Cappadocia Destination Guide
The Cappadocia region of Turkey lies in the Central Anatolian Plateau and is spectacular both in its natural beauty and man-made structures. A trip here will need detailed planning, as most of the sights are unique and missing them will make your trip incomplete. Though the weather here is cooler than in coastal Mediterranean and the Aegean, it is best to come here between April and mid June or September to October, so as to avoid the intense heat and the summer crowds.
The ‘must see' places in Cappadocia range from the wind and rain sculpted ‘Fairy Chimneys' to the ‘Underground Cities'.
Our Cappadocia destination guide below will give you an idea of the main attractions of the region. You can also book an exciting tour in Cappadocia directly with us, or take a look at some helpful information for travelling throughout the country. You should also check out some of the exciting things to see and do in other great Turkish cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Alanya, Izmir and Marmaris.
Other Cappadocia sites such as Goreme Valley National Park, the Uchisar and Ortahisar rock fortress, the numerous rock-cut churches, and the carpets and pottery of Avanos, are prominent attractions. Also include visits to the enchanting Ihlara valley with its rock-cut churches and the deep gorge, the fascinating village of Soganli, the busy and somewhat unorganised small town of Ürgüp, the experience of a real-life Turkish town in Sinasos, and Hacibektas, which is famous for its onyx souvenirs.
Hot air balloon trips over Cappadocia, though costly, are worth the money. You can also plan to trek across the region, go for a horse back ride or bike around the valleys.
Things to See & Do in Cappadocia
The village between Goreme and Avanos which is located on the main road has many examples of fairy chimneys, pigeon houses and cave houses.
The original village vas evacuated due to a landslide force 1950, and moved to recent area. During that landslide some of buildings were damaged. For this reason it is recommended to hire a local guide if you want to visit Cavusin and to watch your step.
At Cavusin you can visit the Church of John the Baptist which probably dates from the 5th century with paintings from the 6th to 8th centuries.
Quite nearby is the Nikeforos Church also known as Cavusin Church contains frescos commemorating the passage of Nicephoras Phocas (a Byzantine Emperor) through Cappadocia in 964 to 965 during his military campaign against Cilicia. Nicephoras may have visited the Church of John the Baptist which was an important centre for pilgrimage at that time.
The old village is quite dramatic with its abandoned view; recommended to see it by all means. Several churches can bee seen around Cavusin Village and a cave mosque. These churches provide us to see the exceptional examples for observing historical progress of the Cappadocian arts that has reached its peak with churches in Goreme.
The hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia are a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a ‘must do' though it may be a little heavy on your pocket. As you drift across the spectacular volcanic setting, a feeling of motionless suspension, quite surreal in nature, overcomes you. The early mornings have the right air currents for ballooning and with expert control the pilots take you over citadels and between the exotic ‘fairy chimneys',often startling the locals sitting on their terraces for breakfast.
As the basket lifts off the ground, powered by the blast of gas, the wind gives it the desired lift and the panoramic view of the valley opens up all around - the dramatic volcanic landscape formed over two million years ago.
Observe the country at leisure from a height as you enjoy this eco-friendly ride to carry back memories of a unique land.
If you are comfortable riding a horse, then Cappadocia is best explored on horseback. Not only can you ride into places less travelled, but horse riding will also give you plenty of time to go through this fascinating country at your own pace. So, if you have time on your hands forget the taxis and buses and rent a horse in Cappadocia.
Mustafapasa 6 km's to the south of Ürgüp, was inhabited by Greek Orthodox families until the beginning of the 20th century. The Greek houses dating back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries display fine examples of stonework. The Gomeda valley, to the west of Mustafapasa, resembles a small version of the Ihlara Canyon.
The important churches and monasteries around Mustafapasa are, the church of Aios Vasilos (St. Basileos), the Church of Constantine-Helene, churches in the Monastery Valley and, the Church of St. Basil in the Gomeda Valley.
There is also a caravanserai built during the Ottoman period and displaying fine examples of stone masonry and woodcraft.
