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Geology & Nature

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.

Natural Boundaries
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 Dag 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 Soganl 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 Dag . 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.

Ancient Volcanos
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 continents.
The second largest volcanic massif in inner Anatolia after Erciyes Dag is the 3268 m tall Hasan DagÂ. It's present name was given to it by the first Seljuk prince of western Cappadocia, Hasan.

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 mountain pastures.

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.

Ala DaglarÂ
The Taurus reaches its greatest height in the over 3700 m tall Ala Daglar 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 Cappadocia
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.

Rock Structures
The landscape consists largely of andesite and basalt. The steep cliffs fall sharply into the depths.

Extinct Volcano
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 Dag to the west, and of its somewhat smaller neighbour, Melendiz Dag (2963 m).

Volcanic Belt
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 metres away.

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.

Stone Quarries
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 patterns.

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 by donkey.

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 times.

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.

Wine Cellars
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 farming.

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 by & the Cappadocia Academy in 2004" ©.