Cappadocia… Between Kayseri and Nevsehir, Central Anatolia’s mountain-fringed plains give way to a land of fairy chimneys and underground cities. The fairy chimneys – rock columns, pyramids, mush-rooms and a few camels – and the valleys of cascading cliffs were formed when Erciyes Dagi erupted. The intervening millennia added to the remarkable Cappadocian canvas, with Byzantines carving cave churches and subterranean complexes to house thousands of people.
You could spend days touring the rock-cut churches and admiring their frescoes (technically seccos, actually). Alternatively, view the troglodyte architecture from far above on a dawn hot-air balloon ride or from a panoramic hotel terrace.
Whether it’s a pension or a boutique hideaway with as few rooms as it has fairy chimneys, Cappadocia’s accommodation rates as some of Turkey’s best and allows guests to experience cave dwelling firsthand. The restaurants in dreamy spots such as Goreme and Urgup are equally alluring, with yet more terraces offering sweeping views of the knobbly landscape. Staying in villages where eroding castles overlook small communities of very laid-back people, you might just become a world expert on the aesthetic qualities of rocky valleys at sunset. It will require evenings of study on the terrace, but you will get there with a good supply of cay (tea) or Efes (beer).
However, between lingering looks at the rocky remains of Cappadocia’s unique history, it is worth checking out some further-flung spots. Caravanserais dot the roads to the seemingly lost valleys of Ihlara and Soganli, and former Greek settlements such as Mustafapasa.
- Explore Byzantine tunnels at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities
- Examine fresco-covered churches in the Goreme Open-Air Museum
- Gaze at the pigeon houses riddling cliffs and fairy chimneys in Goreme’s labyrinthine valleys
- Gasp at the outcrops doubling as castles in Uchisar and Ortahisar
- Take the trip of a lifetime in a hot-air balloon
- Drink in the views over multiple mezes in chic Urgup
- Part the vines and peer into a tumbledown Greek mansion in Mustafapasa
- Trek through secluded monastic settlements in Soganli, Ihlara Valley and Guzelyurt
The Hittites settled Cappadocia (Kapadokya) from 1800 BC to 1200 BC, after which smaller kingdoms held power. Then came Persians, followed by the Romans, who established the capital of Caesarea (today’s Kayseri). During the Roman and Byzantine periods, Cappadocia became a refuge for early Christians and, from the 4th to the 11th century, Christianity flourished here; most churches, monasteries and underground cities date from this period. Later, under Seljuk and Ottoman rule, Christians were treated with tolerance.
Cappadocia progressively lost its importance in Anatolia. Its rich past was all but forgotten until a French priest rediscovered the rock-hewn churches in 1907. The tourist boom in the 1980s kick-started a new era, and now Cappadocia is one of Turkey’s most famous and popular destinations.
Getting There & Away
Two airports serve central Cappadocia: Kayseri and Nevsehir.
Transfer buses operate between Kayseri airport and accommodation in central Cappadocia for passengers leaving or arriving on flights between the mid-morning and evening. The buses pick up from and drop off to hotels and pensions in Urgup, Goreme, Uchisar, Avanos and Nevsehir. If you want to us the service you must pre-book by phone or this website with us.
In Avanos main square, the usual Ataturk monument is joined by a statue of a potter. The town is famous for pottery – made with red clay from the Kizilirmak (Red River), which runs through its center, and white clay from the mountains. Typically painted in turquoise or the earthy browns and yellows favored by the Hittites, the beautiful pieces are traditionally thrown by men and painted by women. As for Avanos itself, its old town is run-down and its riverside setting does not match the other Cappadocian centers. However, it boasts some superb views of Zelve and, when the tour groups have moved on, it’s an appealingly mellow country town.
The town of Avanos is set on the banks of the Kizilirmak, the Red River. The town is about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Goreme. Avanos has a lively center with all the usual amenities including a modern, tourist-oriented hamam (Turkish Bath). A large travelling market visits Avanos on Fridays. We suggest a visit to Avanos for individual travelers on Fridays. This tented market has everything for the house, clothing, fruits and vegetables and more.
