ihlara canyon cappadocia

Cappadocia Underground City and Brief History

320 km south of Ankara and in the middle of the Central Anatolian desert, there is a peninsula of more than 800,000 square meters that is called Cappadocia Turkey, an excursion for a few days worth doing. This area has a strange and surprising natural beauty, original and unique in the world, which has been the origin of many myths and magical legends. But if its landscape is surprising, its subsoil is even more so. Beneath its picturesque troglodyte villages like Goreme, roads and crops there are what many have defined as “the largest underground battlefield in the world”, of course, its dozens of underground cities in Cappadocia and nowadays famous worldwide with Cappadocia hot air balloons. Originally started digging by the Hittites, considered one of the most advanced people in the ancient world more than 4,000 years ago, cities span kilometers and have emerged unscathed from the bloody wars, struggles and conflicts that have always threatened to destroy them throughout the centuries occupied by different settlers. But why? Why build underground cities instead of on their surface? What did they fear?

Cappadocia underground cityFor thousands of years this mysterious region was the battlefield of different invading empires, since its location in the middle of the Silk Road, the most important “highway” of antiquity made it highly coveted because whoever controlled Cappadocia controlled trade routes, and a percentage of all wealth transported. This route stretched over 11,000 km and connected important empires such as China, India and Egypt in the east and Greece and Rome in the west. Precisely because of this privileged situation it was so dangerous for its inhabitants. Romans, Persians and Mongols fought to control it, in addition the continuous tribal wars turned the region into a very dangerous area whose cities were continually decimated. Living underground was an ingenious solution to a constant threat, an adaptation to the environment of its inhabitants in the face of the long and warlike history of Cappadocia. These cities, of which 250 kms have been excavated, were built to protect their inhabitants from attacks by some of the most powerful empires on earth. Hidden underground are remnants of a mysterious pagan empire as well as a multitude of lost cities and defensive fortresses. The symbols of war have been buried for three millennia, and the great abundance of them means that practically in the basement of every human settlement that historically already existed in the remote past, there is an underground city that replicates it. But its construction was not easy. Drilling the terrain was possible due to the characteristics of the soft rock, the tuff, so abundant in the area due to the various volcanic eruptions of three volcanoes. First they were simple stone shelters that evolved as threats on the surface grew into cities up to eight stories deep! They could accommodate up to 20,000 people. And so it was until the 14th century. When the Ottoman Empire stabilized the region and prosperity came, these underground cities were losing their reason for being and were sealing and forgetting. In 1960 the settlers began to explore the tunnels that were under their houses since they had heard the stories of their ancestors, without being able to imagine the dimensions of what was under their feet. Currently there are about 200 cities excavated with an area of ​​250 square kilometers, many of them intact. As the Hittites previously pointed out, they were the first builders, reigning from 1795 to 1190 BC, and it is believed that they were the first inhabitants of the region to live underground. The Hittites thrived in this region for more than 500 years, but felt threatened by what they call “the people of the sea.” They disappeared without a trace in the 12th century BC, and quite possibly Cappadocia’s underworld was their last refuge. They bequeathed numerous hand-dug underground caverns that would be of great use to another persecuted group that came to their cities in the 1st century fleeing from the Romans: the Christians.

In the IV century Constantine recognized Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Christians, who lived underground underground, were able to emerge without fear to the surface. However, they continued to develop these cities. In Goreme Turkey, which was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1985, a Christian bulwark hidden from the eyes of the world was created. As I mentioned in a previous post, the monasteries and churches of Goremme were firstly the refuge of monks and ascetics from Syria and Egypt fleeing from Roman persecution, and later from Arab and Persian raids.

It is considered the first monastery in the Christian world with two hundred churches inside its caves. Following the idea spread by Saint Basil, he led a solitary, communal and austere life here. A self-sufficient community of monks was created that lived here until the Ottomans arrived and laid the foundations for what we now know as monastic life. Among the hundreds of churches and dwellings in the area, the Church of the Serpent stands out, a Christian catacomb. It still stands by the multitude of load-bearing walls of its construction. Decorated with more primitive frescoes and more elaborate ones, they perfectly show the progress of Christian artists. The Dark Church is spectacular, with the same architectural design as a cathedral and decorated with detailed frescoes based on the life of Jesus. The frescoes told the stories of the Bible for a largely illiterate audience, which is why they were so important.

