Over a million tourists visit each year to admire at this geological wonderland – a sea of cones and giant pinnacles and remarkable ‘fairy chimneys’ where the pillars are topped by rock like the bobble on a Dervish’s hat.
Thirty million years ago three (still visible) volcanoes buried the region under consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). Wind and water have eroded the tuff into strange shapes, the oddest resulting from rocks of varying degrees of the hardness wearing at a different pace.
Man has adapted this environment fascinatingly. Rather than build individual houses, it made sense to use the rock as walls, and thousands of Flintstone-like cave dwellings still honeycomb the hills and cliffs. Christian hermits arrived by the 4th century and monastic communities soon followed. When Arab armies invaded in the 7th century, the inhabitants went underground, and dug dozens of cities undetectable from the surface and hundreds of churches visible only by a door from the distance.
Over 150 churches in Cappadocia contain frescoes of the gospels – a treasure trove of 8th to 11th century Byzantine art. The churches were among the few to escape defacement during the iconoclastic controversy from 726 to 843, when the use of icons or religious images was banned.
The locals treat the surprisingly fertile land in much the same way as their forebears did. Four legs is the preferred method of transport – shawled women ride stubborn donkeys weighed down with baskets of produce – and in autumn the fields are all activity as grapes, potatoes and pumpkins are harvested. Some rocks serve as pigeon-cotes, with pigeon droppings used as fertilizer.
This bucolic landscape is best appreciated by bike (easy to hire) or on foot. Through the region covers the area between Kayseri, Aksaray and Nigde, central Cappadocia lies within the much smaller triangle of Avanos, Mustafapasa and Nevsehir.