Starting just outside the shopping center the old village of Avanos winds up the hills leading away from the town and is a beautiful maze of old stone houses, some restored, some converted and some sadly abandoned to their fate. In some of the abandoned houses the features of traditional Ottoman architecture can be seen along with ancient decorations, motifs and murals.
The Kizilirmak (red) river (ancient Halys river) is the longest river in Turkey and it does not only separate the town from other parts of Cappadocia, but also gives the supplies the clay for pottery. It is by this river that the red pottery clay is found from which Avanos derives its main livelihood and its foremost claim to fame. Pottery has been produced in the Avanos area for centuries and some of the techniques still used date back to Hittite times to 2000 BC. The Hittites named the town “Zu Wanes” and it became “Venessa” during the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
Avanos is a mass of family run potteries. These famous potters make wonderful souvenirs and are available at a wide range of prices from simple ashtrays and mugs to ornate plates and chess sets.
Orientation & Information
Most of the town is on the northern bank of the river, with Ataturk Caddesi providing the main thoroughfare. Although there is an otogar south of the river, all dolmuses for the local area stop outside the PTT, on Ataturk Caddesi near the main square. You’ll find several banks with ATMs on or around the main square.
Built in 1249, the Sarihan has an elaborate gateway with a small mosque above it. Having been restored in the late 1980s, it’s one of the best remaining Seljuk caravanserais. Gunning down the highway towards it makes you feel like a 13th-century trader, ready to rest his camels and catch up with his fellow dealers.
Inside, you also have to use your imagination in the bare stone courtyard. Visitors are allowed on the roof, but the main reason to come here is the 45-minute whirling dervish ceremony. You can book with us.
Midway between Goreme and Avanos is sleepy little Cavusin, where the main activity is at the souvenir stands beneath the cliff houses. It has some sterling accommodation options and offers an authentic village experience.
On the highway you’ll find the Cavusin Church, accessed from the pottery shop via a steep and rickety iron stairway. Cappadocia’s first post-iconoclastic church, it served as a pigeon house for many years and is home to some fine frescoes.
Walk up the hill through the new part of the village and continue past the main square to find the old part of Cavusin. Here you can explore a steep and labyrinthine complex of abandoned houses cut into a rock face, as well as one of the oldest churches in Cappadocia, the Church of John the Baptist, which is located towards the top of the cliff.
Cavusin is the starting point for scenic hikes to the southeast, through Gulludere (Rose Valley), Kizilcukur Vadisi (Red Valley) and Meskendir Valley. You can even go as far as the Zindanonu viewpoint , then walk out to the Urgup-Ortahisar road and catch a dolmus back to your base.
The road between Cavusin and Avanos passes a turn-off to the Zelve Open-Air Museum, where three valleys of abandoned homes and churches converge.
Zelve was a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th century. It doesn’t have as many impressive painted churches as the Goreme Open-Air Museum, but its sinewy valley wals with rock antennae could have been made for poking around.
The valleys were inhabited until 1952, when they were resettled a few kilometres away in Aktepe, also known as Yeni Zelve (New Zelve). Remnants of village life include the small, unadorned, rock-cut mosque in Valley Three and the old değirmen (mill), with a grindstone and graffitied wooden beam, in Valley One.
Beyond the mill, the Balikli Kilise (Fish Church) has fish figuring in one of the primitive paintings. Adjoining it is the more impressive Uzumlu Kilise (Grape Church), with obvious bunches of grapes.
Unfortunately, erosion continues eat into the valley structures and parts may be closed because of the danger of collapse, while others require scrambling and ladders. If Valley Two is open, what’s left of the Geyikli Kilise (Church with Deer) is worth seeing.
There are cafes and cay bahcesis (tea gardens) in the car park outside.
Pasabagi, a valley halfway along the turn-off road to Zelve near a fairy-chimney jandarma (police station), has a three-headed formation and some Cappadocia’s best examples of mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys. Monks inhabited the valley and you can climb up inside one chimney to a monk’s quarters, decorated with Hellenic crosses. Wooden steps lead to a chapel where three iconoclastic paintings escaped the Islamic vandals; the central one depicts the Virgin holding baby Jesus.
