Finally, we made our way to Cappadoccia, known for its eerie landscape and the fairy chimneys (hoodoos). But as we soon discovered, the region has much more to offer. Finding out how rich in history the area was, back from the early Christians under Roman time up to when the Ottomans arrived was really unexpected (I confess that I did not do a lot of research pre-trip).
A UNESCO World Heritage, the Göreme Open-Air Museum is a must-do as you get to see amazing frescoes as delicate as what you could see back in Renaissance Italy.
Most of the paintings date from the 10 to 12th century, though there are indications that the Göreme Valley was inhabited since the 4th century and the Byzantine Empire. With the Arab invasion of the Sejluk Turks in 1071, Christians start retreated into hidden locations – cave dwellings, underground cities and other troglodyte habitations. Some of the rock formations are still inhabited to this day, making the experience very real.
Göreme Ancient Churches – A Millennia-Old Walk
A large complex of monasteries, each with its own church, offers a glimpse into the life of post-iconoclastic Bizantine art and culture. Earlier paintings display minimalistic style, simple red painted or carved crosses. By the mid-9th century, design became more elaborate and a more diverse mix of colors, such as the ones found in the Göreme Valley. Of notes are the 10th-century Buckle Tokali church, the 11th-century St Barbara and Sakli churches, 12th-century Apple Elmali church, and the most ornated 13th-century Dark Church, also known as Karanlik Kilise.
We spent several hours at the Museum and made sure we could check as many of these churches as possible. These are all different and beautiful, as you are stepping back in time and hear the stories of their creators. It is really impressive to see the dedication and commitment in digging these caves and churches, painstakingly designing scenes from the Bible while protecting themselves against invading armies and hostile environments.
Some of the stairs do not appear very stable or large, but visiting the upper level when available is worth the views you will have from the top. It will bring you closer to some of the ceiling decorations, allowing you to admire the details better.
The Dark Chuch – A Must-See
I would heartily recommend visiting the Dark Church. A additional small entrance fee is required but once you are inside, you will be glad you went the extra cost. This is quite a magical place, and you will search for the artists as if they had just finished painting their art. Yes, the painting are from the 12th century but you would think it was yesterday, admiring the amazing state of preservation (well, they have been restored but you will still be impressed by the beautiful frescoes). Details are mind blowing, the colors striking and the persons feel alive, ready to step out from the walls.
The Grandeur of the Nunnery
The Nunnery is a huge 6 or 7- floor mostly ruined building that featured a church, a dining area, kitchen, and sleeping quarters. Today only some of the exterior walls are still standing but they give you a sense of the community that was once held there.
If you have only one day in Cappadocia, make sure to spend it at the Göreme Open-Air Museum. Combining rock formations, cultural elements and historical buildings, this is sure going to make the highlight of your trip. The museum can be busy with other visitors and you might have to wait some at the entrance of the smaller churches, but the complex size means you won’t be waiting very long.
Uchisar Castle – Not Your Typical Fortress
You can also extend your visit to Uchisar Castle, which is also composed of small caves and offers great views of the surrounding area. Most of the top floors are too damaged and are not accessible, but visiting around is quite nice as it is.
Want to read more about Turkey? Check our posts about walking down history in Ephesus, tasting traditional Turkish cuisine in Istanbul, hiking through the Cave Churches of the Rose Valley of Cappadocia, or watching the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony.