Cappadocia - Cities and sanctuaries honeycombed into rock (28 May)
Interesting Facts about Cappadocia
SINCE THE FOURTH CENTURY A.D., humans have inhabited a landscape of bizarre pinnacles, hoodoos, and natural pillars in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey. Ancient architects excavated the interior of natural rock formations to fashion domed sanctuaries and entire underground cities.
Nature laid the foundation for these remarkable troglodyte dwellings millions of years ago when volcanoes rained ash on the high plateau of Cappadocia. The fine grains solidified into a soft rock called tuff; wind and rain gradually abraded the softer stone, leaving the harder parts intact and forming a tortuous landscape of freestanding columns and badlands.
Thousands of years ago, the human terrain was as volatile as the prehistoric volcanoes. Early Christians seeking refuge from Roman persecution burrowed into the rock to create the first monasteries. Later, it was Arab raiding parties they sought to elude, and they tunneled even deeper, creating underground towns that concealed them from invaders.
Perhaps the most evocative remaining structures are the Christian cave chapels in the open-air museum in the Göreme Valley. These include the tiny Elmalı Kilise (“apple church”) and Yılanlı Kilise (“snake church”). Built between the 10th and 13th centuries, these ornate underground sanctuaries were the anchors of an active troglodyte society. Karanlık Kilise—“dark church”—is considered one of the best remaining examples of 12th-century Byzantine art. Preserved in shadow (the chapel’s tiny narthex window admits little natural light) and beautifully restored, the church’s vaulted ceilings are frescoed with golden-haloed saints and scenes from the life of Christ.
Fifty miles (80 km) southwest of Göreme, the deep Ihlara Valley shelters about 100 additional rock-carved churches and monasteries, whose interior details have faded or been lost to time. Only a handful have been dated definitively, but a few—like the barrel-vaulted Kokar Kilise and the Pürenliseki Kilise—have geometric patterning, blocks of text, and chipping frescoes that evoke pre-Byzantine Syrian Christian and Egyptian Coptic churches.
Cool in summer and warm and dry in winter, the stone dwellings in Cappadocia were as functional as they were covert. This is especially evident 15 miles (24 km) directly south of Göreme at the underground city of Kaymaklı. Here, an entire community sequestered itself in an eight-story subterranean complex behind a one-ton (907 kg) circular rock door. Four levels are still navigable today and include dining rooms, bedrooms, and wine cellars. But the city’s deepest, most protected level hides what was most sacred to the inhabitants—a simple cruciform church.