Ozkonak is the third largest excavated city in Cappadocia with an area of ​​1,600 meters and two and a half floors. It was the old version of an air raid shelter with everything it could take to survive for months. Inhabitants quickly took shelter from excavated tunnels that connected their houses on the surface with the underground city so that when the invader arrived, they found the cities deserted. Inside there are dry wells where the water accumulated, or wet wells where the channeled water reached, which was essential. Also dozens of ventilation shafts and food reserves for months. The narrow tunnels and defensive traps served as protection by slowing the enemy advance since the fact that they entered one by one and hunched over made them very vulnerable. An effective defensive system that protected them was a large stone like a one-ton weight millstone that blocked access to the important rooms, locking the invading army between two stones. Thus tunnels were sealed. Furthermore, in some underground cities sound waves made it possible through conduits in the rock to give instructions. The barn used to be on the first floor, with its feeders. The inhabitants in the second. Derinkuyu had room for 10,000 people. Excavated in seven floors that reach forty meters deep, it is known that the Hittites before the Christians had already excavated and lived here, and we are talking about 1400 a.c. The troglodyte town of Uchisar is chaired by one of the oldest citadels in the world. Its 3,500-year-old and 150-meter-high rock castle was one of the three main citadels in the region, vital for the protection and defense of its inhabitants. And therefore the entire valley is crossed by caves, tunnels, rooms and passageways as if it were a hive. Agirnas sits atop another five-story underground city that stretches for 6 kilometers. Here the famous architect Mimar Sinán was born in 1489, who seems to have taken note of the characteristics of these buildings to adapt them to his own. Architectural elements such as the simple but ingenious triple arch system already existed in this city before he applied it to its beautiful buildings. What could be the largest and most sophisticated city in the region is currently being excavated and located in Gaziemir. It is a caravanserai or rest area for the 800-year-old Silk Road merchants. The town was strategically located and travelers from all over the world in search of livelihood and security paid a good price for it. In its 4,500 square meters there is a place for stables, fountains, bathrooms, dining rooms and rooms, saddlers … etc. All this ensured comfort on a very dangerous route. Thieves, Turkish-Muslims who fought against a weakened Roman empire attacking the whole world and also Mongol invasions. The underground cities preserve the dark and mysterious past of this land of legends and resist falling back into oblivion. Today, like their ancestors, the caves are reused again, although this time as tourist hotels.

zelve open air museum

Zelve Open Air Museum Cappadocia

Zelve was not always a small region, between the 9th and 13th centuries, it was an important religious nucleus to which priests and anchorites withdrew to dedicate themselves fully to prayer. With the passage of time, new tenants came to this region, colonizing the valleys and excavating hundreds of houses in the rock. This peculiar lifestyle lasted for centuries. Nowadays its one of the most visited areas in the region by tourists and hot spot for picturing balloons Cappadocia in the morning.

The Christian and Muslim communities coexisted peacefully until 1924, when there was a massive diaspora of the Christian community for political reasons. This did not mean the abandonment of the valley that continued to be inhabited until 1952, when the Government of the Republic of Turkey determined that this region was uninhabitable due to the poor state of preservation of the houses and the risk of collapse of the houses. They were deserted and its inhabitants founded the new town they called New Zelve (Yeni Zelve) just two kilometers from the valleys of Cappadocia. Due to the historical interest of the abandoned region, in 1967 Zelve became an open-air museum without too many possibilities for restoration due to aggressive erosion.

The museum is located at the intersection of three valleys, two of them interconnected by a tunnel. The environment offers travelers a landscape riddled with slender fairy chimneys, houses carved out of the stone, passageways and tunnels that connect different caves; An especially interesting place to enjoy hiking and climbing. The passage of time has been inclement with the frescoes of the churches, deteriorating the cave paintings that adorned the walls of the temples, nothing to do with the vivid colors that can be seen in the Göreme complex. In addition, it is believed that the inhabitants of the region were opposed to pictorial representations despite the iconoclastic establishment of the Byzantine government.With or without fresco, the excursion through the valleys of Zelve is more than enough incentive to visit this remote Cappadocia region.

What to see in Zelve Museum?

