The rock formations of Cappadocia, in central Turkey, are unlike any others on Earth. They’re not only strange natural sculptures, they have a human history that spans centuries. Millions of years ago, ash from erupting volcanoes slowly hardened to tufa, and that stone, eroded over time by wind and rain, became the erry, convoluted shapes I’m seeing today. The harder granite didn’t erode as easily, and the result was “fairy chimneys”–huge cones topped by granite boulders. But that’s only part of what has pulled me to Cappadocia. I’m marveling at the hundreds of dwellings and churches carved into cliffs, some still in use and even turned into cave hotels that tourists adore.
Turkey’s Goreme Open-Air Museum, about a mile from the village of Goreme, is a collection of cave churches carved out by Christian monks more than a thousand years ago. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, I can see remnants of the Byzantine frescoes they painted on the stone, and the living and burial sites along hillside paths. There’s a fee to enter, and the best time to visit is early in the day (afternoon heat can be intense, and tour groups fill the place).
Then there are the underground cities, built and used from ancient times as protection from enemies. Early Christian churches began here, but even before that people were carving tunnels and spaces for living and storage. There are at least 36 of them in Cappadocia; the widest is Kaymakli and the deepest, nearly 280 feet underground, is Derinkuyu. Kaymakli goes down eight levels, four of them open to the public, with sloping passages and carved-out rooms and chapels around ventilation shafts. Thousands of people lived here with their animals, food from the crops they harvested, and wine. It is all quite amazing. The stony countryside seems dry and arid, but water streams in from surrounding mountains and creates fertile, life-supporting valleys.
Relaxing by the pool at our hotel, Lykia Lodge Kapakokya, is a sharp and, I admit, pleasant contrast to crouching in underground tunnels, following the guide’s flashlight. Lykia Lodge, in a park setting outside the town of Nevsehir, is modern and comfortable, and I recommend it. There are tree-shaded lawns, a tennis court and playground, a full bar in the lounge, and a restaurant serving traditional regional dishes. The excellent morning buffet has every breakfast dish imaginable: yogurt, cereals, fresh and dried fruits, egg and meat dishes, pastries. The place is favored by groups, but don’t let that deter you. There’s plenty of room for all.
One thing I’m going to skip is the famous hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia. I am told the views are spectacular, but I have trouble with adventures that involve rising before dawn. Maybe next time I’ll admire the fairy chimneys and twisted rocks from far above.