The Turkish region of Cappadocia has been a favourite among visitors to the country for centuries. Located at the heart of the Tarus mountains in Central Anatolia and with six provinces claiming a part of it, Cappadocia offers dramatic views, stunning nature, ancient history and great adventures.
The name for the region is believed to stretch back to 6th century BC in two early Achaemenid inscriptions during the reign of Darius I and Xerxes of Persia. Meaning the low country, Cappadocia has attracted different empires, communities and cultures for thousands of years. The mountains and valleys can be viewed from hot air balloons which fly over Goreme National Park. A village with 2,000 inhabitants, Goreme, is renowned for its fairy chimneys and unique rock formations that offer breathtaking views from on high.
The people of Cappadocia are descendants of the Hittites, according to the Greek historian Herotodous, but they find their way into a number of different traditions from Persian, Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian in ancient times. In the Christian tradition, the Cappadocians are said to be among the people who heard the Gospel recited in their own language shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Following Hittite, Persian and Greek rule, Cappadocia, became part of the Roman Empire and in the 4th century AD was the largest province in the empire. It was under Rome that the area was Christianised and the adoption of the Abrahamic faith gave rise to a number of historic churches and monasteries.
One church in Gumusler, the Elmali, was uncovered in the 1960s and is believed to date back to the 10th century and was carved deep into the rock. Due to its location in the cave, Elmali can easily go unnoticed to outsiders, but for the visitor, it offers a glimpse into another world with its peeling frescos, Greek cross and pillars that support the central dome.
The eighth and seventh centuries BCE brought with them the construction of underground cities, which the locals used as hideouts during invasions. Carved into the region’s soft rocks, the cities were six levels deep and provide a vivid look into the lives of the Phrygians who are thought to have built them, with wine cellars, churches and stables still visible.
Islam has a long presence too. In 1071, after the Battle of Manzikert, Cappadocia was inhabited by new residents. The Seljuk Turks had taken significant territory from the Byzantine and Cappadocia became an important base for them. Originally from Central Asia, the Seljuks established a number of Turkish states and the populations began adopting Islam. In Cappadocia those who did not convert to Islam remained Christian and became a Greek community. Muslims and Christians lived side by side.
The Seljuks built Caravanserias or the caravan palaces, where traders from near and far could find accommodation and other amenities. The construction of these buildings added to the security and trade of the region, merchants who were robbed or lost their property could also get compensation and insurance from the local rulers.
The Seljuks were replaced by the Ottomans who continued to build mosques, religious schools and expand regional trade. In the aftermath of the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Cappadocia witnessed one of its most tragic episodes, when – following a peace deal between Turkiye and Greece – both countries mutually agreed to swap populations. Greek and Turkish Muslims were sent to Turkiye and Greek Christians were sent to Greece. The depopulation spelt the end of Cappadocia’s historic Greek population, though their sites can still be visited today.