This is a good place to start your Cappadocia sojourn, as it gives you a feel of this mesmerising land in a capsule.
About 2 km from Göreme, the open air museum is something that no one should miss on their Cappadocia tour. Keeping the bus stand, with its souvenir shops, to the right and the ‘buckle church' to the left, you will enter the main gate. Do not forget to visit the ‘buckle church' on your way out, as your ticket includes the visit. The Open Air Museum has innumerable churches, which reminds you of the number of monastic communities that lived in the valley.
You can spend an entire day here looking at frescoes that range from the very basic to the most exquisite examples. Some of the smaller chapels have strange symbolic decorations that are also quite meaningful and interesting to study.
The churches are prone to damage from the wind and rain and a major protection programme was started two years ago. The exterior walls are getting an artificial surface resilient to the ravages of nature. Your entrance ticket does not include the Karanlik church so remember to pay extra for it.
The church's frescoes include both the pre and post-Iconoclastic styles. Since in the pre-Iconoclastic controversy days of the mid 9th century, the church did not approve of human forms in religious art, the early works that are found in the Open Air Museum have frescoes which are symbolic and simple. The post Iconoclastic works are much more detailed and figurative. However, a close study and comparison reveals that they are essentially telling the same stories of the saints and Christ.
The Haci Bektas-i Veli complex was opened to visitors as a museum on 16 August 1964 after renovations. On 1988, Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum was opened and some of the artifacts from Hacibektas Museum was transfered to the new Museum. Today in the Museum, you may only see work of art of Haci bektas Veli. The complex reflects architectural elements ranging from the 13th to the 19th century.
The complex consist of three main sections, each built around a courtyard: the First or Nadar Courtyard, the Second or Dergah Courtyard, and the Third or Hazret Courtyard.
Haci Bektas-i Veli (1209-1271 AD) and his thought;
He is a prominent turkish-muslim sufi thinker was born in Turkistan in the city of Khorasan. He studied mathematics, philosophy and other sciences in the school of his master Hoca Ahmet Yesevi. He traveled to Iran, Iraq, Arabian Lands and Syria.
After he setteled in Hacibektas (Sulucakarahoyuk), he spread his thought, educated students and died there. The system of his thought is based on tolerance, reace, love and equality. His philosophy stil illuminates the humanity. His social ideoligies have been applied to everyday's life six hunderd yars later by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk the founder of republic Turkey. His thought shared the same point of view with the Universal Human Rights Declaration which is announced in 10 December 1948.
The Zelve Valley or known as well as Zelve Cave Village is situated about 8 km's north of Urgup on the road to Avanos. Although the churches in Zelve's monastery complex lack the elaborate frescoes of Goreme and other sites there's still plenty here to see. The series of valleys can provide you with a couple of hours walking, climbing and crawling about and in addition to the marked highlights (the Fish and Grape churches) there are innumerable rooms and passages to look at.
Zelve was inhabited until 1952 but you can almost see the place crumbling before your very eyes. There's probably an element of risk involved in exploring too enthusiastically but a guide should be able to balance the thrill of stumbling through pitch black tunnels by torchlight with an element of safety.
Cappadocia offers good trekking for hiking enthusiasts. There are numerous hiking trails, with varying degrees of difficulty, so that there is something for every level of hiker. Remember to carry good walking shoes and a light jacket or sweater as it may become cool if the sun is not up. One of the best hikes is in the Red Valley (Kizilçukur Vadisi) between Çavusin and Goreme.
You can go for the hike in the Pigeon Valley (Güvercinlik Vadisi), which is from Uçhisar to Göreme. If you can manage a longer trail, start from Balkanderesi in the Ibrahimpasa village, go up to Ortahisar and if you are up to it, continue through Pancarlik Valley to Mustafapasa.
Though a little off the beaten path, the Uchisar Castle is located in the Uchisar village and you can easily trek up the height of this fortress that was carved out of a volcanic outcrop. From the height of the castle, you can get a panoramic view of Goreme and Cappadocia. Clearly this stone fortress was built as a defence base, providing the perfect place to spot approaching enemies.