Direkli Kilise, the Church of the Columns: it is accessed through a horseshoe-shaped door and owes its name to the six columns that support the central dome of the room. This temple, built in the early eleventh century, has three apses and three naves. Although the frescoes are very deteriorated, paintings are still preserved in the columns and in the central apse where Jesus Christ is represented, accompanied by the Virgin Mary and Saint Peter. One of the curiosities of this temple is that it is believed that the future monks were formed there.Üzümlü Kilise, the church of grapes: This temple was built around the 10th century, originally it had inscriptions that indicated the name of the temple and its date of construction. Its name is due to the grapes represented in the frescoes that decorated the walls of the church; they are currently in an unfortunate state of conservation. Despite the deterioration, you can see symbols that tell us about the way of life of that time: crosses, motifs related to fishing and of course, the bunches of grapes Geyikli Kilise, the Church of the Deer: Its name is due to the old paintings that cover its walls, now almost unrecognizable, that depict the main symbols of Christianity at that time: the cross, deer and fish. It seems that the fish represented the new faithful of the church. Balıklı Kilise, the Church of the Fish: It owes its name to the fish represented in red in the central apse of the temple. You can also see a huge cross that occupies the center of the apse. Finally, you can visit the remains of an old mosque built with stone and mortar that preserves a beautiful minaret and an old mill that was used until the mid-20th century.

ihlara canyon cappadocia

Ihlara Canyon Valley

The Melendiz River has been crossing the docile surface of the Ihlara Valley for centuries, opening a canyon that reaches up to 150 meters deep in some areas. A haven of peace that did not go unnoticed by the first Christians who made this ecosystem their own home. The mixture of the wonders of nature with the work of human hands makes the Ihlara canyon become a very special enclave within the landscapes of Cappadocia.

This canyon, delimited by the towns of Ihlara and Selime, winds for 16 kilometers through the path left behind by the old Melendiz river. Ihlara Canyon is located 40 kilometers southeast of the town of Askaray and is one of the most splendid natural landscapes in Cappadocia. An environment brimming with life that invites tranquility and tranquility. The strategic location of this valley, together with the wealth and diversity of plant and animal species that populate it, make it an ideal place to hide and develop a discreet life. The Ihlara Valley was the refuge of a large Christian community that took advantage of the discretion and tranquility of the valley to dedicate themselves to meditation. Throughout the valley, hundreds of houses and churches can be counted. An important figure for a valley just 16 kilometers long. Going into the Ihlara canyon is a relaxing exercise. The light rocking of the trees and the melody of the water flowing through the stream produce a calming effect. It is understandable that it was the place chosen by the anchorites to indulge in a life of meditation.

Ihlara Canyon History The explanation of this canyon begins in the periods of greatest volcanic activity, when the giant cones of fire expelled lava and pyroclastic materials, which flooded the surface of Cappadocia. The passing of the centuries and the abrupt tectonic movements tore the earth’s crust in this region of Anatolia, exposing hot springs that began to cover the surface of the valley. All the ingredients that we have mentioned changed the morphology of this region, however the true person in charge of the aspect of the canyon is the Melendiz river, that formerly was known like Potamus Kapadukus, that is to say river of Cappadocia. The current of water eroded the volcanic surface of the valley to give it its current appearance.

Ihlara Canyon, a mystical refuge

The possibilities of this canyon are almost endless, from trekking routes running parallel to the stream to visiting the dozens of churches that are hidden in the canyon walls. Any activity that takes place in this fascinating canyon will be to the liking of the travelers. Apart from the natural beauty, the footprints that the first Christians left in this valley are important. Various religious orders reflected in Ihlara their way of understanding spirituality, protected by the natural fortress of the mountains.The monks excavated churches and houses in the rock that were later decorated with colorful frescoes. The passing of the years has determined the conservation status of the frescoes, deteriorating them, but there are still many examples of this rock art that can be seen in the Ihlara valley. There are more than 100 temples along the length and breadth of the canyon.Among the most important rock churches in this valley are the temples of Egritas, Kökar, Pürenli Seki, Agaçalti, Sümbüllü, Yilanli, Karagedik, Kirk, Bahattin, Direkli and Ala. All of them scattered throughout the canyon with such particular characteristics that they deserve a separate mention.

Cappadocia underground city

Derinkuyu Underground City

There are those who compare Cappadocia to a huge Gruyère cheese and it is not surprising. The soft rock that predominates in this region of Anatolia favored the ancient civilizations to carve the stone to build their houses, their churches and even their cities. This is the case of the underground city of Derinkuyu, a perfect hideaway in a time when it was convenient to go unnoticed. Cappadocia is a strange place. You can climb upto cloud by hot air balloons Cappadocia and go deep down in earth in underground cities.

