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Cappadocia (Kapadokya in Turkish) is the ancient and modern name of a remarkable region in Central Anatolia. It is a geological wonderland which is sometimes considered to have covered a triangular area between Kayseri, Nigde and Kirsehir, or more specifically, a smaller triangular area from Urgup to Avanos and to Nevsehir.

Its harsh climate limits agricultural pursuits to growing grain and fruit. Its vast grassland was ideal for raising horses, sheep and other small stock. Silver, copper and salt have been mined.

Cappadocia can be viewed from three different aspects, natural, historical and religious.

The Natural Aspect

The strange but beautiful formation of Cappadocia has had this appearance for millions of years. When the volcanoes in the region were active, the lava which poured out covered all previously formed hills and valleys forming a high plateau. This newly formed plateau consists mainly of tufa and some rare layers of basalt. This is the constructive stage of Cappadocia’s formation. The destruction of the tufa and the basalt layers by erosion (heavy rains and melting snow in spring) and sharp temperature changes has continued for thousands of years and is still in process today. Wind in general has a circling effect while rivers have horizontal and rain vertical effects on the landscape.

The basalt is less affected by erosion when compared to the tufa and has served as a protective cover. This juxtaposition of different materials has produced capped columns, pyramids and conical formations with dark-colored caps known as peribacalari, fairy chimneys. A block of hard rock which resists erosion is left standing alone as the tufa around it is worn away, until it stands at the top of a large cone. A fairy chimney exists until the neck of the cone is eroded and the cap falls off.

History of Cappadocia

During the 19C BC, Old Assyrian traders were established among the numerous native city-states of Cappadocia. Between c.1750-1200 BC, Cappadocia formed the "Lower Land" of the Hittite Kingdom.

The Persians made Cappadocia a satrapy (province), through which passed the famous Persian Royal Road from Sardis to Susa.

Cappadocia avoided submitting to Alexander the Great. After 190 BC Cappadocia was ruled by a native dynasty and the rulers became friendly to Rome. In 17 AD Cappadocia became a Roman province and was joined with the provinces of Galatia under Vespasian in 72 AD. Soon after, under Trajan, it was united with Pontus. The Roman period of Cappadocia continued from the 1C through the 4C AD followed by the Byzantine, Seljuk and Turkish periods.

The monasteries of Cappadocia were abandoned after the arrival of the Turks and later occupied by the local people. Some of the Christian population continued to live here until the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923.

The Religious Aspect

Christianity came early to Cappadocia. St. Paul passed through Caesarea (today Kayseri) on the way to Ankyra (Ankara). In the 4C AD Cappadocia produced three saints from the area. These are St. Basil the Great from Caesarea, his younger brother St. Gregory of Nysa and St. Gregory Nazianzus. St. Basil the Great was the son of devout parents and received his higher education in Constantinople and Athens but renounced a promising career to become a monk. Impressed by the ascetic life, he settled as a hermit in Cappadocia where he was joined by Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil ably defended the Christian faith among the churches of Anatolia, which had suffered from divisions caused by the Arian controversy. In 370 he succeeded Eusebius as bishop. As a leader who had brilliant organizational skills, Basil established hospitals, fostered monasticism, and reformed the liturgy. His Rule, a code for monastic life, became the basis of eastern monasticism, and the liturgy of St. Basil, probably compiled by him though later revised, is still used on certain Sundays in Orthodox churches.

Anchorites of the Early Church, who sought refuge from the distractions of the world in wild and remote places, chose Cappadocia which led monasticism to develop in the area. They devoted their lives to prayer, penance and fasting, often living in man-made or natural caves. Martyrdom was the ultimate aim of a devout Christian.

After Christianity was accepted as the official religion by Constantine the Great in 330 AD, the days of martyrdom went and a peaceful and secure life did not satisfy these people. The geography of Cappadocia was suitable for people who preferred ascetic lifestyles.

In the 7 and 8C AD when the Arabs began to raid Anatolia, monastic communities had to hide themselves and, where it was geographically easy, dug their underground shelters. In time these shelters developed into large underground cities.

Churches of Cappadocia

It is estimated that there are more than 600 rock-cut churches in Cappadocia. These churches that people carved were similar in plan to the ones in the capital. Walls were covered with beautiful frescoes and they were also influenced by the Iconoclast period in the 8C and 9C. Most of the frescoes date from the 11C and 12C.

Two different techniques were employed for the frescoes, they were either painted directly on the rock or on a very thin coat of plaster. In churches where it was not plastered over, the painting became extensive. The predominant color of this style was red ocher.

In many pictures it is noted that eyes or faces of people are obliterated as it was believed that this action killed the painted subject in the Islamic period. In addition to this there are also many scratches of vandals’ initials which is strictly forbidden today. The visitor should be reminded that the use of flash with cameras inside the churches is not allowed.

The simplest church had a rectangular vaulted nave with an apse covered by a projecting arch. There are many variations of the churches, some with triple apse and a dome, cross-planned and so on. Because the churches were carved into the rock, they did not need to be supported by columns. Therefore columns and vaults are only structural symbols. Names of the churches are based on their archeological style or decoration, for instance the Buckle or Sandal Church. The apses of the churches face different directions as they are carved in accordance with the natural formations and availability of suitable rock pieces.

In most churches there are many grave pits which are thought to have probably belonged to donors or the church dignitaries as this was the tradition.


Goreme museum consists of steep cliffs and many hidden churches dating from the second half of the 9C and afterwards.

