma.
More Things to Do in Cappadocia
The area of Pasabag in Cappadocia is famous for its perfect fairy chimneys, sculpted from ancient lava, ash, and basalt. They jut up all over the place, even in the middle of a vineyard, hence its name which translates as Pacha’s Vineyard. Pasabag is famous for its opportunities to hike among the boulders and into the hills that ring the area. If you just want to relax, in the small village by the road there are stalls serving hot spiced wine in winter, and freshly-squeezed juices in summer. There are also a few cafes where you can grab a bite to eat, and stores selling Cappadocia textiles and artwork. Also known as Monk’s Valley, Pasabag was once home to hermetic monks who sheltered in the smaller cones atop the upper sections of the fairy chimneys.
The small town of Avanos in Cappadocia is famous for its distinctive red earthenware pottery, which has shaped its reputation since the days of the Hittities in the Bronze Age.
Situated on the banks of the longest river in Turkey, the Kızılırmak (Red River), the lovely old town overlooks the red silt of the river which has been both the lifeblood and the destiny of Avanos. Small pottery workshops still cluster in the narrow streets of the old town and here you can learn how to throw a pot and buy the local ceramics. There are also larger warehouses on the outskirts of town.
Avanos is also a great base for exploring the rest of Cappadocia: the fairy chimneys at Zelve, the underground cities of Ozkonak, Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı, and the rock churches with their Byzantine frescoes in the Göreme National Park.
Made up of a number of smaller valleys, Rose Valley is famous for its otherworldly rock formations and world-class hiking opportunities. The valley trails provide a variety of levels of challenge, and there are plenty of walks that are suitable for beginners. For seasoned hikers, there are trails where you get to scale stone tunnels and climb down ladders. Either way, you’ll get to wander canyon bottoms and explore Cappadocia’s rocks at sunset when the valley turns blood red.
Valleys within the famous valley that’s named for its rose-hued rocks are Gulludere, Kizilcukur, Meskendir and Zindanonu. The most popular path in Rose Valley is a 3.5-km route that begins just outside the town of Goreme, but you could easily come back several times to explore new trails and catch sight of its hidden cave churches and abandoned rock houses.
Smaller than Cappadocia’s other subterranean cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, Ozkonak Underground City is also much less crowded. On the northern slopes of Mount Idis, as you hunch to stroll the tiny corridors of this ancient city you'll feel very big compared to the people who once lived here. Likely built in the Byzantine era, though perhaps even older, Özkonak Underground City was rediscovered in the '70s by a local farmer who wondered where his excess crop water was going. Turns out it was going into a huge subterranean city stretching ten floors deep and able to house 60,000 people.
The quiet Cappadocian village of Cavusin is famous for three things: beautiful churches, abandoned rock houses, and great hiking opportunities. The village is dominated by its cliff from which a clutter of empty cave houses spill down precariously, making for a fun place to explore. The area of the village where people live today is nice and quiet — most people work in agriculture and you’ll see that the little cafe by the mosque is the local hotspot.
At the top of the cliff which looms above the village, look out for the famous Basilica of St John the Baptist. It dates back to the 5th century AD, making it one of the region’s oldest cave churches. It’s also one of the biggest cave churches in Cappadocia. You’ll enter the 1,500 year old chapel via a footbridge. Once inside, notice the chapel’s grand arches and images of crosses and stars. In the village, there's also the lower church to check out.
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