What to see in Cappadocia: the most famous and distinctive region of Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey: 9 interesting sights

Cappadocia (Turkey) is a geologically rare site located in central Anatolia. This mountainous area, which hides underground cities, cave monasteries and churches in its bizarre cliffs, bears great historical significance, for which it was included in the list of UNESCO heritage. The first settlements in the depths of Cappadocia date back to the 3rd millennium B.C., and with the arrival of the Christians to the land its mountains have become a refuge for numerous temples, cells and crypts.

Cappadocia, Turkey

The uniqueness of local landscapes is in their natural origin: all these fabulous buildings were created not by man, but by nature for tens of millions of years. Once upon a time the territory of modern Cappadocia in Turkey was covered by lava tongues erupting from the active volcanic chain and deposited on the earth layers together with the ash. Over time, the surface of the earth rose by about two hundred meters and the ash and lava were transformed into volcanic tuff, a light, porous rock. Over millions of years, wind and rain have eroded the fragile material into intricate figures and rocks, pyramids and canyons.

Balloons over Goreme

Today Cappadocia is one of the most visited attractions in Turkey, and every day there rise up hundreds of balloons with tourists. The site is surrounded by Goreme National Park, which is an open-air museum, which includes numerous rock sculptures and cave shrines. Near the park there is a village called Goreme with hotels, restaurants, and stores, where travelers who come to Cappadocia usually stay.

History

Hittite Empire

The history of Cappadocia in Turkey, intertwined with several nations and empires, is quite confusing, so scientists to this day cannot come to a consensus on many issues. It is known that as early as the 3rd millennium BC its lands were mastered by the Hittites, who were later completely exterminated by the Hittites. One scholarly theory is that it was the Hittites who gave the site its modern name, which originally sounded like “Cattapeda” (“the place below”). Other scholars maintain that the name was invented by the Persians who came to the area in the 6th century B.C. and called the place Haspaduya, which translates as “Land of beautiful horses. Because the second version sounds more romantic, it is used in all reference books.

Dwelling in Goreme

In the 1st century AD. Cappadocia became part of the Roman Empire, and in the 4th century its rocks became a refuge for the Christians persecuted at the time. It was they who discovered the ancient Hittite underground city, perfected it, and began carving large monasteries and miniature cells out of the malleable tufa. In the Byzantine era, with the advent of the 7th century, the area began to be encroached upon by the Arabs, but the state fought back stubbornly, attracting the forces of the allied Armenian empire. However, in the 11th century Cappadocia was invaded by Seljuk Turks who added their traditional buildings in the form of caravanserais, mosques and madrassas to the local landscape.

Tours in Cappadocia

Despite the arrival of the Turks in Cappadocia, Christians, most of whom were Greeks, continued to coexist peacefully with Muslims on its territory and preach their religion until the 20th century. That all changed with Ataturk’s decision to exchange Greeks living in Turkey for Turks living in Greece. After that, the local monasteries fell into decline, and the remaining locals devoted themselves entirely to agriculture. Interest in Cappadocia revived in the 1980’s when Europeans who discovered the site began to visit central Anatolia. This was the start of the development of tourism in the area that now sustains the entire region.

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What to see

The sights of Cappadocia in Turkey cover a huge area, and it is simply impossible to see them all in a day. So that you do not waste time, we have collected in this item the most interesting sites, among them:

Goreme National Park

This open-air museum spreads over an area of more than 300 km², is a whole monastic complex: it includes dozens of churches and chapels. From the 6th to the 9th centuries, Göreme was one of the most important monasteries of the region. Goreme was one of the major Christian centers, on the territory of which functioned more than 400 shrines. Many monasteries have survived to this day. There are wall paintings of early Christianity as well as Byzantine frescoes. The most famous in the museum is the Church of St. Basil, inside which you can look at the surviving images of saints and scenes from the Gospel. Also worth checking out is the Church of St. Barbara, painted with colorful patterns, and the Apple Church with four columns and a Greek cross.

Avanos City

If you do not know what to see in Cappadocia, we suggest you go to the miniature town of Avanos, located near the banks of the longest river in Turkey, Kizil-Irmak. Due to the fact that the water in the river is rich in ore and red clay, the locals managed to develop craftsmanship and pottery here. Underground structures and fanciful rocks you will not find here, but you will find silence and solitude, harmoniously intertwined with the oriental coloring. Moreover, in the town everyone has the opportunity to visit one of the local workshops and learn the basics of pottery. The attraction is also famous for its carpet factories, Seljuk Aladdin Mosque and Woman’s Hair Museum, the collection of which consists of over 16 thousand exhibits – real locks of hair, once belonged to girls from around the world.

