Land of the Fairy Chimneys
In southeastern Turkey you will find an adventurous symbiosis between nature and culture. You should see Cappadocia from above, but the underground cities are just as impressive.
Hundreds of people pour into the darkness from their hotels in minibuses. It’s just after five in the morning and the sun doesn’t seem to light up the sky anytime soon. You leave the villages, first along the country road, until the asphalted road turns into a narrower dirt road. The minibus journey takes you to the edge of the Goreme National Park, which is located in the southeast of the Anatolian Plateau in Turkey, more precisely in Cappadocia. The buses stop. The darkness still persists.
After the jackets are closed it’s still very nice and grab your camera or cellphone. It’s a sight to watch as hundreds of hot air balloons prepare to take off. Despite the wild hustle and bustle, one can still feel the stillness of the seemingly barren volcanic landscape; every now and then it is interrupted by the chatter of tourists or by the instructions of the pilots, who put the first people in the big baskets to take off early.
It’s probably the best-known image of the Turkish region of Cappadocia – the colorful air balls in the sky above this rocky moonscape, thanks to Instagram. Balloon rides have become a tourist magnet in recent years. While such tourist attractions act as a deterrent, you shouldn’t miss this view from the top, as long as the weather or better the wind conditions allow.
Layer by layer, the Ercieyes Dagi and Hasan Dagi volcanoes created Cappadocia and the wind and water carved the eroded tuff rock in the famous fairy chimneys. Seen from above, the enormous expanse of Devrent Vadisi becomes tangible with its bizarre rock cones and milled canyons.
“800 meters”, calls the balloon pilot, adding that we have reached the highest point and are currently the tallest balloon. After the initial adrenaline rush, there is calm in the basket, everyone is struck by the height, by the width, by this wonder of nature. The occasional rustle of the balloon breaks the silence and we quietly lower ourselves after more than an hour in the air. The earth has given us back.
From top to bottom
Several layers of volcanic material formed the rocky landscape of Cappadocia, this soft tuff could already have formed several thousand years ago with simple tools. Massive underground cities were formed and it is believed that up to fifty of these cities are found throughout Cappadocia. Thirty-six have been discovered so far. Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are the two most famous. Both are open to the public.
Underground cities were discovered by accident in the early 1970s. Their origin and purpose have not been clearly clarified to this day. Some archaeologists suspect they were used by Christians to protect themselves from persecution.
The eight-story tunnel system and an area of 2,500 square meters was discovered in Derinkuyu, which is believed to represent only a quarter of the entire underground city.
The tunnel system extends up to 120 meters underground, bedrooms, kitchens, even a wine press and a monastic complex have been discovered. Long air shafts ensure ventilation of the cities, so life underground was possible, albeit without daylight.
Golden Hour with your feet firmly on the ground
After a journey to the celestial heights and a look into the humid depths, the world of Cappadocia in between now wants to be explored. Numerous monasteries and rock churches also sprang up in the Goreme valley. The structures built in the stone can be visited as an open-air museum and have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1985.
The buildings seem perfectly designed with nature in mind. The transition between human construction and natural conditions occurs virtually unnoticed. If you enter one of the many churches, you will be overwhelmed by an overwhelming sensation: quite unexpectedly, spacious rooms with colorful frescoes open up, most of which appear to be illustrated in a modern way.
Unfortunately not all the frescoes are in the best condition, as they were left unattended until 1964. In the meantime, people have learned to appreciate this extraordinary treasure and more and more buildings and frescoes are being restored in collaboration with Italian and international specialists. .
In addition to the churches and open-air museum buildings, don’t miss the Tokali Kilise (Sonic Church) just a few minutes’ walk away. The church, which dates back to the 9th-11th centuries, is not only the largest and oldest of its kind, the scenes of the saints are framed in a brilliant blue that is rarely seen during this period.
life in the rock
Not only did the monks exploit the natural conditions and create living spaces in them, the population did the same. Finally, the so-called caves have the advantage of natural insulation, which is capable of storing warm ambient temperatures in winter and cool in summer. Parts of the population continue to live in their cave dwellings. It is a special experience for tourists to spend a stay in a hotel built into the rock.
Hotel Solem Cave Suites, for example, only opened in autumn 2021. The hotel rooms are on different levels, the interior design blends with the rock and combines traditional elements with modern elements.
Raki or wine?
The Turasan Wines producer is located very close to the Solem Cave Suites, where you can taste the large number of white, red and rosé wines of its own production. Because the wine here has a long tradition and is successfully grown in Cappadocia.
In addition to tourism, many locals earn their living from agriculture. The volcanic subsoil is particularly rich in nutrients and allows fruit and vegetables to thrive.
A local specialty not to be missed is the “Testi Kebabi” (Krug Kebab). The meat (usually lamb) is cooked with the vegetables in a clay pot for hours. The container is hermetically sealed with a slurry. At the table the flaming vase is opened and the buttery “Testi Kebabi” with barley is served.
Music and dancing take place in many corners, so be sure to stop by the local bars after dinner. They often offer live music in the evenings. The mood quickly becomes exuberant, people sing, dance, and language barriers are quickly overcome with one or the other raki (aniseed brandy).