The region known as Cappadocia in classical times was reaching the Black Sea to the north and the Taurus Mountains to the south, the Euphrates to the east and the Salt Lake to the west. After the Persian invasion in 6th century BC, the region was divided in to two, the Pontus to the north and Rocky Cappadocia to the south. Today the most known and visited part of Cappadocia region is right in the center of Turkey and the name of the major city in this region is Nevsehir.
The origin of the Cappadocia’s name is Persian and it means a land of fine or beautiful horses. Horse breeding in the region goes back to Hittites 1900-1200 BC during the bronze age and during the classical period the area was renowned for its stables, and paying tribute to Persians with horses became a tradition in the area. Cappadocia was a kingdom in 6th century BC. After people of the kingdom failed against Persian attacks, they became the tributary state of the Persian Empire. Cappadocia was an independent state during Roman times and its capital was Nyssa (Todays’s Nevsehir). It remained in the Eastern Roman empire after the division in 395 A.D. In 1072, the Seljuks conquered the area, invaded by Tamerlaine in 1405, finally becoming Ottoman territory.
The formation of Cappadocia landscape was started 30 million years ago. Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz mountains were three active volcanoes in the region and they played the major role for the formations of this incredible landscape. Over millions of years, their eruptions covered the land of 150 kilometers in diameter with thick layers of volcanic tufa and compressed volcanic ash. The erosion of water and wind shaped the landscape of Cappadocia for several millions of years.
The Valleys of Goreme
The region of Göreme, is of considerable historical and archaeological importance, famous for its Caves, monasteries and churches. The curious landscape of the Valley, made up of volcanic tuff, owes its existence to the activity of Mt. Erciyes, an extinct volcano whose lava formations dominate the area. Wind and rain have worn the tuff formations into free-standing outcrops and rock-towers – ‘’fairy chimneys’’. There are many such outcrops in the region between Nevşehir, Ürgüp and Avanos, where rock-cut dwellings, churches and monasteries have long attracted the attention of travellers and scholars. The first accounts date from 19th century western travellers to the area.
Rock-cut monasteries were first founded in the region by Basilius, archbishop of Caesareia, in the 4th century. Soon after the foundation of the first monasteries in the Valley of Göreme, they became the centre of pilgrimage for Christians in search of physical and devotional succour.
The region was first named Korama according to the 6th century account of the life of St. Hieron. It is said that this Saint lived in a shelter carved out of the rock which was extremely difficult of Access. Since this account refers to a much earlier Saint, Hieron is not the earliest martyr to suffer death in these troglodyte shelters.
According to the English historian Skene, St. George was also of Cappadocia origin. It appears that the legends of Mount Erciyes and the snake.
Indeed, the dragon guarding a Magic plant is a common feature of Anatolian legends. St. George may be one of the various heroes who slay the mythical creature. This perphaps accounts for the frequency with dragon in the rock-cut churches of Göreme.
Göreme was an important centre of Christianity during the 7th to 13th centuries. According to the chronicles of a 10th century monk who lived in the area, there were about 360 churches and monasteries of various sizes.
Most of the churches discovered to date contain frescos dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries, a time when the monasteries of the region enjoyed prosperity and tranquility. It followed a period of continual disturbance during which the Christians in the area suffered from sectarian disputes, the effects of iconoclasm and Arab invasions.
Although Cappadocia cannot be considered an artistic centre as important as Byzantium, the monastic school created here possessed its own vitality and style. Here one may encounter the frescos of monastic artists intent on giving devotional expression to the church where he himself prayed and the monastery where he lived. The visual images resulting from this simple devotion are not the Works of any particular school of art. It can be said that the effects of the style of the capital have combined with folk art to produce an art in which stylished forms of some sophistication are blended with naive drawings.
Three kilometres from Göreme, on one of the roads Nevşehir to Avanos stands the village of Uçhisar.
Situated on a crest ovelooking the entire Göreme region, this spot possesses an unequalled view of the tuff rock formations and surrounding cliffs. Originally the village was concealed from view and mainly carved into the rocks, but as a result of erosion, the rock-cut houses are now open to view at the foot of a highly – eroded rock face. A postern (secret passageway) leading from the old rock carved houses to the river bed 100m. Below has been discovered. This was originally used by the inhabitants of the village to draw water from the river in secret.
The rock face is eroded so that it resembles a ruined castle. A charming motel nestles at the foot of the rock. Brightly tinted slopes are punctuated with dovecots carved out of the rock. The droppings from these dovecots are annually collected for use. Below may be seen the Valley winding a way into the distance.
This small town lies about a kilometre off the road from Nevşehir to Kayseri and is set on a steep – faced, for-tress-like outcrop. Originally this area contained the main part of the village, in a 100km2, area big enough to hold Kızılçukur, Çavuşin, Elnazar and Uçhisar at once.
The village is now clustered at the foot of the fortress, the houses closely packed, box-like up the slope, with narrow alleys between. A postern links the fortress to the Christ citadel which stands a few hundred metres away in the centre of the Valley floor. This, at one time, contained some of the village dwellings.
Since no signs of habitation were visible from outside, this was used by local Christians as a sanctuary during the Arab invasions. There are two notable structures, both churches, in the village, the Harım church and the Sarıca church.
At the entrance to the village are a number of man-made Caves dug out of the tuff at various times, which are used to store locally produced potatoes, apples and such furits and oranges, and lemons from the Mediterranean region, as a kind of cold store.
A number of places of interest may be reached from Ortahisar, among them Fırkatan, Azarkaya, Halaşdere, Kızılçukur, the Balkan Churches, Pancarlı church and Tavşanlı church.
