Often referred to as Land of Beautiful Horses, Cappadocia is a magical region located in central Turkey. With secret passages, hidden caves and vats of wine to enjoy, there was a lot to like.
What and Where is Cappadocia?
Just over an hours’ flight away from awesome Istanbul, Cappadocia’s major draw is the unearthly lunarscape formed by long ago volcanic eruptions. Subsequently shaped by the elements these rock formations are known as fairy chimneys. Other attractions are the painted Byzantine rock churches and underground cities. Pigeon cotes abound – not to sate a penchant for pigeon pie as we initially speculated, rather to gather droppings, which make excellent fertilizer, which is used in this hub of Turkish wine production.
The fairy chimneys have spawned legends of dwarves and fairies and have in their turn been inhabited over the centuries by Hitties, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Selcuks, Ottomans, Greeks and modern day Turks. The ancient silk route passed through Cappadocia and it was – falsely – rumoured to be the film location for Tatooine of Star Wars fame.
Some locals still live in cave houses and also use rock spaces as garages, chicken coops and crop storage depots. Many rock dwellings have been converted into accommodation including, to the enormous delight of our children, ‘our’ cave house. Endless games of hide and seek ensued and just the sheer thrill of SLEEPING in a cave was quite hard to top…. The items ‘flash light (note the Americanism), sleeping bag and tent are now at the top of Sweetpea’s Christmas list!
Kaymakli: A Secret Subterranean City
We hired a car and driver on day one and headed for the underground city of Kaymakli. Built to shelter ancient populations from marauding enemy armies, a number of these subterranean cities have been discovered. The largest city, Derinkuyu, could conceal up to 20,000 people!
Rolling mill stone doors were used to to block passages. Each stone door had a hole in the centre, possibly used as both spy-hole and large enough to thrust a defensive spear though if under attack. The tunnels were approximately Pickle height, which meant he scampered off giggling, we followed heads and bags bumping on the ceiling in the half light. As well as living quarters, these underground labyrinths included stables, schools, wine presses and churches.
After Kaymakli, we spent the afternoon admiring mosaics, churches, a caravanesi*, a snow capped volcano and a monastery.
At the end of the day we raced to ‘Sunset Point’ above the Zelve Valley and watched as reds oranges and yellows gradually leached away leaving cold blanched rocks.
We stayed n the ramshackle town of Uchisar which radiates outwards from its’ central eponymous rock fortress – Cappadocia’s largest fairy chimney. Riddled with passages, it looks like a giant, slightly menacing Swiss cheese. On day 2, we climbed to the top to enjoy the expansive view keeping a steely grip on the kids.
Our cave house had a small courtyard with a fairy chimney right next to it. As the clocks went back marking the end of summer, we felt particularly smug privileged (totally flipping smug) to be able to enjoy coffee and alfresco lunch in the sunshine.
A breakfast basket appeared on our doorstep each morning, the work of cave fairies of course. On our last evening we turned off the electric lights and lit candles in the wall nooks to get a better feel for troglodyte living. It was great for holiday, but I think I’d get claustrophobic living in a cave full time.
Goreme Open Air Museum
On our final day we visited Goreme’s Open Air Museum – probably the heart of all tourist attention and the cherry on our sightseeing cake. The ‘Museum’ is a valley crammed with fairy chimneys and tiny cave churches decorated with early Christian frescoes. In terms of age, the frescos are well preserved, but many are sadly graffitied.
The earlier graffiti is the work of superstitious Greek Christians scraping paint off to brew into a lucky concoction. Next to the scrapings they would scratch their name and the date into the rock to be certain that God knew who needed his help.
The frescoes were further defaced by Muslim Turks earlier last century. They believed the images were blasphemous and their acts of iconoclastic vandalism saw eyes or complete faces scored away to render the icons ‘dead’.
Apart from the frisson of exploring endless caves and tunnels, the children enjoyed some ‘grafitti’ of their own – they tried marbling – dipping paint coated implements into a solution of water and glue that then transferring their work to paper.
Sweetpea and I shared a camel ride during which my mother in law accidentally filmed a fetching (and now thankfully deleted) film of my derriere wobbling into the distance. Pickle, whose nose dribbled throughout the trip quickly coined the catchy phrase “I’ve got a snot” and we adults benefited from the Turkish ethos of ‘try before you buy’ (which applies to fruit at markets, treats in bakeries and in this case wine in the wine shops).
Although the beautiful horses were elusive, the magical fairy chimneys and other Cappadocian delights more than made up for it. Cappadocia is quite weird and wonderful and certainly worth a visit.
Our kids were small when we went, but there are plenty of more adventurous activities if you go with older kids or no kids. Hot air ballooning, quad biking and hiking are all popular tourist activities.
There is a whole range of places to stay from cheap and cheerful backpacker hostels to 5* luxury. We stayed at Les Maisons de Cappadoce. Architect Jaques Avizou restored and upgraded a number of ruined fairy chimneys converting them into pretty villas with modern amenities.
* A caravansi is an old staging post, found along the ancient silk route.
Discover what it’s like to be an expat in Istanbul, Turkey here, here and here.