The landscape of Cappadocia is mystical. With ‘Fairy Chimneys’, churches, caves, underground cities and evidence of a long and rich history, it is surreal and is one of the most popular destinations in Turkey. The name ‘fairy chimney’ is intriguing in itself but carry on reading to discover the magic of Cappadocia.
Cappadocia is situated in central Anatolia. Millions of years ago ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed what is now Turkey in thick ash. This ash later solidified into a soft rock called “tuff”. The soft rock was covered by a layer of basalt. When erosion finally began due to the natural forces of wind and water, the softer tuff was worn down giving way to pillars. The harder basalt erodes more slowly which caused a protective mushroom-shaped cap to form over each one.
These unique pillars stretch as far as 130 feet into the sky. They are located in a region which ran through the historic Silk Road trading route. This area was constantly raided by European empire builders. It is thought that the Hittites, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans all claimed the land at one time or another.
From the 4th century onwards it was a sanctuary for Christians fleeing persecution from Rome. This is why the area contains beautiful art from the Byzantine and early Christian eras.
The Christians realised that the tuff was a very useful and malleable rock. They built a network of handmade caves, living quarters and storehouses. Underground cities were built to protect them from being discovered. These underground cities are almost 10-storeys deep, connected by narrow passages and could hide as many as 10,000 people at a time. Ventilation shafts were disguised as wells and rolling stone doors were put in place to protect entrances.
There is huge amounts of evidence of their past lives. There are stables with handles used to tether animals, walls with holes meant for air circulation and blackened walls that were once kitchens.
There are as many as 600 churches carved from the soft rock. The Dark Church is the most famous and was discovered in the 1950s. Layers of pigeon droppings covered its walls and it took 14 years to clean. Discovered underneath were exquisite paintings which had been preserved by the faeces. These paintings include scenes of the Journey to Bethlehem, the Nativity, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and others.
Throughout the landscape are various valleys. Popular valleys include Pasabag (Monks) Valley, Zelve Valley, Red Valley, Love Valley, Pigeon Valley, Devrent Imagination Valley and Swords Valley. Pigeon Valley is named after the pigeon houses carved into the cliffs. Pigeons were used to carry messages and their droppings were collected to fertilize the vineyards. In the Love Valley there are phallic shaped chimneys and in Imagination Valley the rocks have been formed to look like animals in recent years.
There are various panoramic viewpoints in Cappadocia to see all of the fairy chimneys. The best are Goreme Viewpoint, Red Valley, Lovers Hill, Goreme Open Air Museum and Uchisar Castle.
The names of the various viewpoints, the valleys and of course the name ‘Fairy Chimneys’ perfectly capture the mystical and almost supernatural wonder of the Cappadocian landscape. The name ‘Fairy Chimney’ came from the Young Turks use of the word Peri Bajasi which translates to Fairy Chimney. Before this, older local Turks used the word “kaya” which translates to “boulder” but apparently when this word was used outside Cappadocia, it did not give an accurate picture.
In recent years some of the cave dwellings have been converted into boutique hotels where cave rooms include cosy fireplaces and gorgeous views. Hot air balloon tours allow visitors to take in the mesmerising monuments and rocky landscape.
Music concerts are often held in the surrounding cave buildings of Cappadocia, for example the week-long Cappadocia Music Festival which showcases choirs and orchestras.
The majority of the fairy chimneys are located at the Goreme National Park. The National Park has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list since 1985.
The truly amazing rock formations of the fairy chimneys as well as the intriguing Byzantine and Christian history involving underground cities, caves and churches, makes Cappadocia on the list of many people’s go-to travel destinations. Would you like to visit the fairy chimneys? Have you visited them before? What do you make of its landscape, history and tourist attractions? Let me know your thoughts!