Uchisar Fortress

The silent town, located 4 km from Goreme, is more like a small village with no banks or supermarkets. The settlement itself does not cause much interest, but the Uchhisar fortress located on its territory attracts tourists. This structure made of tuff with a sharp top can be seen from any observation platform in the city. The fortress appeared in the era of Hittite Empire and was able to seat up to 2,600 people. The structure is gradually deteriorating, and travelers here can see only a small part of the building. It is definitely worth climbing up to the observation deck, which offers a large-scale view of the expanse of Cappadocia with its picturesque valleys.

One of the most popular attractions in Cappadocia and Göreme are the Fairy Chimneys, which have long been the trademark of the area. The unique rock sculptures, shaped like stovepipes or giant mushrooms with cone-shaped hats, can be seen in different parts of the valley adjacent to the town of Zelve. Of course, tourists are told romantic legends that magical fairies live in the pillars, but in reality, the bizarre formations were the result of the destructive effects of rain and wind on the tuff rocks.

Fairy Chimneys

The Caimaklys is a huge underground complex with eight stories. Each of them has dozens of tunnels and rooms that once served as warehouses, kitchens, stables and cellars. Ventilation and water supply systems were arranged here, there was its own chapel and pottery workshops. Here, scientists found a long tunnel stretching for 9 km and connecting Kaimakly with another attraction – the cave settlement of Derinkuyu. It is believed that the underground dwelling could accommodate up to 15 thousand inhabitants. Today only the first 4 floors of the town are open for tourists but even this is enough to feel the ancient atmosphere of the once inhabited caves.

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Kaymakli Underground City

When visiting the city of Goreme and Cappadocia in Turkey be sure to see the underground complex Derinkuyu. The history of the site dates back to the 8th century BC. For a long time, Christians persecuted by Arabs for their religious beliefs took refuge in the structure. To date, archaeologists have excavated 11 floors, which go deep into the 85 meters. Scientists estimate that they will be able to excavate another 9 floors.

Underground City of Derinkuyu

It is believed that on the territory of the underground attractions could simultaneously live up to 50 thousand people. Like in Kaymakly, there was a ventilation system with a half-meter shaft, as well as water pipes that provided all the floors with water. Today Derinkuyu is the largest underground city in Turkey.

Pashabag Valley

Pashabag is one of the most picturesque valleys of Cappadocia, often referred to as the Valley of the Monks. Many hundreds of centuries ago the area was home to Christian preachers, so today you can see the results of their activities – churches and chapels. The most famous structure in the valley was the chapel of St. Simeon Stolpnik, who came to Pashabag back in the 5th century. The temple is located in a rock sculpture with three cone-shaped hats. Several churches have been preserved here, and ancient frescoes have been preserved in their walls.

Zelwe Open Air Museum

If you are looking for information on what you can see on your own in Cappadocia, do not miss the unique historical monument of Zelva. The first settlements within the walls of the complex appeared in the 2nd-5th centuries. By the early 11th century, Christians came to Zelva and converted a number of its rooms into churches and cells, so today you can look at their creations here. Until 1952, the caves remained inhabited, but due to the gradual collapse of the rocks, people were forced to leave the complex. The destruction of Zelwe continues to this day and staying within its walls is dangerous, so visits to the museum are limited. But even a glimpse of the complex from the outside will allow you to appreciate its grandeur and scale.

This is one of the most famous valleys in Cappadocia in Turkey, stretching closer to the village of Chavushin. It was named after the pink hue of the rocks. The valley has two canyons that run parallel to each other and join at the approach to the lookout point on Aktepe Hill. One of the spurs stretches for 2 km, the other for 3 km. There are 5 ancient temples in the Rose Valley, the oldest of which is the Church of St. Joachim and St. Anne, dating back to the 7th century.

Pink Valley

Balloons in Cappadocia

One of the most popular activities in Cappadocia is hot air ballooning, which gives tourists a unique opportunity to see the lunar landscapes from a height of almost 1 km. Balloon tours are organized during the whole year, but the real parade of mongolfiers can be observed during the summer time, when up to 250 balloons are in the air. The flights usually take place early in the morning at dawn and last from 40 to 90 minutes. Read more about hot air balloon tours in our separate article.