Look, it’s a camel! Stunning Devrent Valley’s volcanic cones are some of the best-formed and most thickly clustered in Cappadocia, and looking at their fantastic shapes is like gazing at the clouds as a child. See if you can spot the dolphin, seals, Napoleon’s hat, kissing birds, Virgin Mary and various reptilian forms.
Most of the rosy rock cones are topped by flattish, darker stones of harder rock that sheltered the cones from the rain until all the surrounding rock was eaten away, a process known as differential erosion.
To get to Devrent Valley (also known as Imagination Valley) from Zelve, go about 200m back down the access road to where the road forks and take the right road, marked for Urgup. After about 2km you’ll come to the village of Aktepe (Yeni Zelve). Bear right and follow the Urgup road uphill for less than 2km.
Goreme is the archetypal travellers’ utopia: a beatific village where the surreal surroundings spread a fat smile on everyone’s face. Beneath the honeycomb cliffs, the locals live in fairy chimneys – or increasingly, run hotels in them. The wavy white valleys in the distance, with their hiking trails, panoramic viewpoints and rock-cut churches, look like giant tubs of vanilla ice cream. Rose Valley, meanwhile, lives up to its name; watching its pink rock slowly change color at sunset is best accompanied by meze in one of excellent eateries.
Tourism is having an impact on a place where you can start the day in a hot-air balloon, before touring valley of rock-cut Byzantine churches at the Goreme Open-Air Museum. Young locals are less interested in agriculture in the face of relatively rich tourist pickings. The pigeon houses peppering cliffs and fairy chimneys, traditionally used to collect the birds’ droppings for use as fertilizer, increasingly lie empty. The village’s permanent population has slipped below 2500, meaning it might lose its belediye. Nonetheless, you can still see rural life continuing in a place where, once upon a time, if a man didn’t own a pigeon house, he would struggle to woo a wife.
Orientation & Information
Most of Goreme’s shops and restaurants are in the streets surrounding the otogar. The Open-Air Museum is an easy walk 1km to the east of town.
There are four ATM in booths at the otogar. Some of the town’s travel agencies will exchange money, although you’re probably better off going to the PTT.
Sights & Activities
Goreme Open Air Museum
One of Turkey’s World Heritage sites, the Goreme Open-Air Museum is an essential stop on any Cappadocian itinerary and deserves a two-hour visit. First an important Byzantine monastic settlement that housed some 20 monks, then a pilgrimage site from the 17th century, the cluster of rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries is 1 km uphill from the center 0f the village.
Try to arrive early in the morning in summer and space yourself between tour groups when lots of people crowd into one of the little churches they block the doorway, which is often the only source of light. Alternatively, go at midday, when the tour parties stop for lunch. If possible, avoid weekends, when domestic tourist descend.
Follow the cobbled path until you reach Aziz Basil Sapeli, the chapel dedicated to Kayseri born St Basil, one of Cappadocia’s most important saints. The grate-covered holes in the floor were the graves of the chapel’s architects and financiers; the small boxes contained less affluent folks’ bones. In the main room, St Basil is pictured on the left; a Maltese cross is on the right, along with St George and St Theodore slaying a (faded) dragon, symbolizing paganism. On the right of the apse, Mary holds baby Jesus, with a cross in his halo.
Above Aziz Basil Sapeli, bow down to enter the 12th-century Elmali Kilise (Apple Church), overlooking a valley of poplars. Relatively well preserved, it contains both simple, red-ocher daubs and professionally painted frescoes of biblical scenes. The Ascension is pictured above the door. The church’s name is thought to drive from an apple tree that grew nearby or from a misinterpretation of the globe held by the Archangel Gabriel, in the third dome.
Byzantine soldiers carved the Azize Barbara Sapeli (Chapel of St Barbara), dedicated to their patron saint, who is depicted n the left as you enter. They also painted the mysterious scenes on the roof – the middle one could represent the Ascension; above the St George representation on the far wall, the strange creature could be a dragon, and the two crosses, the beast’s usual slayers. The decoration is typical of the iconoclastic period, when images were outlawed – red ocher painted on the stone without any images of people or animals.
Uphill, in the Yilanli Kilise (Snake Church or Church of the Onuphrius), the dragon is still having a bad day. To add insult to its fatal injuries, it was mistaken for a snake when the church was named. The hermetic hermaphrodite St Onuphrius is pictured on the right, holding a genitalia-covering palm leaf. Straight ahead, the small figure next to Jesus in one of the church’s financiers.