Two and a half kilometres from Göreme, on the slopes above the village of Çavuşin, is a rock face riddled by erosion that has forced the inhabitants of the old village houses on the slope to abandon them and resetle on the plain below. The ruins of the St. John the Baptist church, the oldest church in Göreme, are also to be found on the slopes below the rock face. The church, which dates to the 8th century, has been restored.
Above the road to Avanos just after leaving the village of Çavuşin stands the Çavuşin Church. The church, dated to the end of the 10th century, is today reached by a flight of iron steps. The red-painted frescos on what is now the facade were originally situated in the narthex. One enters the church directly through the narthex wall which erosion has opened up to reveal a triple apsed, rectangular, barrel-vaulted nave. The tunnel vault suggests that the church predates the cross- vaulted churches of Göreme.
The paintings of scenes from the New Testament are portrayed in a detail only surpassed by those of the Tokalı church. The colours and subject matter are some what primitive in execution. Scenes include the Annunciation, the Visitation, Trial by Water, Joseph’s dream, the Flight into Egypt, the Three magi, the Shepherds, the Murder of Zacharias, the Pursuit of Elizabeth, the Masacre of the Innocents, the Healing of the Blind, the Raising of Lazarus, the Entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross, the Burial of Christ, Women at the Tomb, Christ on Mt Olives, the Ascension, the Transfiguration, and the Angel appearing to Joshua.
A charming Cappadocian town set, like a typical fortifies town, on the slope, spreading over onto the plain below. The houses are typical of the region. These flat-roofed dwellings are warn in winter and cool in summer. The volcanic tuff of which these houses are built may be seen in its natural state along the routes from Urgup into the surrounding interior where on emay encounter extraordinary views, particularly of the pinkish Stone quarried for building on the Urgup-Avanos road and the rows of fairy chimneys, crested configurations or eroded tuff between Nevsehir and Urgup.
The town possesses hotels, motels and guest houses of reasonable quality, and a sizeable shopping centre, besides a small ethnographical museum. The area also boasts a locally grown wine of notable character.
A few kilometres from Zelve, in the area of Pasabag, one encounters amazingly complex rock formations with tower- like outcrops in pairs and clusters, or merged into extraordinary shapes.
The ruins of the ancient village of Zelve are 2.5kms. to the right of the Cavusin-Avanos road at he end of a track. It is an important complex of monasteries and churches which was founded on step slopes, some of it hollowed out of the rock, as in Ortahisar, Cavusin and Uchisar. As in Cavusin, erosion has forced the village to resettle in the floor of the Valley, which is actually two canyons merging into a gorge. The natural rock formations of this Valley are extraordinarily varied and unusual. A small minaret in the old village of Zelve shaped like a bell tower, is a landmark.
A small church from the iconoclastic period can be seen to the left of the entrance to the gorge.
The inerior of the Uzumlu church is embellished with medallion rosettes, Christian symbols and forms such as the cross, fish, palm and vine stem. The vine stem is the symbol of Christ, according to early Christian iconography, a symbol to which are attached hopes for eternal salvation and happiness. According to the gospel of St. John, Christ says I am the vine and you are my shoots.Vines are much in evidence throughout the wall paintings of Goreme.
A second church, quite ruined, may be seen immediately above the old minaret. The Geyikli church contains frescos of a stag flanking a cross, and surmounting a fish. The stag, according to the iconography, represent the thirst soul drinking the water of life. It has also been used to symbolise devotion to God as well as Christ. There are at least five other churches at Zelve which have not yet been opened.
This Valley, first described by G. Jerphanion in 1936, is a place of great beauty surrounded by high hills. Besides the natural beauty of the steep-walled Valley, which has a number of streams and gren cover, it is also a place of considerable archaeological interest.
Some of the more notable of the many churches and monasteries, each with different features;
Geyikli Church, Karabas Church, Yilanli Church, The Kubbeli Churches, Yeni Church, Tahtali Church, Ak Church, Kücük Church
The Valley of Ihlara is also worth a visit. Like the valleys of Goreme and Soganli, it possesses a wealth of natural and artistic heritage. The Valley was formed by thousnads of years of flood from the Hasandagi volcano and the Melendiz range cutting out deep narrow gorges along its slopes before reaching the Salt Lake. The river floor of the Valley. Many monasteries and churches were carved out of the tuff outcrops between Ihlara and the village of Selime, making this a highly populated area at one time. There are over a hundred churches and monasteries of Syrian Mesopotamian tradition cut our of the rock face of this 16kms. long Valley. The village of Selime may be seen among the fairy chimneys at the foot of a slope to the North of the Valley. The road takes one through the Valley, offering a number of extraordinary views, passing some Roman baths before stretching off towards Hasandagi. To enter the Valley of the churches, turn off before reaching the village of Ihlara. A steep stairway leads down the wall of the deep canyon. Many of the churches and monasteries, which date from the 10th to the 13th centuries are in ruins. Only a few of the churches in the Valley stil stand and are open to the public.
Among those which are easiest of Access ar the Urenliseki church, Karanlik church , the Koakar church, The Agacli church, the Yilanli church and Sumbullu churches. These are, of course, local popular names, like those we find in other parts of the region. A simple planned church devoted to St. George to be found near the village of Belisirama contains frescos dated to the end of the 13th century. The figure of St. George is seen between two figures, male and female, dressed in Slejuk costume. The names of the Seljuk sultan of the time, Giyasettin mesut II (1283-1298) and the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II (1282-1328) are inscribed side by side, which indicates the tolerance of the Turkish rulers towards Christianity.