Land of the Volcanoes
Cappadocia, with its fascinating landscapes, lies in the central
Anatolian highlands of Turkey. The plateau has an average
height of over 1000 m and is marked by its steppe-like vegetation.
It's climate varies between cold, damp winters and hot, dry
summers. The landscape is studded with bizarre rock formations,
the result of volcanic activity, wind and water.
Historical Cappadocia was considerably larger than the region
known as Kapadokya in present-day Turkey. It extended from
the River Halys (present-day KÂzÂlÂrmak) in the north, from
the great salt lake, Hasan DagÂ and Aksaray in the west, to
the Euphrates in the east, and to the Taurus Mountains in
the south. When speaking of Cappadocia in the tourist context,
the name generally refers to the area lying within the triangle
of Ürgüp, Avanos and Nevsehir.
The Large Steppes
The great Roman politician and writer Cicero (1st century
B.C.) described Cappadocia as a desert. But this can only
have applied at the most to the steppes around the great salt
lake. By contrast the two main cities, Kaisareia and above
all Tyana, were situated in very fertile regions. Today, the
landscape has retained much of its steppe-like character.
Fruit and Vegetable Gardens
A look at the small valleys around Göreme or in the gorges
of Ihlara or SoganlÂ shows that they contain a wealth of fruit
(apricots, grapes) and vegetables, sometimes encouraged by
artificial irrigation and - as for many generations - the
guano produced by the pigeons, which is a highly prized fertilizer.
Mount Erciyes - The Father of Cappadocia
The main volcano and "the father of the Cappadocian landscape"
is the 3916 m high Erciyes DagÂ . Its name in antiquity (Hittite
Harga, Greek Argaios, Latin mons Argaeus) means "white",
and this has been retained in its present Turkish name. The
Ancients held the mountain with its mostly snow-clad peak
to be an abode of the gods and regarded it as one of the emblems
of Kayseri. Up into the 19th century it was regarded as insurmountable.
The volcano came into being some three million years ago at
a fault between two continental plates. The magnificent landscape
around Göreme has been formed from its solidified lava
streams, its ash and tuff stone, all dating from Neocene period.
It is criss-crossed by deep valleys formed by heavy erosion.
Only small mounds of non-volcanic origin stand out above this.
No further volcanic eruptions have been recorded in more recent
times. But earthquakes throughout most of Anatolia testify
to the constant tensions in the earth's crust and shifts in
The second largest volcanic massif in inner Anatolia after
Erciyes DagÂ is the 3268 m tall Hasan DagÂ. It's present name
was given to it by the first Seljuk prince of western Cappadocia,
The onset of the volcanic activity began some 14 million years
ago. It continued until 8000 years ago, when the inhabitants
of the famous Neolithic settlement Çatal Höyük
depicted the event in their wall-paintings.
Bizarre Tufa Landscape
Cappadocia numbers among the most fascinating corners of the
world. This veritable lunar landscape distinguishes itself
by its extensive geological formations, which often have an
unreal air to them. The highly typical morphological structures
of Cappadocia are the result of thousands of years of continual
erosion, which has shaped the tuff deposits into the strangest
pyramids and cones. The process was assisted by the different
strata of volcanic ash, which through the course of ages were
compressed to form firm tuff rocks.
Tufa stone - Compressed Volcanic Ash.
An ideal Construction Material
Apart from its use in the traditionally constructed rock-cut
homes, tufa has also proven to be an ideal building material
in the form of cut stones, and has excellent insulating properties.
The porous structure of the rock is so optimal for evening
out the swings in temperature between the hot summers and
cold winters that it often suffices to simply light the stove
for an hour in order to heat a small rock-cut living room.
This relatively light stone, which can be cut with simple
tools, provides the optimal basis for constructing rock-cut
dwellings. Simultaneously its ecological merits as a building
material are perfect.
Rich Tufa Soil
A particular feature of the eroding tufa soil is not merely
its excellent binding qualities when used as mortar for conventional
building work, but above all it’s enormous fertility
when combined with the guano produced by the local dove population,
which makes it very suited to intensive horticulture.
The Power of Weather Erosion
The fairy chimneys are the result of long, persistent erosion.
On the table mountain Aktepe or in the valley around Göreme
one can see how individual rocks have gradually separated
from the cliffs. If the protective cap is missing, the cones
will be completely worn away and razed to the ground over
the passing millenia.
Water, Wind and Fire
Nature produces softly sculpted forms that look as if an artist
has been at work.
Nature, the Artist
Nature produces softly sculpted forms that look as if an artist
has been at work.
From Nature's Palette
The enormous variations in the rock's colours is the result
of oxidation, which depending on the kind of stone and its
composition produces violet, reddish, yellowish or dark shades
Fabulous Fairy Chimneys
Part of Cappadocia's uniqueness comes from the tower-like
rock cones that can be found in the vicinity of Göreme.