A few steps away, hundreds of students chowed down in the refectory, with its long dining table with rock-cut benches and holes for candles. The trough in the floor was probably used for pressing grapes. In the attached larder, you can see storage shelves carved into the walls, and a kitchen. Another smaller, nameless church here retains a rock-cut iconoclastic.
The museum’s most famous church, the stunning, fresco-filled Karanlik Kilise (Dark Church), is definitely worth the extra outlay. The supplementary fee is due to its costly renovation, and an attempt to keep numbers down and preserve the frescoes. One of Turkey’s finest surviving churches, it had very few windows. The lack of light preserved the frescoes’ vivid color, particularly the upper examples, which were also spared by the iconoclastic Muslim vandals. On the right of the entrance, you can see two of the church’s founders wearing curved ceremonial hats; in the main room, five more are visible, one reduced to a disembodied head. The copious biblical scenes include the birth of Jesus, on the left, with an ox and ass poking their noses into the manger.
Just past the Karanlik Kilise, the small Azize Katarina Sapeli (Chapel of St Catherine) has frescoes of St George, St Catherine and the Deesis.
The relatively recent, 13th-century Carikli Kilise (Sandal Church) is named for the foot-prints marked in the floor, representing the last imprints left by Jesus before he ascended to heaven. The four gospel writers are depicted below the central dome; in the arch over the door to the left is the Betrayal by Judas.
Downhill, the cordoned-off Rahibeler Manastiri (Nun’s Convent) was originally several stores high; all that remains are a large plain dining hall and, up some steps, a small chapel with unremarkable frescoes.
When you exit the museum, don’t forget cross the road and visit the Tokali Kilise(Buckle Church), 50m down the hill towards Goreme. Covered by the same ticket, it is one of Goreme’s biggest and finest churches, with an underground chapel and fabulous frescoes painted in a narrative (rather than liturgical) cycle. Entry is via the 10th-century ‘old’ Tokali Kilise, through the barrel-vaulted chamber with frescoes portraying the life of Christ. Upstairs, the ‘new’ church, built less than a hundred years later, is also alive with frescoes on a similar theme. The holes in the floor once contained tombs, taken by departing Christians during the population exchange.
Goreme village, set amid cones and pinnacles of volcanic tuff, is its own biggest attraction. Just wandering its windy streets, glimpsing Cappadocia’s undulating valleys between stone houses, is an experience that will stay with you for as long as it takes a fairy chimney t erode. Calls to prayer, apricots drying on flat roofs and vine cuttings protecting the tops of walls are reminders that, despite the fantastical setting, everyday rural life takes place here.
At Goreme’s center is the so-called Roman Castle (Roma Kalesi), a fairy chimney with rock-cut Roman tomb; you can see the remains of column tops on its facade. Goreme may have been a burial ground for the Romans of Venasa (now Avanos).
Welcome to Cappadoce, as the French call Cappadocia. At times, pretty Uchisar is like a ‘Petite France’, having been the local ‘kilometre zero’ for Gallic gallivanters since Club Med revived the villgae’s fortunes in the 1960s.
Spotted from Goreme, Uchisar Castle is a distinctive blip on the horizon, adding yet another dollop of character to the landscape. It is equally impressive up close, its jumble of rock faces gazing across the valleys at Erciyes Dagi (Mt Erciyes; 3916m). The mountain’s snow-capped summit provides a fantastic backdrop for old Uchisar, which is quieter than Goreme and worth considering as a base for exploring Cappadocia.
There are Vakif Bank and Garanti Bank ATMs on the main square, and a PTT nearby.
Watching the sun set over the Rose and Pigeon Valleys from the wonderful vantage point of Uchisar Castle is a popular activity. A tall volcanic-rock outcrop riddled with tunnels and windows, the castle is visible for miles around. Now a tourist attraction complete with terrace cages at its entrance, it provides panoramic views of the Cappadocian country-side. Unfortunately, many of the bus groups that visit leave rubbish, which diminishes the experience. The lack of barriers means you should be very careful – one photographer died when he fell over the edge after stepping back to get a good shot.