Balloons in Cappadocia

Where to Stay

The nearest settlement to Cappadocia is Goreme, and that is where most of the hotels are concentrated. Almost all hotels in this area have no stars, which by no means detracts from the quality of their services. It is interesting that many hotels are located in the rocks, so tourists have a great opportunity to experience living in these caves.

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Charming Cave Hotel

Charming Cave Hotel.

The choice of hotels in Cappadocia in Turkey is very rich: only in Goreme you will find more than a hundred different hotels. A double room costs an average of 140 TL per night. Most establishments include free breakfasts in the total amount. The most budget accommodation options will cost 80 TL for two people per night, the expensive ones will cost 700 TL.

Prices are for December 2018.

In addition to Göreme in Cappadocia, there are other, more remote settlements where you can also rent a room: these are Urgup, Uçhisar, Ortahisar, Çavuşin and Avanos. The cost of living in these villages varies about the same range as the prices of accommodation in Goreme.

How to get to Cappadocia

Bus to Cappadocia

There are three ways to get to Cappadocia in Turkey: by plane, by bus and on your own by rented car. There are two airports not far from the sight – in the cities of Nevşehir and Kayseri, where there are daily flights from Istanbul. You can read more about how to get to Cappadocia in our separate article.

Interesting facts

Your visit to Cappadocia in Turkey will be much more entertaining if you familiarize yourself in advance with the most interesting facts about the sight:

A vineyard in Cappadocia

  1. Cappadocia has a total area of over 5,000 km².
  2. Despite the desert landscapes of the site, the land here is even very fertile: here grows a large number of grapes, which supply almost all of Turkey. Also in Cappadocia grows beets, apricots, chickpeas and other crops.
  3. There is a legend that the landscapes of Cappadocia inspired director George Lucas to create the planet Tatooine in the famous “Star Wars”. The area has also been the setting for famous Hollywood movies such as Empire of the Wolves and Ghost Rider.
  4. Many locals still use the caves as their permanent home.
  5. In total, scientists have discovered 36 underground settlements in Cappadocia, but today only 3 of them are accessible to tourists.
Useful tips

To make your trip to Cappadocia a smooth one, we have prepared a number of recommendations for you based on the experience of travelers who have already been here.

Ballooning in Cappadocia

  1. If you want to see absolutely all the sights in Cappadocia, you need at least 2 days. If you have only 1 day then you can spend it visiting Goreme Park.
  2. It is better to go to Cappadocia on your own, not with a tour. Firstly, you will save money, and secondly, time. Tour guides take tourists to onyx factories, sweets and carpets, which takes up the lion’s share of your precious time.
  3. If you are going to see the valleys of Cappadocia, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the rules of safety in the mountainous terrain. Many tourists neglect the basic norms of behavior, resulting in injuries.
  4. The ideal months for visiting Cappadocia are May, June, September and October. During this time it is not so hot, but also not cold, there is practically no rainfall and cloudiness.
  5. If you decide to see Cappadocia from a hot air balloon basket, do not be in a hurry to buy a flight from the first company you meet. It is always better to buy your ticket from the organizing company on the spot rather than through an online service.

These are, perhaps, all the main points to consider when visiting such a picturesque place like Cappadocia, Turkey. We hope that our article was useful for you and will help you in organizing your own tour of the sights of the region.

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Going to Cappadocia: A guide to an iconic region of Turkey

Everything in Cappadocia is beautiful. The only thing that can prevent it all from being enjoyed is the weather.

Cappadocia is another world. The world of colors and lights, landscapes that excite imagination, and caves that hide the mystery of centuries. The world in which the carpet shops do not buy new decorations on the wall, and drink tea. Hotels are not where you live, but come for a couple of hours for photos. And wake up in this magical world long before dawn, to climb to the highest hill, watching as hundreds of iridescent balloons float in the sky. As if some child relentlessly blows more and more soap bubbles.

A song of wind and flame: what is Cappadocia?

Cappadocia is an amazing story of volcanic eruptions and the titanic work on the landscape by nature’s best architects: wind and rain. Stories of the Hittite, Persian, Roman and Ottoman empires. Stories of the first Christians who managed to carve ten-level cities and more than 500 rock temples in soft tuff, and the millions of tourists now living in rock hotels.

From a land that became a refuge for persecuted Christians by Muslims, Cappadocia has become one of Turkey’s most touristic regions, a destination every traveler dreams of visiting. In the first month of 2019, 123,244 tourists visited Cappadocia, and in 2018, just under 3 million locals and foreigners visited the Land of Beautiful Horses.