To this day the thinly populated mountains are inhabited by
nomads, who spend the summers with their cattle herds on the
The Cilician Gates
To the south of historical Cappadocia is an enormous natural
boundary in the form of the karst-stone Taurus Mountains.
Famed here is the Cilian gates, one of the most important
pass roads in the south of Asia Minor, which was already used
by Alexander the Great and other military commanders on their
expeditions of conquest.
The Formation of the Mountains
The Taurus was upfolded 60 million years ago during a period
of orogenesis (mountain formation) that also led to the creation
of the Alps and the Himalayas.
The Taurus reaches its greatest height in the over 3700 m
tall Ala DaglarÂ massif. While Cappadocia largely consists
of volcanic material, the Taurus is formed of limestone.
The River of Fate
Turkey has many tall mountains, but only a few large rivers,
such as the Meander River (Büyük Menderez) in the
west, the Euphrates in the centre and the south, and the Halys
(Kizilirmak) in Cappadocia. Historically, this river has time
and again formed a natural boundary for the waxing and waning
empires. It was here in 546 B.C. that the tragic fate of the
Lydian King Croesus was sealed in the battle against the Persian
ruler Cyros II.
„Kizilirmak“- The Red River
In summer, the "Red River" - as it is known in Turkish
- which opens into the Black Sea, contains little water, and
is unsuitable for navigation.
„Ihlara Gorge“ - The Grand Canyon of
Engraved into a plateau of tuff to the north of the Hasan
massif is the precipitous Ihlara Gorge, which at places is
150 m deep. It has been created by the River Melendiz, the
Potamos Kappadokos of antiquity. The gorge is the most arresting
canyon in central Anatolia. Unlike the Halys - the river seeps
away not far from Aksaray on the Anatolian plateau.
Landscape of Asceticism
Between the 10th and 13th/14th centuries, the region was chiefly
populated by Christians, who cut large numbers of cloisters
and churches into the soft rock, and which are open to the
public and are well worth a visit.
The landscape consists largely of andesite and basalt. The
steep cliffs fall sharply into the depths.
In this region rich in volcanoes, Göllüdag numbers
with its 2135 metres among a series of smaller volcanoes in
Cappadocia that stretch out to the east from Hasan DagÂ. Its
now inactive crater contains a round lake that occasionally
dries out. Around the peak are the remains of a Hittite settlement.
The rim of the crater offers a good view of the twin peaks
of Hasan DagÂ to the west, and of its somewhat smaller neighbour,
Melendiz DagÂ (2963 m).
To the north/east a large number of smaller volcanic cones
tower out of the earth. They extend along a fault system running
between Karada_ in the south-west and Karaman in the north-east.
The relatively small, unvegetated cinder cones formed in Quartär
are the youngest representatives of Anatolian volcanism.
Obsidian Lava Flows
Solidified lava flows of obsidian were discovered at the foot
of the GöllüdagÂ. Since obsidian, which has been
prized since pre-historic times, is formed from very viscous
surface flows that have undergone rapid cooling, it is mostly
found in the immediate vicinity of the crater and the flanks
of a volcano.
Underwater Lava Flow
When lava escapes underwater, it creates finger-like formations,
such as can be seen along the road to Güzelyurt.
Earthquakes, the Power of Nature
Cappadocia is not one of the more dangerous earthquake zones
in Turkey, even though a number of continental plates run
into each other in Asia Minor. Nevertheless, minor tremors
sometimes reach Cappadocia from larger quakes in Turkey. Thus
according to local reports, the large earthquake in Erzurum
in 1939 brought about the collapse of a number of the less
stable hollowed-out cones and rock-cut dwellings. In particular,
it is reported that the cliffs at Çavusin were appreciably
weakened as a result, prompting the authorities evacuate the
settlement in 1963 and establish a new village several hundred
Mining; Obsidian and Onyx
Mining has always been important in Cappadocia. Obsidian was
exported during the Neolithic period, followed later by onyx,
salt and silver, which was extracted from the mines of Bulgar
Maden, 30 km from the Cilician Gates, during the reign of
among others the Hittite King Warpalawa. In historical times
the chief mining product was stone. Onyx is nowadays worked
to produce souvenirs for tourists.
The most important quarry product nowadays is mechanically
cut tuff stones in various colours, which are chiefly used
in the region for house building. The relatively light but
sturdy stone has good insulating properties and is easy to
work with simple masonry tools. It is still frequently used
for traditional style façades decorated with geometrical
Salt – The White Gold
Even to this day salt is won from the area around the large
salt lake (Tuzgölü), just as it was in antiquity.
There are, however, also salt springs in Tuzköy near
Gülsehir, which used to take a day to reach from Göreme
Parched Steppes, Fertile River Course
Where it has not been cultivated, the semi-arid region of
Cappadocia is largely covered by steppe vegetation, punctuated
in the narrow valleys by isolated shrubs and junipers. Only
next to the tuff formations and steep eroded cliffs is there
a total lack of taller vegetation. By contrast, especially
the narrow and mostly damp valleys are host to a large variety
of blossoming herbs and grasses, which in some cases are used
by the locals for medicinal purposes.
