Turkey Travelog – Part 5 – Cappadocia

Here’s a link to the previous post in this series, on the Topkapi Palace.

A visit to Turkey is incomplete if you don’t check out Cappadocia. Its name is derived from Katpatuka – “Land of the beautiful horses” – in Hittite language.

Cappadocia has an unusual landscape that cannot be explained in words. Craters, rock columns and fairy chimneys dot it – the result of Mount Erciyes erupting 50 Million years ago. Since then, there have been many volcanic eruptions that spewed volcanic tuff. Centuries of erosion shaped the tuff. The Peribacalar (fairy chimneys) formed when erosion wiped out the lava covering the tuff, exposing isolated pinnacles. The Red River – Kizilirmak – runs through it with pink tinted waters.

Even though Cappadocia is famed as the land of the Hittites, people have used the caves as dwelling for several centuries. People dug into the soft tuff to create cave dwellings, monasteries, churches – and even massive underground cities. Nowadays, most of these dwellings have been converted into upscale hotels.

The star attractions in Cappadocia are the underground cities. We visited the Kaymakli city complex. Underground cellars were used in the Hittite period to store wine, since the temperature of the cellars was at an optimum 50 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the 6th and 7th centuries, when Persians and Arabs invaded Cappadocia, Christians were persecuted for their religious beliefs. They escaped into these secret underground cities.

An underground city is a huge subterranean space for living, worshipping, wine making, cooking and cattle rearing. It has more than 8 levels (or floors). The richest people lived closest to the surface, where the air was the freshest.

Providing fresh air was a problem. Cunningly devised shafts disguised as wells circulated air into the living complex. Invaders would poison the “wells” to contaminate the water supply.

How do we know which rooms were used as the kitchen? Well, the smoke from the fires blackened the ceilings – so the kitchens are fairly easy to identify. In addition to that, some rock tools for pounding spices have been found in these rooms. There was no danger of the enemies detecting the smoke from the kitchens, since the soft rock absorbed the smoke.

We were really curious about the bathrooms. Apparently, they were in the lowest level & visitors aren’t permitted to those levels. Imagine running post-haste from the 1st level to the 8th level, in case of “emergencies” 😉

Sometimes people stayed for months together in underground cities. Many would have needed a therapist, luckily one was at hand at all times – Wine. They made wine by stomping on grapes with their bare feet. One look at the stomping pit & my desire to taste Turkish wine disappeared.

More than 10,000 people lived in Kaymakli. 37 such cities have been found so far & at least a 100 more remain, undiscovered. I was warned that I might be claustrophobic while visiting the 3rd and 4th levels, but the caves were well lit & I didn’t feel a thing.

The tops of the “cliffs” have dovecotes (pigeon houses) to collect droppings. The land is so infertile that the only way a farmer can coax plants to germinate is through pigeon guano (used as a fertilizer). A man without a pigeon house had little chances of wooing a wife 🙂

Apart from the underground cities, a visit to the Göreme open-air museum is a must. A profusion of churches in the rock-cut caves welcome the visitors. Most of these churches have seccos painted on them. A fresco is painted when the plastering of the wall is still wet. This way, the paints are embedded into the structure of the wall. A secco is painted by moistening the already plastered wall. Thus, seccos peel off easily, but are easier to paint.

Many of the churches have images of saints battling and killing dragons or snakes, both symbols of the pagan religion. Most of the seccos are badly damaged. Monks decorated the churches using plant-based dyes and mineral paints. The most spectacular color used is blue – derived from Lapis Lazuli, probably from India.

Some of the churches have mere daubs of color, but no secco. During the iconoclastic period, images couldn’t be depicted. So daubs of red ochre was splashed on the walls instead of painting saints or animals.

The church of “St Onuphrius” is the most interesting. According to legend, Onuphria was a beautiful young woman. She had many suitors, but a wealthy – and uncouth – merchant was dying to marry her. Since he promised a fat dowry, Onuphria’s parents agreed to give her in marriage to him. Depressed at the thought of marrying a clumsy man, Onuphria prayed to the Gods on the eve of her betrothal. They blessed her with a long beard. The next day, Onuphria drew back her veil & revealed her rich beard. This so repelled the merchant that he stormed away from the ceremony. The girl was chased out of her house, accused of dalliance with the devil. She burned all her clothes and lived buck-naked in a cave for 12 years, meditating. She lived the rest of her life as a man, as St Onuphrius.

In the churches, St Onuphrius is featured with a long beard and a strategically positioned fig leaf 😉

Sukumar will follow this post with a photo blog of Cappadocia and the Hot-air Balloon ride that he took there.



  1. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 2, 2011, 6:27 pm:

    Nice post Priya. Cappadoccia is an unforgettable place with its unique landscape. Only Grand Canyon comes close. I am rethinking my whole blogging approach. I seem to be caught in some type of a trap of my own creation – no amount of research i do is sufficient for me to write a post – a kind of analysis paralysis. I need to write some posts without too much research and get my groove back. In short, i am not sure i am going to be able to compile my balloon ride photos. I will try, maybe based on reactions to this post 🙂

  2. Quote

    checked out some pics via image search – the place do look out of the world. One more place added to the list ! As usual, great post Priya.. Sukumar, if there is a methodology to get over analysis paralysis, let me know 🙂 but do post the pics..

  3. Quote
    Kumaran said March 4, 2011, 7:38 am:


    Nice write up as usual. Make me want to visit this place.

    Why not a video blog with voice over for photos? 🙂

  4. Quote

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment.

    I think you should post the photos on Cappadocia, that doesn’t take plenty of research.

  5. Quote

    Sibu – Thanks for your comment & kind words. Yes, Cappadocia looks like a set from Star Wars.

  6. Quote

    Kumaran – Thanks for your comment & kind words. Voice-over is a good idea.

  7. Quote
    Vamsi (subscribed) said March 11, 2011, 9:17 pm:

    Very Nice Post Priya.

  8. Quote

    Vamsi – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

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