ANKARA -- The expression "Turkish delights" takes on new meaning in
Cappadocia, a geological wonderland sculpted by erosion into a
labyrinth of natural arches, towers and pyramids.
During its turbulent history, this central Anatolian plateau has
seen the likes of Alexander the Great and Tamerlane march by.
Today's invaders are tourists captivated by its mysterious beauty
and grand treasury of monuments.
The major gateway is Ankara, 50 minutes by air from Istanbul and
a half-day drive by car. There is also the option of a seven-hour
ride aboard the Ankara Express, a train that offers seating in
private compartments. From Ankara it is a four-hour drive to the
main towns of Cappadocia.
Most tour operators come to Cappadocia through Kayseri by a
90-minute flight from Istanbul. From Kayseri, it is less than a
two-hour drive to the most popular bases for exploring sites in
Goreme, Urgup and Avanos.
Although there are no official borders to Cappadocia, many
attractions lie roughly within a triangle formed by the towns of
Avanos in the north, Nevsehir in the west and Urgup in the
Long-ago eruptions of a volcano covered the plateau in a
moonscape of ash. The soft rock, called tufa, has been transformed
by erosion into a haunting, surrealistic landscape of cones and
The finest formations lie in what is called the Valley of the
Fairy Chimneys, whose white-rock pinnacles often soar to 250
Cappadocia became an area of refuge for Christians as early as
the second century. By the fourth century, the region had produced
several important saints, among them St. Basil the Great, who came
to teach in the Goreme Valley and who served as bishop of
These Christians, safe from the hostile rulers closer to the
Mediterranean, carved out caves and later churches that they
decorated with domed ceilings, graceful columns and altars and
scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Despite destruction from invading Mongols in the 13th century,
echoes of a religious past remain in the chapel of St. Basil, which
features paintings of the Christ child.
There also are religious patterns adorning the archways of the
Apple Church. Graffiti scratched in the paintings of the two
churches show desecrations dating to the mid-1800s. About two dozen
churches are found in what is called Goreme's open-air museum.
South of Nevsehir, at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, visitors find
entire underground cities hollowed out of the earth to depths of
six and seven stories and occupied centuries before Christians came
to the region.
Derinkuyu, for instance, is laced with tunnels that connect a
vertical honeycomb of apartments, kitchens, wineries, chapels,
stables and other rooms, all estimated to have accommodated a
populace of 30,000 inhabitants.
In Kaymakli, another subterranean city, residents could escape
from harm some four levels belowground.
Nevsehir is the regional capital and, along with nearby and
prettier Urgup, one of several good bases from which to explore
The region is a natural destination for hikers to explore, and
several walking-tour companies are offering Turkey itineraries,
including Backroads in Berkeley, Calif., (800) GO-ACTIVE;
Butterfield & Robinson in Toronto, (800) 678-1147, and
Adventure Center in Emery-ville, Calif., (800) 227-8747.
Turkish Tourist Office
Phone: (212) 687-2194
Fax: (212) 599-7568