“Cappadocia” is not a town or a county or a state. It is an old name for an area of central Turkey, an area that has an unique landscape. We just returned from a few, fantastic, information-packed days there.
We stayed in Ürgüp, a small town about an hour from the city of Kayseri that is in Cappadocia and very close to all the major tourist sites. There is a small museum in the town (next to the Tourist Information center in a park) that contains items found in the area. The collection is small. Some might easily call it insignificant. I thought it provided a good idea of the history of the area since it contains everything from marine fossils to Greek pottery, to Roman coins, to Ottoman clothing and weaponry. Entrance is free.
The Hittites were the first known settlers in the area. They were also the first to start carving the cave dwellings. Persians came later and gave the area the name for which it is known today, which means “land of beautiful horses.”
During the Roman Era, early Christians came to the area and began carving out much larger and more elaborate cities, building churches into the hillsides. The area proved to be an excellent place to hide from persecution. Once Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, the people came out of hiding. But they still lived in the caves. The caves remained an excellent place to live. They were cool in the hot dry summers and warm in the cold winters.
How were the people able to carve such dwellings? It goes back to the area’s particular geology.
Erciyes (“ehr-jee-yes”), the now dormant volcano that dominates the landscape near Kayseri, once spewed ash repeatedly over the course of millions of years. This gave the land very fertile soil. It also made it possible to make the underground cities. People would dig into the hillsides and removed the soft stone. Once exposed to air the stone hardened.
The work was done by hand by the people in the community, first using obsidian and then, later, metal tools. It’s staggering the amount of time it must have taken to carve out cities large enough for thousands of people to live in.
People were still living in some of the caves up until the 1950’s when the government forced them out. The caves had been slowly collapsing over time and were less safe to live in.
I’ll have more about some of the individual sites we visited in the coming days. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos.