With its eerie, moonlike landscape that covers 5000 square kilometers, Cappadocia is a geological wonder waiting to be explored.
One of the best ways to see the unusual ridges and rock formations that cover this region is in a hot air balloon. The balloon burners are fired up before sunrise, filling them with hot air that gradually takes passengers up to a height of 1000 feet. With more than 100 balloons simultaneously filling the sky, the scene is truly something extraordinary.
The geological features of Cappadocia are the result of volcanic eruptions that occurred over 2 million years ago. After each eruption a new layer of volcanic lava and ash would be deposited over the land. These different rock types have reacted to erosion differently, with the deposits of volcanic ash being most susceptible to water and wind erosion. It is this soft rock that has given rise to Cappadocia’s most prominent features of sweeping curves and wave like patterns. The different colours of this terrain can be attributed to the different cooling times of the lava and also because of different mineral deposits.
Perhaps the best example of this erosion can be seen with the area’s famous ‘fairy chimneys’. Often found densely clustered, the ‘hats’ that balance precariously on top of these towers are more resistant to erosion and have, as a result, protected the softer rock that sits underneath them, leaving unusual creations that locals thought only fairies could be capable of making.
Throughout history these natural spires have also been used as the centrepieces for building projects. Uchisar Castle, which overlooks its village of the same name, is the tallest fairy chimney in Cappadocia. The site here was initially occupied by the Romans before being properly hollowed out and turned into a citadel. All the chambers are connected by a series of tunnels and carved stone staircases. It would have taken around 1 month to completely hollow out each space. One of the most interesting aspects of Uchisar Castle is a large basin that was once fully plastered. This plastered basin was used to store snow which when melted wouldn’t percolate through rock’s pores.
But it’s not just these striking geological features that grab the visitor’s attention in Cappadocia. Beneath these rock patterns hide an underground network of cave cities. These cities were fully developed by Christians who fled to Cappadocia after having been expelled from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Underground cities became popular to Christians as it meant that they could remain free from Roman persecution. Some of these subterranean Christian colonies could house as many as 30,000 people and are thought to descend 20 stories deep into the earth.
One of Cappadocia’s most famous Christian settlements can be found at Zelve monastery. The complex is spread out over three valleys and has been inhabited for over 3000 years, making it Cappadocia’s longest inhabited area. It was only until the 1960s that the final residents of Zelve had to relocate elsewhere. Though the complex does possess numerous frescos that demonstrate fine examples of Byzantine-Christian art, Zelve is best known for the religious tolerance of those that lived there. Christian Greeks and Turkish Muslims lived in harmony at Zelve for many centuries, making the site a rare example of religious tolerance.