Apart from the groups visiting the Culture Folk Museum , mainstream tourism has by passed this farming village, leaving it to survive on its traditional trade of storing citrus fruit in underground caves. Ortahisar may lack its neighbors buzz, but this is the place to slow to the pace of old men whose lined faces resemble the surrounding canyons. Its castle is a crazy crag even by local standards. In the gorge, cobbled streets wind past houses that look ready to lie down for a snooze.
There are no monuments in the village other than the castle, an 18m-high rock used as a fortress in Byzantine times and now undergoing a seemingly interminable restoration.
On the main square near the castle, the Culture Folk Museum gets bombarded with tour groups but is a good place to get to grips with the basics of local culture. In the dioramas, with their multilingual interpretive panels, mannequins in headscarves and old men’s şapkas (hats) make yufka (thinly rolled, unleavened bread), pekmez (syrup made from grape juice) and kilims.
On the road to AlkaBris hotel, the municipal park Manzara ve Kultur Parki, is slightly disheveled but its grassed areas are good picnic spots. Near some holes in the cliff big enough to accommodate Volvo-driving pigeons, the cafe has views down the gorge to the castle.
From Ortahisar you can hike to little known churches in the nearby countryside, especially in the Pancarlik Valley.
If you have a soft spot upmarket hotels and fine dining, you need look no further – Urgup is the place you’re looking for. The ever-growing battalion of boutique hotels in the town’s honey-colored stone buildings (left over from the pre-1923 days when the town had a large Greek population) are proving very popular with travelers. With a spectacular natural setting and a wonderful location at the very heart of central Cappadocia, this is one of the most seductive holiday spots in the whole of Turkey.
Orientation & Information
Urgup is set within a steep valley about 18km east of Nevsehir and 9km east of Goreme. Most of the action occurs on or around Cumhuriyet Meydani, the main square, 150m west of the otogar.
There are several banks with ATMs on or around the main square. The post office is northeast of Cumhuriyet Meydani.
The helpful tourist office gives out a color walking map and has a list of Urgup’s hotels.
Sights & Activities
Northwest of the main square is the oldest part of town, with many fine old houses, reached through a stone arch. It’s well worth a stroll, after which you can head up Ahmet Refik Caddesi and turn right to Temenni Wishing Hill, home to a saint’s tomb, a cafe and 360-degree views over the town. It doesn’t always stick to its opening hours.
Right by the main square is the Tarihi Sehir Hamami, the hamam. Partly housed in what was once a small church, it offers mixed but respectable bathing.
Until WWI, Mustafapasa was called Sinasos and was a predominantly Ottoman Greek settlement. These days it greatly benefits from this Greek legacy, as its exquisitely decorated stone carved houses and minor rock-cut churches attract the attention of a small but respectable number of foreign and domestic tourists. It’s a wonderful spot to spend a day or two. You enter Mustafapasa at an enlarged intersection, the Sinasos Meydani, where a signboard indicating the whereabouts of the local rock-cut churches is located. Follow the road downhill and you’ll come to Cumhuriyet Meydani, the center of the village, which sports the ubiquitous bust of Ataturk and several tea houses.
A sign pointing off Sinasos Meydani leads 1 km to the 12th-century Ayios Vasilios Kilise, perched near the top of a ravine. Its interior features unimpressive 20th-century frescoes. There should be someone there with a key; if not, enquire at the belediye.
Between Sinasos Meydani and Cumhuriyet Meydani is a 19th-century medrese with a fine carved portal. The stone columns on either side of the doorway are supposed to swivel when there’s movement in the foundations, this warning of earthquake damage.
Cumhuriyet Meydani is home to the imposing Ayios Kostantinos-Eleni Kilise, erected in 1729 and restored in 1850. A fine sone grapevine runs around the door but the ruined interior with faded 19th-century frescoes is not worth the admission charge. If you are keen to see it, a uniformed council worker should be posted outside, if not, ask for the key at the nearby belediye.
There are also churches in Monastery Valley, but they’re disappointing compared with others in Cappadocia. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely walk. Also to the west of Mustafapasa there are 4km to 8km walks i Gomeda Valley, where there is a ruined 11th*century Greek town.