Large Variety of Fruit and Vegetables
All manner of fruit trees such as quince, apple, pear, apricot,
plum and even walnut and mulberry trees are cultivated and
grown in orchards. In addition, the poplar which grows by
the streams and rivers supplies the region with its timber
and wood for construction work. Cappadocia is also an excellent
grape-growing district, because the porous tuff soil is quick
to save the little rain the area receives. Larger fields are
often used for growing wheat, which the locals mostly pasteurise
and turn into "bulgur". The small vegetable allotments
and gardens are mainly used to grow pumpkins, melons, beans,
chick peas, onions, potatoes and tomatoes, alongside greens,
mint and other garden herbs.
Corn / Grain - Bread for Export
The Cappadocian bakers had a good reputation in Roman times,
and indeed their bread was actually of great demand in distant
Rome. A number of Cappadocian bakers even moved to Italy.
This shows that although it was sparsely populated, Cappadocia
can no means have been as barren and infertile as the Roman
politician and writer Cicero described. Despite this, an increase
in the agricultural harvests must have been a special concern
in Cappadocia. This would explain why one Cappadocian king
devoted a great deal of energy to the promotion of agriculture
and wrote a scientific tract on the subject.
Yufka – A Womens cooperative
Today the wafer-thin unleavened yufka is the most popular
form of bread. It is still prepared by the women in the traditional
manner on the tandir. The exceptional storage conditions in
the caves allows the women to bake a whole year's supply of
bread in advance. Since the enormous quantities of yufka required
for one household cannot be baked by one woman alone, the
neighbours all join in and bake one by one the bread for each
of the families in turn.
Other Kinds of Bread
Other kinds of flat bread, often mixed with potatoes, are
also baked at regular intervals in smaller communal ovens.
Also popular are savoury turnovers (börek) containing
cheese or vegetables, but these are only prepared in small
quantities for immediate consumption.
The wine from Cappadocia is famous throughout the whole of
Turkey, and was already cultivated long before the Greek Christian
population arrived. After the 1923 Agreement on the Exchange
of Turkish and Greek Peoples under Atatürk, several of
the carefully nurtured and artificially irrigated vineyards
terraces came to be abandoned, but still many of them are
cultivated till today. The cultivation of grapes has a long
tradition in Cappadocia. It can be traced back to the Hittites.
In the area of Göreme, Ürgüp, Uçhisar
and Ortahisar, which is the present centre of viniculture,
the tradition can however only be traced back to Byzantine
Sun dried Raisins
Alongside the cultivation of grapes for wine production, special
grapes are also grown exclusively for the production of raisins
(kuru üzüm), which constitute an important food
supplement full of vitamins during the winter months. In addition,
the month of October is still the month when grape syrup (pekmez)
is prepared; for this the fruit has to be boiled down for
several hours over an open fire, and is then used as a natural
sweetener for all manner of dishes.
Stuated in Ürgüp, where the Prussian Officer Helmuth
von Moltke already noted terraced vineyards around 1839, are
the large wine cellars (Sarap fabrikasi) of Turasan, which
are open to visitors. Unlike in Europe, the vines are allowed
to grow flat along the ground rather than being trained up
poles or trellises.
Domestic- and Wild Animals
Among the domestic animals kept in Cappadocia are horses,
mules, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, chickens
and turkeys, along with the great numbers of pigeons that
are kept in the dovecotes cut specially in the tuff rocks.
The wild fauna of the region includes substantial numbers
of steppe mice, along with rabbits, lizards and a small number
of shy and non-venomous snakes, which are sought by beasts
of prey such as foxes, martens, falcons and eagles.
Only in exceptional cases have wolves been known to stray
into the surrounding valleys of Göreme during the winter
months. By contrast, the tortoises lead a fairly leisurely
life, as do the numerous species of songbirds.
"Katpatuka" - Land of the beautiful Horses
Among the most famed export articles from Cappadocia in ancient
times was the horse, although unlike sheep breeding little
can be seen of this nowadays. Around 500 B.C., the Persians
under Darius recruited their cavalry horses, which the inhabitants
of Central Anatolia were obliged to donate by way of tributes,
from Cappadocia. Horses from the region were much favoured
in Rome for the chariot races held in the Circus Maximus.
Today the importance of horse breeding has greatly diminished
as a result of the increasing use of motorized vehicles for
It was already said in antiquity that Cappadocia was the land
of sheep herds. And the same can easily be said today, for
despite a number of changes in the population little has altered
in this practice over the last 3000 years. The Anatolian highlands
with its steppe-like landscape is ideal for sheep breeding,
which in the Hellenistic Age numbered alongside horse breeding
among the main sources of revenue for the Cappadocian Kings.
Most of this text information is based on the sript of the
CD-Rom: "Cappadocia, the land of rock cut churches published
& the Cappadocia Academy in 2004" ©.