However, the first tourists came here back in the 1980s just to see the stone pillars. Then the enthusiastic articles of American and Japanese journalists caused increased interest, and in the mid-1980s there was a tourist boom in Cappadocia. The mayor of Urgüp (the center of the tourist region at the time) in the province of Nevşehir even had to appeal to local residents to accommodate tourists in their homes. As a result, hotels were built in Cappadocia, and in the 1990s it flourished.

As for the balloons, they began to fly only in the 2000s, and during that period their number grew from several dozen to two and a half hundred.

Flight to Cappadocia

Cappadocia has two airports, in Nevşehir and Kayseri. The distance from them to the main village of the region is about the same (45 and 60 kilometers respectively). Flights are operated by Pegasus and Turkish Airlines. And which option is more budget-friendly, it is impossible to predict in advance. The average price of round-trip tickets is 85 euros.

You should not rule out the option of visiting two airports at once, that is, from Istanbul to fly to Kayseri, and from Nevshehir to return back to Istanbul. Such a trick can additionally save money.

Transfer to the hotel

The most comfortable way to get from the airport to Göreme is by transfer from the hotel. A minibus for a group will cost 7 euros per person, a personal car – about 40 euros, the same amount will cost a cab.

What to do?

Meeting the dawn in the sky

The main goal of most tourists in Cappadocia is a hot-air balloon flight. Flying starts at 80 euros in a basket for 16-20 people (cost in March 2021), but during the season starts at 160. The fewer people and the older the company – the higher the cost. For example, a flight for two with one of the most popular and promoted operators Butterfly Balloons will cost 350 euros per person.

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There are three ways to book a balloon flight:

  • Leave an online application on the company’s official website;
  • contact one of the agencies upon arrival;
  • Request this service at your hotel.

It is noteworthy that the latter option may be the cheapest. There was a case where two girls, booking a flight the night before, paid only 120 euros each. The option of booking through the administration of the hotel is also relevant when you are rejected by the agency, citing lack of availability.

By the way, the price may vary depending on the method of payment. In particular, Turquaz Balloons charges 10 euros more for cashless payment.

The company bus that provides flights will meet you around 04:30. They will offer a light breakfast and after landing a glass of champagne and fruit and a certificate for the title of balloonist.

Anatolian Balloons . One of the largest companies in Cappadocia: it has ten balloons that can lift about 200 people into the sky at once. The company has been operating since 2006 and does not hesitate to boast that its balloons are made by the world’s best brands: British Lindstrand Balloons and Spanish Ultramagic Balloons.

The cost of a flight with Anatolian Balloons from May to August is about 250 euros in a basket for 20 people. A private flight is 2,400 euros.

Kapadokya Balloons . The first of its kind – the company was at the forefront of organizing ballooning for tourists: its first (non-commercial) flight it carried out back in 1991. Kapadokya Balloons has 22 balloons, pilots who speak several languages, and Mercedes-Benz, Efes Pilsener, Coca-Cola and Kia as sponsors.

Butterfly Balloons . The Butterfly Balloons have one small advantage over their competitors: Wi-Fi on board. For those who arrived without a local or special SIM card, but want to post on Instagram. Butterfly Balloons has 25 years of flying experience and status as one of the most recognizable companies thanks to its branded balloons.

Good to know: Butterfly Balloons has a daughter company, Turquaz Balloons, which is still young and little-known, so the price of flights with it is a bit lower.

Royal Balloon . A “royal” company must have everything of the highest order. Even breakfast at Royal has a special chic approach: instead of coffee and snacks they offer a buffet. The company has been operating since 2010, but it has over 30 years of experience in travel.

Royal Balloons baskets can accommodate up to 16 people, so the price for services can be higher than their counterparts.

Sultan Balloons . The company with the brightest balloons in Cappadocia. Rainbow, checkered, striped. Catching a shot of the Sultan Balloons is the goal of every photographer who arrives in Goreme. Flying in them is no less fun. You can book a balloon flight in just a couple of minutes on the website, and you will have to pay about 30% of the cost of the flight.

Important to know: All companies take an advance payment of 10 to 30% of the cost at the time of booking. The prices of flights change almost every month – they increase or decrease depending on the season. This is why most companies do not indicate the cost of the flight on their official websites. You can check it by e-mail or instant messenger on the telephone numbers given in the contact details.

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