Away from the busy beaches of south west Turkey lies a valley that has been inhabited for over a thousand years. It’s a place that is very rich in history and culture, yet it’s beautifully scenic too because it’s home to Turkey’s famous ‘fairy chimneys’. You won’t find ancient Roman ruins here, but what you will find is equally important and impressive as you explore a region where man has made good use of Mother Nature’s impact on the land.
The place I am talking about is Goreme National Park which lies within the historical region of Cappadocia, in Central Anatolia, Turkey. This region really is a world away from Turkey’s popular beach towns and resorts, and with its central Turkey location it is not somewhere you would come for just a day trip.
I personally visited Goreme as part of a driving tour of Turkey and found it to be a fascinating place that really is worthy of further investigation! It will appeal more to independent travellers, though guided tours to this region are becoming increasingly popular too, and older children will find intriguing sites to keep them occupied if you’re travelling with family.
Fairy chimneys and a lunar landscape
Though I can’t claim to have visited the moon, I think of the landscape of Cappadocia and Goreme as lunar. It certainly does not look like it’s of this world because there are very few other places on Planet Earth that look like this! The first time I laid eyes on the fairy chimneys of Goreme it seemed beautiful to me, yet also a little eerie.
These strange rock formations jut out at all angles while the fairy chimneys themselves are tall and often spindly, topped with a rock that really does look like someone came along and placed it there!
The rocks and fairy chimneys are all completely natural though, formed from volcanic and sedimentary rock that weathers at different speeds. Over a thousand years ago cultures began to make use of the rocks, carving homes and churches into the softer rocks and it is these ‘caves’ that are the centrepoint for Goreme National Park today.
Goreme Open Air Museum is where the majority of the churches and chapels are located. There are around 30 to see and while some are very basic others are still decorated with beautiful frescos and are really quite sizeable structures. Considering these were carved into the softer rock, the chapels and churches have lasted extremely well.
If you’re staying in Goreme, or one of the other smaller towns close to the museum, make sure you stay in a cave hotel. There are actually quite a few of these, of varying standards, from small ‘pansiyons’ to luxurious hotels so you can usually find one to suit most budgets. It’s an experience not to be missed!
Explore underground cities
The other thing that Cappadocia is famous for are its underground cities. There are several of these that date back over a thousand years and are open to the public for tours, but in all there are over 200 underground cities in Cappadocia, and more are still being discovered.
I found the tour to be fascinating, and a real eye-opener as to what early Christians had to suffer. They came down to these vast complexes of tunnels to escape persecution and sometimes stayed here for months on end.
The tunnels were quite a feat of engineering for their time as they had to be designed with a certain amount of heath and security in mind. There had to be a way of getting air and water into the tunnels, for example, yet the opening on the surface had to be inconspicuous enough not to be seen, and hence not give away the secrets under the ground.
Derinkuyu Underground City is among the largest and most popular – it has five floors and housed around 20,000 people. If you visit one, make it this one, and pay a little extra for a guided tour because informative tour guides tell you far more than you would otherwise find out.
There are underground cities of many different sizes all over the world, built for a vast variety of purposes. Share your own visit to an underground city by telling us where it is and why it was built.