For my 34th birthday, I took a quick jaunt to central Turkey, an conglomerate of towns collectively known as Cappadocia (which roughly translates to ‘Land of Horses‘ in Turkish – as opposed to the Italian meaning of ‘thick headed‘ or ‘stubborn‘). In speaking with many of my new Turkish friends, I was told countless times that as a visitor to this part of the world, one of the most unique and special places to see (and one certainly not to be missed) is Cappadocia. I was skeptical at first; however, within the first few minutes of arriving, I was blown away by the alien beauty of this area.
Comprised of approximately eight individual towns, the section of central Turkey looks more like a location from an alien planet on Star Trek (or Fred Flintstone’s Bedrock) than anywhere on earth. The main hub of these towns is Goreme which is littered with hoodoos, or fairy chimneys – the main event of Cappadocia (note: every day hundreds of people wake up before sunrise to witness the majesty of the landscape from hot-air balloons). Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rock, ranging in size from 2 to 50 meters, typically found in arid drainage basins and consist of soft rock that has been covered by harder rocks. The combination of soft and hard rock have allowed the residents of Goreme – dating back to the Hittites (1600 BC) – to carve out cave homes for themselves (and hotel rooms for travelers) with the greatest of ease.
Chock full of fairy chimneys, we found many valleys surrounding Goreme, once home to monks and nuns who chose a monastic life away from the hustle and bustle of those ancient city centers. The Goreme Open Air Museum, the Zelve Open Air Museum, and the Selime Monastery offered additional protection in their seclusion and the soft rock made building chapels, wineries, and other religious rooms faster and safer. Not only could the monks disappear into the rooms they carved, but the chances any invaders would find the valleys at all were slim to none.
It is on this literal and figurative ‘surface’ level that millions of tourist appreciate the natural wonder that is Cappadocia… a much different tale is told when you look a little deeper, beneath that surface. Outside Goreme, we found a few underground cities that the early Christians used as hiding places when the Romans would turn their ugly heads and begin the persecutions. The ability to hide out inside mountains and under the surface for weeks or months at a time made Cappadocia an ideal spot for thousands upon thousands of Christians to live and worship in safety.
The city of Derinkuyu is the largest in the area and could support a population of 3,500 people at any given time. The creators dug 8 levels down and included rooms that could be used for stables, churches, cemeteries, kitchens, wineries, pantries, and bathrooms as well as multiple exits, ventilation shafts, and water wells. Additionally, those hiding inside had the ability to roll circular stone slabs across the many passages, blocking any intruders from sections of the city where people could gather and wait for their enemies to depart (like something out of Indiana Jones).
The earliest mention of the name Cappadocia can be traced back to the 6th century B.C., but it is also mentioned a few times in the Bible. In the book of Acts, the Cappadocians heard the gospels from some Galileans shortly after the Resurrection. Additionally, any Catholic (with a good attendance record) will recognize many of the regional Anatolian cities from St. Paul’s Epistles, including: Thrace, Galatia, Ephesus, Antioch, Konya, Smyrna, Antalya, and Phrygia (all located within the borders of present-day Turkey). The history of this entire region is directly tied to early Christianity and after a lot of careful examination, it was easy to see why.
Christians have long lived in Turkey, yet never have they considered themselves the majority, nor have they held great power and influence. The Roman pagans were in control during the first few centuries and then the Muslims took over around the 5th and 6th centuries. Still, Christianity has been able to maintain its relevance and importance in Turkey, particularly central Anatolia.
- The first seven Ecumenical Councils
- The Seven Churches of Asia (mentioned in Revelations)
- The Council of Nicea (and the Nicene Creed)
Interestingly enough as well, the followers of Jesus Christ who resided in Antioch (not part of Cappadocia) were the first people to be nicknamed ‘Christians’, and if you’re interested in more information about the Hagia Sophia – the largest church in the world for a thousand years – please see my article about Istanbul.
There are many amazing sights in Cappadocia and I can’t recommend a visit to Asia Minor without stopping for at least a day or two. If you search, you’ll find many sites, lists, and reviews have labeled it one of the most unique places on the globe. I was certainly glad to have been there and experienced both the natural and man-made wonders (and walked/hiked about 20 km in total over two days). Great sites, great history, great food, and great exercise. Don’t miss it!
Until Next Time…