Cappadocia's underground cities are unique in their elaborate and complex structure, particularly considering the time when they were built. The first mention of these places is found as far back as 400 BC. The number of such subterranean cities is not exactly known, though Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are the more popular ones. If you are the athletic type then go to Mazikoy, which is 10 km east of Kaymakli, to see a somewhat different pattern of interior layout.
The underground city of Derinkuyu, which is 50 km to the south of Goreme, at one time housed an estimated population of 20,000 people in a structure that went down 18 storeys into the Anatolian plateau. Today, you can go down eight floors of tunnels in the Derinkuyu structure, while in the Kaymakli caves you can view the four floors that have been uncovered. The circular ventilation shafts that descend to the lower levels make you sense how the people who once lived there must have felt. These structures were able to sustain entire communities for temporary periods, as the darkness and crawling passageways are not suitable for long term or permanent living. The underground cities had massive circular doors, which could be rolled out from inside to block the passages against any possible enemy invasion. Cappadocia has many such underground cities but the exact number and who built them are not known.
Though these cave dwellings have long been abandoned for modern houses, the last few years have seen a renewed interest, fuelled by the tourist influx, to turn these structures into second homes for the rich Turkish people or into speciality boutique hotels such as the Anatolia Houses and Cappadocia Cave Suites.
The largest of these underground cities that have been excavated are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, which are 30 and 20 km south of Nevsehir, respectively. Take the Nevsehir-Nigde road to reach these places. Though the exact origin of these structures is not known, it is assumed that the first few levels were built by the Hittites to escape the 1200 B.C. attack of the Phrygians. The cities were later expanded by the Christians, to escape Arab invasions in the 7th and 8th centuries. Some of the caves have stone tools, signifying that they are older than the others which have metal tools.
The two underground cities are connected by a tunnel that allows three people to walk in it at a time. However, the tunnel is not open to the public as parts have collapsed. The underground dwellings are connected by a labyrinth of passages that have discreet approaches from the surface. The planning is meticulous, with waste shafts, air shafts, wells, chimneys, and well laid out passages that link the various underground chambers. There are vertical stairs that go down from the 3rd and 4th floors. The builders had incorporated every detail while planning out these structures. You will be surprised to find places for storage, wineries, stables, cellars, churches, refectories, all accommodated in the lower levels while the living places were in the upper levels. The blackened walls bear the evidence of torches that were used to light up the caves.
To the east, just 10 km from Kaymakli, is the underground city of Mazikoy. Archaeologists think that there may be a passageway between Mazikoy and Derinkuyu. The unique feature of Mazikoy is that there are no stairs or grades leading to the lower levels. Here, each level is distinct and is connected by tunnels through which people could move. There are also footholds etched out on the shaft walls for people to climb up and down. Do not bypass this city, if you have the time and agility for the rather difficult trek required.
Though not as famous as French wine, Cappadocia is one of the earliest wine growing regions of the world. The rich volcanic soil is good for the fruit orchards and vineyards. Urgup is the wine producing heartland of Cappadocia and an International Wine Festival is held here every October. Several small wineries get together and organise this event. Plan your trip so that you can be a part of this event, which gives you an excellent opportunity to enjoy the festival and get a feel of the local culture.
The communities that settled in Cappadocia from the very early times were mainly monastic groups. St. Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca, laid down certain rules of monastic discipline as early as the 4th century. Prime among these were prayer, physical labour and community life, which are still followed by the monks and nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church.
This way of life was in contrast to the solitary asceticism prevalent in those times. The churches in the Goreme valley developed under St. Basil's guidance and slowly an entire monastic complex, comprising small communities, developed in what today you can view as the Open Air Museum. Unfortunately the valley today does not have any church that goes back to the time of St. Basil. The Tokali Kilise or the ‘Buckle Church' is unarguably the most beautiful with its intricate frescoes and elegant arches.
