Cappadocia & Underground Cities

The name of the ancient province in central Anatolia. The irresistible region is created through violent eruptions of the volcanoes Mt. Erciyes (3,916 m.) and Mt. Hasan (3,268 m.) three million years ago.

Places which are visited most in the region are : The Goreme Open-air museum with its carved churches, the Ihlara Valley, the underground cities of Kaymakli or Derinkuyu, the fairy chimneys, Avanos with its handicrafts, Zelve and Urgup.The Taurus mountains, which are technically part of the Alpine chain, in their creation 60 million years ago, caused the warping of the Anatolian plateau. The resulting volcanoes, including the spectacular Mount Erciyas and Mount Hasan, produced the tuff from which the unique landscape of Cappadocia is formed.


There is no historical record of activity from these ancient volcanoes (and they certainly won't interrupt your holiday) but there are three surviving memorials, although it is likely that these were created by people who had heard about the eruptions through folk history rather than having actually witnessed it themselves. One of the wall paintings in Catalhoyuk (which is incidentally one of the oldest paintings known to archaeology) shows an eruption as does an ancient engraved coin from Caesarea (Modern Kayseri). The remains of a Persian temple dedicated to fire near Mount Erciyas show that this volcano was once regarded as sacred.

It took millions of years for the ash from these volcanoes to form a layer of tuff, covered in places by a further layer of basalt lava. The basalt ultimately cracked and split under attack from the weather and rainwater seeped down through the cracks and splits to slowly erode the tuff itself. The natural effects of alternating very hot and very cold weather and the rain and the wind breaking down the rock's resistance caused (and continues to cause) the emergence of the tall cones of tuff capped by hard basalt which the Turks call Fairy Chimneys.

Where there is no basalt layer to protect the tuff lovely valleys have been formed connected to the plateau by steep canyons of andesite and basalt. The canyons of Soganlı and Ihlara are particularly stunning examples, Ihlara canyon being 650 feet in depth in some parts.

The valleys are sheltered and fertile with an almost temperate climate. The tuff is easily worked and, for milennia, has provided dwellings and and storerooms, both above and below ground, for smallholders. Despite it's increasing popularity with visitors, Cappadocia is very much home to small farmers who can still be seen every day tending their orchards, vineyards and field crops and riding their donkeys home to their cave houses.

Yeralti Kentleri (underground cities)

No one knows when the underground cities of Cappadocia were built, perhaps in Hittite times or as late as the 6C AD.

There were certainly underground cities as early as the 5C BC. They are referred to by a 5 and 4C BC Athenian historian Xenophon in his Anabasis. So far 36 underground cities have been discovered some of them being very recent. It is also estimated that most of them are connected to each other. But it is difficult to identify these connections.

The ground consists of the same volcanic tufa. Cappadocians created vast cities which cannot be noticed from the ground level. They carved airshafts as deep as 85m / 300ft into the rock and then made holes laterally at different levels in all directions. They hewed an elaborate system of staircases and tunnels to connect all layers to the surface. They dug dwellings, bathrooms, kitchens, dining halls, storage rooms, wine cellars, chapels, graves and suchlike. In times of danger they provided security by rolling big round hard stones across strategic tunnels. Entrances at the surface were also camouflaged. Today even from some of the modern houses there are man-made holes leading to underground passages most of which are used as cellars.

Underground City of Derinkuyu

The underground city of Derinkuyu which means "deep well", like Kaymakli, is one of the largest. It was opened in 1965. It is 70-85m / 230-300ft deep with 53 airshafts. The original ventilation system still functions remarkably well. It is not recommended that visitors having problems of claustrophobia or restricted movement go inside since there are many passageways where one has to squat.

The first two floors under the surface housed a missionary school with two long rock-cut tables, baptismal place, kitchens, storehouses, living quarters, wine cellars and stables. Third and fourth floors were for the tunnels, places to hide and armories. The last floors had water wells, hidden passageways, a church, graves and a confession place.


A few kilometres west of Urgup is the small town of Goreme. Here you can visit a monastic complex of rock churches and chapels covered with frescoes. Most of the chapels date from the 10th to the 13th Centuries. Among the most-visited are the Elmali Kilise (Church with an Apple), Karanalik Kilise (Dark Church), Carikli Kilise (Church with Sandals) and Yilani Kilise (Church of Snakes). The town of Goreme itself is set right in the middle of a valley of cones and fairy chimneys. Some of the cafes, restaurants and guest houses are carved into the rock. Goreme is taken under protection as an open air museum today. Its rock churches refrectories and houses indicate that Goreme has been a large monastic settlement since the ninth century.