Dug into the bowels of the eponymous village, the underground city of Derinkuyu is one of the most impressive examples of the Cappadocia region along with the underground city of Kaymakli. Located thirty kilometers south of Nevsehir, following the road leading to Nigde, it was known as Elengübü in ancient times, when life depended on the ability of peoples not to be seen by enemies. Although there is no consensus on the date of its excavation, various niches housed in the surroundings of the city suggest that the Phrygians were the first to inhabit it around the 7th century B.C. Conversely, other studies indicate that the first level was built by the Hittites centuries before. The period of greatest splendor of the city occurred during the Byzantine period when Christians occupied the galleries of the city trying to flee from their Roman persecutors. Christians expanded the number of excavated galleries and modified established structures to comfortably develop every aspect of their religious life. Hidden for centuries, the underground city of Derinkuyu was discovered by chance in 1963 when a local neighbor downed the wall of your house. Since then, about forty meters deep have been excavated, which represents approximately ten percent of the entire city. It was opened to the public in 1965.

Derinkuyu can boast of being one of the largest underground cities in Turkey. It is equipped with all the necessary spaces to develop a community life away from hostile eyes: pantries, kitchens, stables, winery, chapel, baptistery, wells, and even a school, although you can only visit 40 meters deep and eight floors , it is believed that the depth of this city is 85 meters and that it has about twelve more levels yet to be explored. There are more than a thousand galleries that could host a community of more than ten thousand people. A fabulous architectural work.

The plants were ventilated through ventilation channels, which reached the last floors but distributed in such a way that the city was prevented from being poisoned in the event of an enemy attack. It also has a 55-meter-long well that supplied water to the city’s inhabitants. This well had an outlet to the outside.

Among the structures that can be found in the city of Derinkuyu, the school that is housed on the second level is striking. The roof of the room is a barrel vault, a unique example within the excavated cities. At the back of the room are the spaces for the elites and on the sides are the study and punishment rooms for the pupils. On the third floor were the pantries, where the inhabitants of the city deposited food in Sufficient amounts to withstand a multi-month-long siege. The fourth level is intended for citizens’ homes and meeting rooms. They were illuminated with oil lamps as evidenced by the remains found in the holes in the wall.Finally, the cross-shaped chapel of the seventh level, with dimensions of 20 meters by 9, which once must have been decorated with colorful frescoes that have disappeared due to humidity.

The city had various security elements to prevent enemy introspections. The planning itself in the form of a maze already prevented direct access to the city in a simple way. In addition, each of the levels could be plugged independently of the rest by means of titanic half-ton stone wheels that could only be activated from inside the city. This favored the evacuation of the inhabitants to the safest levels. The second issue to be covered was the provisioning of the population in case of siege. The numerous pantries and stables guaranteed the subsistence of the inhabitants for several months without the need to go outside. The well guaranteed the supply of water in case of site. As a last alternative, there are several exits to the outside that could allow a safe evacuation. In fact, a tunnel is believed to exist connecting the city of Derinkuyu with the underground city of Kaymakli through a nine kilometer long passageway.

como llegar a capadocia

How to go to Cappadocia from Istanbul

How to go to Cappadocia from Istanbul?

As we always say, Cappadocia Turkey is the second most visited tourist spot of Turkey following Istanbul as its known as the motherland of Hot Air Balloon Cappadocia for thrill-seeker as well as many other offerings such as hiking, horse riding, ATV Quad Bikes and much more! However its easier to participate our 2 days Cappadocia tours from Istanbul but you can also make the hotel bookings and travel arrangements on your own and enjoy this mysterious land free guided however its wide spread to 270 square kilometers and not easy at all.

If you are travelling on a budget, then we can suggest you to travel from Istanbul by a night long bus ride about 12 hours to Goreme. This is tiring way of travel but comfortable Turkish intercity buses makes it a bit easier with domestic flight a like reclining seats to sleep a while. Your arrival will be early in the morning and you may also witness the balloons in the air if they are permitted to fly that day.

how to go from istanbul to Cappadocia

They other option is travel by plane. There are two major airports where you can fly to: Nevsehir or Kayseri. Nevsehir airport is bit more closer to the region. If you are intending to stay one night and explore in 2 days, then book a flight early in the morning to make the most of your stay in 2 full days in the region. Roundtrip flights are around 90-110 USD per person by Turkish Airlines. The hotel that you will stay in Cappadocia would be happy to help you for airport transfer to the hotel. If not, you can also apply to transferman in the airport to participate in their shuttle services. Taking a taxi from airport would be a bit expensive as they distance is around 60-75 km in total to Goreme or Urgup towns.

For further details about what to do in Cappadocia or where to see in Cappadocia you can take a look at our other blog posts.

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