However, to see the best preserved example of Byzantine art, you must visit the Eskigumus Monastery located to the east of Nigde. Travel along the Kayseri-Nigde road and this monastery, the southern most of all Cappadocian monasteries, lies off the road. The region is very close to the path that was followed by all invaders who at one time or the other raided this land. The Arabs traversed the Tarsus Mountains from the south and looted Kayseri in the 7th century. On the same route that went along the Tarsus River came Alexander the Great, following the Gulek Bogazi or what was known in ancient times as the Cicilian Gates.
The monastery managed to escape all the invaders due to the intentionally designed ordinary entrance way. This camouflage was so perfect that it was only discovered in 1963. There is a large inner courtyard surrounded by high walls, which houses the rooms and storage areas. The main church remains untouched and preserves some of the best frescoes of the Byzantine period.
Avanos with the ancient name Venessa is the center of terra cotta work of art since 3,000 BC.
The city is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, meaning the Red River. The river gets its name from the clay that it deposits - the clay that is used for the pottery Avanos is famous for.
The main street of town has numerous shops and workshops selling plain and decorated pots and plates and you can watch the potters at work using kick wheels, the design of which has remained unchanged for generations. Many of the workshops will encourage you to have a go yourself. Groups of tourists are shipped in the whole time and there are always a few people willing to give it a go - always good for a few laughs. Sights in town include the Sarihan Caravanserai, a restored Han (travelers 'service station'), and the Ozkonak Underground City, a smaller version of those at Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.
Ihlara area is one of the most important early christian settlemets. The canyon is one of the National Parks of Turkey as well a open air museum. The canyon is one of the famous hiking course. The Access in to the canyon is with 382 steps down. The valley sometimes reaches 100 m in hight and winds for 14 km's between the Ihlara and Selime villages.
In the middle of the valley runs the Melendiz stream, whose antique name is Potamus Kapadokus. Besides the historical importance, it's one of the most fascinating places in the region with its natural beauties. Ihlara Valley also is an ideal choise as a trecking route. The trekking groups generally starts their routes from the other entrance which is located at the end of the valley in Ihlara borough and they pass through the valley by walking 14 km.
Besides its unique nature the valley contains about 1000 caves and exactly 104 churches which 14 of them have thousand years old wall paintings.
Agacalti Church, Purenliseki Church, Kokar Church, Yilanli Church, Sumbullu Church and the Direkli Church are recommended churches to visit in Ihlara Canyon.
Visit the Pigeon Valley, also known as the Dovecote Valley or Valley of the Pigeon Lofts, near Uchisar. The soft ‘tufa' of church walls and caves has been carved out to make thousands of pigeon houses.
Though these do not have the architectural magnificence of the Persian Pigeon Towers or the ‘doocots' in Scotland, the sheer numbers of the pigeon houses are a marvel worth seeing.
You can hike to the valley to see this great collection of pigeon-lofts. Pigeons have been an important source of food and fertilizer in Cappadocia. Though chemical fertilizers have reduced the necessity of maintaining the pigeon houses, some farmers still believe that Cappadocia's fruits owe their goodness to pigeon droppings.
Murat Sarikaya and Berrin Yildiz, two young hardworking people who had great interest in Cappadocian history and folklore, transformed the former registration office in Ortahisar square into a museum. They opened the Cafe Restaurant in the same building after realizing that there is a need for providing food to the visitors of this museum where the Cappadocian daily life is illustrated with wax models.
The testi kebap (pottery kebab), the Ortahisar style sac kavurma (a savory flat thin bread), the sirloin steak wrapping, the mushroom specialty and the pumpkin dessert are perfectly cooked in this stylish restaurant where you can enjoy the view over Ortahisar Castle and the village
Cappadocia's ‘fairy chimneys' are natural wonders that have enthralled travellers over the ages. These are actually rock formations that have been formed by natural erosion by the wind and rain. The top of the cone has a cap of hard basalt rock protecting the soft ‘tufa' or consolidated volcanic ash below it. Rising above the ground in their typical shapes, the ‘fairy chimneys' give the region a moon-like landscape, and are unique to Cappadocia.