With its otherworldly rock formations, Cappadocia’s unique topography is only matched in magnificence by its rich history. Empires have risen and fallen since the land’s sprawling cave networks were first carved out by man. While some caves date as far back as the time of the Hittites in 1200BCE, they were most extensively built by Christians fleeing religious persecution from the Roman Empire in the 4th Century AD. Even today, people continue to live in these ancient and historic structures.
A geological and historic wonder
This spectacular region of Central Turkey covers roughly 5,000 square kilometers and hosts some of the strangest manmade structures you may ever see. Vast subterranean networks historically sat below ground-level cities. Some could house as many as 30,000 people and descended 11 stories into the Earth.
The caves were designed to maintain all the necessities of daily life. In them, you can find stables, chapels, storage units, and even schools. There are many elaborate frescos demonstrating fine examples of Byzantine-Christian art.
An underground fortress
Most people didn’t live in the underground cities full-time. The tunnels connected homes to cities in a vast network and the winding, narrow tunnels made them ideal for defense. If the city came under attack, citizens would flee into their basements and into the tunnels where oncoming forces would meet a myriad of small passageways forcing them into one-on-one combat. Booby traps throughout the labyrinth, such as rooms with holes in the ceiling for throwing spears or rooms that could be blocked off by rolling a large stone at the exits, would also pick off unsuspecting invaders.
Born out of the fiery eruptions of volcanoes
Cappadocia’s vast networks of caves were made possible because of the unique type of rock found in the area. Called tufa, this soft rock was formed millions of years ago from volcanic eruptions that blanketed the land in ash. Layers of it compressed into rock over time and subsequently eroded away by the slow processes of water, wind, and time.
Architected by fairies
Not all of the tufa rock eroded at the same rate and over time, strange and wondrous shapes began to take form. Jagged hills and cracking valleys exposed the multi-colored rock bed. And the iconic fairy chimneys – named as such because locals thought the alien creations could only be created by the hands of fairies – dotted the entire landscape.