The Church of St. Barbara

It is an 11C cruciform church with two columns, three apses and a side entrance. According to some sources this church was believed to have come from the Iconoclast period. However considering its plan which is similar to 11C and 12C buildings, it can easily be concluded that this cannot be right. Its name derives from a legendary saint, Barbara. According to legend, Barbara, after becoming a Christian, was shut up and eventually killed by her father. Her father was later punished by being struck by lightning. Barbara was remembered as the patron saint of architects, stonemasons and artillery men. Her attribute is generally a tower with three windows representing the Holy Trinity. St. Barbara is depicted on the north wall.

In the apse Christ, pantocrator is shown enthroned with his right hand in the gesture of blessing. On the wall opposite the entrance are painted two soldier saints on the horseback, St. George and St. Theodore. These two equestrian figures battling against a dragon symbolize the fight between the divine heroes and the forces of evil. St. Theodore was a recruit in the Roman army who was burned to death for setting fire to the Temple of Cybele in Amasya.

The dark colored bird-like creature was believed to represent the evil.

The predominant color in the frescoes of the church is red which was obtained from ocher. The two pits to the left after entering are interpreted as being either baptismal or for wine production.

The Church of the Serpent

This 11C church has a single nave covered by a barrel vault and a small apse on the left after entering. An interesting feature in this church is that the frescoes are framed like icons. The name of the church derives from the serpent in one of the frescoes on the left above the apse. Here, like in the Church of St. Barbara, two soldier saints St. George and St. Theodore are fighting against evil forces in the appearance of a serpent. Next to them is St. Onesimus.

On the right above the apse is another picture showing Constantine the Great and his mother Helena. They are holding the true cross. Constantine is very important in the name of Christianity as he is the emperor who declared Christianity the official religion in 330 AD. Helena was the mother of Constantine. After her conversion to Christianity, she used her position to promote the cause of the faith. She is the subject of many legends and is said to have found the cross of Christ during a trip to the Holy Land after receiving a vision at the age of 80. In art her emblem is the cross.

On the wall opposite the entrance is Jesus Christ. The small figure next to him is probably either the donor of the church or the artist of the painting as found in Italian art.

Opposite the apse are shown three saints, St. Onophrius, St. Thomas and St. Basil the Great. St. Onophrius, with raised hands in a dismissive gesture, was a hermit who spent a life of solitude in the desert in Egypt. He used desert leaves for a loincloth and became the patron saint of weavers. Because of his breasts and the way he is dressed he became a subject of some apocryphal stories according to one of which he was originally a beautiful, lecherous girl who repented of her sins and prayed God to help her. Her prayer was accepted and she woke up one day as an ugly old man.


In addition to churches, suitably to the monastic lifestyle, there was also a refectory, a dining complex, consisting of three rooms in line, a storehouse, a kitchen and a dining hall with a long table cut from the rock for about 30 people and an apsidal place for the father abbot at the top of the table

The Church of the Buckle

Tokali Kilise, which for convenience is called the "New Church" is the most spectacular of all the rock-cut churches in Cappadocia. The 10C church is different in plan to others in the vicinity, having a transverse nave (Mesopotamian type) with three apses and a narthex hewn out of an earlier church, known as the "Old Church". On the left of the transept is a small chapel and below the floor is a crypt. The most striking feature after entering the church is the dominant bright blue color used in the background of the frescoes. Because it was difficult to obtain, the color blue was very rare in Cappadocia. It was probably taken there from somewhere else which implies its cost. From this it is understood that the church was special among others. In the New Church, the niches in the walls of the nave serve to give a sense of depth and substance to the paintings.


Zelve was the name of a village which was inhabited until the 1950s in the Zelve Valley. The population of this settlement was moved further away to Yeni Zelve, and Zelve itself was made an open air museum because of the danger of collapse. The museum of Zelve consists of three canyons intersecting at the entrance of the museum. The first canyon on the right is entered through a pathway between the first two canyons passing by the Geyikli Kilise (the Church of the Deer) with paintings of a cross, fish and deer. Figures of fish are frequently used in churches of Cappadocia symbolizing the faithful who were called pisciculi and who became members of the church by being baptized in the piscina (fishpond in L). The acrostic of the Greek word for fish formed the phrase, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. A cross in a circle with fish on both sides symbolized the faithful people who believed in Jesus Christ.

In the first canyon on the left there is a mosque which was converted from a church. Towards the end of the canyon, two rock faces are honeycombed with caves of dwellings, dovecotes, a monastery, storage rooms, chapels and tunnels leading to the second canyon. It is recommended that visitors not climb up these caves or pass through the tunnels.

A dwelling room with storage bins and stone wheels used for grinding grain and the Uzumlu Kilise (the Church of the Grapes) can be found in the third canyon. Grape juice here represents the blood of Christ.


No one knows when the underground cities of Cappadocia were built, perhaps in Hittite times or as late as the 6C AD. There were certainly underground cities as early as the 5C BC. They are referred to by a 5 and 4C BC Athenian historian Xenophon in his Anabasis. So far 36 underground cities have been discovered some of them being very recent. It is also estimated that most of them are connected to each other. But it is difficult to identify these connections.

The ground consists of the same volcanic tufa. Cappadocians created vast cities which cannot be noticed from the ground level. They carved airshafts as deep as 85 m / 300 ft into the rock and then made holes laterally at different levels in all directions. They hewed an elaborate system of staircases and tunnels to connect all layers to the surface. They dug dwellings, bathrooms, kitchens, dining halls, storage rooms, wine cellars, chapels, graves and suchlike. In times of danger they provided security by rolling big round hard stones across strategic tunnels. Entrances at the surface were also camouflaged.

Today even from some of the modern houses there are man-made holes leading to underground passages most of which are used as cellars

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