Traveling Turkey: Cappadocia

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Daniel Phelps
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing series of spots of interest in the area.

One of the must-see spots in Turkey you will hear about, if you haven't yet, is a region called Cappadocia.

The only way to understand its beauty is to see it for yourself. Words and pictures just can't do the area justice.

Yet, I will still make an attempt just to give you the idea. My most recent trip was a weekend visit and I wasn't even close to fully experiencing the area.

Cappadocia is probably one of the richest areas of history in the world. The Bible mentions it in several of its books, and through several tours you can hear and see traditions that are still practiced in the region today that date back to the Bronze Age when Turkey was occupied by the Hittites.

The Hittites were an ancient Anatolian people who established an empire in the region around 18th century B.C. The kingdom reached its peak during the mid 14th century B.C. and around 1180 B.C. splintered into city-states.

One of the first things you will notice when entering Cappadocia are the numerous homes and buildings that are literally built into the mountains and hills. Several hotels in the area advertise themselves as cave hotels, where the rooms are buried in the hills.

During my recent trip to Cappadocia, I stayed in one of the cave hotels. It was pretty cool. A lot the architecture was made from the stone the hotel sat in.

Throughout the Cappadocia region are several cities that are entirely underground. Though people no longer live in those cities, portions of them have been opened up as museums. Through the overnight trip I was on with Information, Tickets and Travel, we visited the underground city of Derinkuyu.

Derinkuyu is more than 190 feet deep with five levels and could hold about 20,000 people plus their livestock and food stores. Historians believe it was first built between the 8th and 7th century B.C. The city is believed to have been used to escape religious persecution. Miles of tunnels connect Derinkuyu and the other underground cities in Cappadocia.

It was a lot of fun ducking and crawling around through the tunnels. A word to the wise: some places can get pretty cramped, so it's not for everyone. A couple people opted out of exploring the underground city to take a look at some of the trinkets for sale just outside the museum entrance.

On this trip we also stopped by a few different shops where you could see some of the traditional crafts from the area being hand crafted.

One of the stops was an onyx factory. A local shop worker came in and asked for a volunteer to come up, and used them to demonstrate how onyx eggs were made by grinding them down and then polishing them. It was a very entertaining and informing demonstration. After the demonstration we went into the onyx shop to look around at their artwork.

Another one of the stops was a carpet store. As you walked in you watch the women at work hand crafting several carpets on looms. Wool and silk of various colors hung around the room. In one area was a tub of silk worms, where the artists would spin the silk from the worms to begin the rug-making process.

After seeing the rugs being crafted and the silk being spun, we were taken into a room to sit and were offered Turkish tea as carpets were laid out and the shop owner explained the different styles and varieties of Turkish carpets and their origins.

Several places in the region have ancient traditions that they follow and have perfected over the years. For example, the traditions involved in Cappadocia's pottery crafting date back thousands of years and some of ceramics shops have pieces on display in famous museums such as the Met in New York. Visitors to these shops will be walked through the processes and steps that resident artists go through and one can watch the artists work on unfinished pieces.

Guests are also invited to try their hand at the traditional kick-wheel method of crafting the pottery, after a demonstration by one of the artists along with an explanation of the historical significance of the craft.

After the ceramics tour came to an end, we were given the opportunity to peruse the store.

Another item of interest in Cappadocia is its wineries.

Cappadocia is the largest wine producing region in Turkey, so no tour would be complete without a stop at a place that offers wine tasting. The shop had a nice rustic feel to it, and small glasses were handed to everyone as the sommelier poured the different varietals into the cups as he explained each wine his store offered and how each was unique.

The shops were a nice touristy highlight and gave a nice view of the culture and how people have lived throughout the history of the area.

The rock formations of Cappadocia are the big stand out of the region. The closest way to describe it is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs meets the Grand Canyon, and even that doesn't seem to do it justice.

There are several places to visit in the region to view the amazing formations, and it is almost impossible to see in one visit. "Fairy chimneys," or hoodoos, are a common term to describe some of the formations. A fairy chimney is a tall thin spire of rock that protrudes from the ground. The fairy chimneys in Cappadocia are often mushroom shaped rock formations. The Three Sisters in Urgup are one of the more well known. Imagination Valley is full of hoodoos that resemble animals and allows your imagination run rampant with all of its designs.

With all the history that fills the region, open-air museums abound. One of the more popular is Goreme Open Air Museum, which has been a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site since 1984.

I would say that this museum is a must-see when visiting Cappadocia. It is a monastic complex that dates back to the 10th century A.D. and is filled with rock-cut architecture. All of the rooms and churches are cut into the stone and colorful frescos from its heyday still adorn the walls and ceilings.

It's easy to wander for hours around the open-air museum exploring the churches and refectories.

Hot air balloon rides, horse-back riding, all terrain vehicles and bicycles are all popular ways to explore Cappadocia as well, though personally I have yet take up one of those opportunities. But, I have heard rave reviews from those who have.

However you decide to explore the region, Cappadocia is a piece of history you don't want to miss while in Turkey.