Cappadocia is unique in the world with its landscape of fairy chimneys, rock carved churches and monasteries, underground shelters, rock settlements and the rock castles. Millions of years ago the ashes and lava spouting from the volcanoes formed a thick layer on the Cappadocia Lake. The wind, rain and the flood have eroded the layer of tufa, creating a beautiful landscape and those interesting formations, the so called fairy chimneys.
Nevşehir, a provincial capital, is the gateway to Cappadocia. In the town itself are the hilltop Selçuk Castle, perched on the highest point in the city and the Kurşunlu Mosque, built for the Grand Vizier Damat İbrahim Pasha. The mosque is part of a complex of buildings which includes a medrese (theological college), a hospice and a library. An ablution fountain in the courtyard still bears its original inscription. The Nevşehir Museum displays local artifacts.Violent eruptions of the volcanoes mount Erciyes (3916 meters) and mount Hasan (3268 meters) long ago covered the plateau surrounding Nevşehir with Tufa, a soft stone comprised of lava, ash and mud. The wind and rain have eroded this brittle rock and created a spectacular surrealistic landscape of rock cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines, in colors that range from warm reds and golds to cool greens and greys. Locals call these fascinating capped pinnacles ‘’Peri bacaları’’ (fairy chimneys).Göreme National park, known in Roman times as Cappadocia, is one of those rare regions in the world where the works of man blend unobtrusively into the natural surroundings. Dwellings have been hewn from the rocks as far back as 3.000 B.C. During Byzantine times, chapels and monasteries were hollowed out of the rock, their ochre-toned frescoes reflecting the hues of the surrounding landscape. Even today cave dwellings in rock cones and village houses of volcanic tufa merge harmoniously into the landscape.
Ürgüp, a lively tourist center at the foot of a rock ridge riddled with old dwellings, serves as an excellent base from which to tour the sights of Cappadocia. In Ürgüp itself you can still see how people once lived in homes cut into the rock. If you wish to buy carpets and kilims, there is a wide selection available from the town’s many carpet dealers, who are as colorful as their carpets, offering tea, coffee or a glass of wine to their customers and engaging in friendly conversation. If sightseeing and shopping haven’t exhausted you, the disco welcomes you to yet another kind of entertainment. At the center of a succesful wine-producing region, Ürgüp hosts an annual International wine festival in October.
Leaving Ürgüp and heading south, you reach the lovely isolated Pancarlık valley where you can stop to see the 12th century church with its splendid frescoes and the Kepez church, which dates from the 10th century. Continue on to the typical village of Mustafapaşa (Sinasos), where traditional stone houses with carved and decorated façades evoke a former age. Travel on in a southerly direction, just past the village of Cemil, where a footpath on the west side of the road leads to Keşlik valley and you will find a monastery complex together with the churches called Kara and Meyvalı, both decorated with frescoes. Back on the main road you will find the village called Taşkın pasha where the 14th century Karamanid Mosque and Mausoleum complex and the remains of a medrese portal on the edge of the town make for a pleasant diversion. The next village is Şahin Efendi where the 12th century church called Kırkşehitler, adorned with beautiful frescoes, stands at the end of a footpath 500 meters east of the village.
Soğanlı Valley, 50 km south of Ürgüp, is picturesque with its innumerable chapels, churches, halls, houses and tombs. The frescoes, from the 8th to the 13th centuries, trace the development of Byzantine painting. Four kilometers north of Ürgüp is the wonderful Devrent valley, where the weather has eroded the stone into peaks, cones and obelisks which are called the fairy chimneys.
Two kilometers west, in the Çatalkaya valley, the fairy chimneys have a peculiar mushroom-like shape, which has been adopted as a symbol of the town.
The Göreme open air Museum, a monastic complex of rock churches and chapels covered with frescoes, is one of the best-known sites in central Turkey. Most of the chapels date from the 10th to the 13th centuries (the Byzantine and Selçuk periods) and many of them are built on an inscribed crossplan with a central cupola supported by four columns. In the north annexes of several churches are cut rock tombs. Among the most famous of the Göreme churches are the Elmalı Church, the smallest and most recent of the group, the Yılanli church with fascinating frescoes of the damned entwined in serpent coils, the Barbara Church and the Çarıklı Church. A short way from the main group, the Tokalı Kilise (Buckle Church), has beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the new testament.
The town of Göreme 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. For shoppers, rugs and kilims are plentiful.
Continuing on the road out of Göreme, you enter one of the most beautiful valleys in the area. Rock formations rise up before you at every turn and entice you to stop and wonder at their creation. For those who climb the steps to the top of the Uçhisar fortress the whole region unfolds below.
Rugs, kilims and popular souvenirs can easily be purchased from the shops which line Uçhisar’s narrow streets.
At Çavuşin, on the road leading north out of Göreme, you will find a triple-apse church and the monastery of St. John the Baptist. In the town are chapels and churches and some of the rock houses are still inhabited. From Çavuşin to Zelve, fairy chimneys line the road. Unfortunately, it is dangerous to visit the churches in the Zelve valley because erosion has undermined the floors.
The charming town of Avanos, on the banks of the Kızılırmak river, displays attractive local architecture and is known for its handicrafts. Every August the town hosts an art and tourism festival where a creative and friendly atmosphere pervades.
Pottery is the most popular handicraft and it is usually possible to try your hand at making a pot in one of the many studios. Rug weaving and knotting is also making a comeback. Leaving Avanos in a southerly direction you come to an interesting Selçuk Caravanserai, Sarıhan.
On the Nevşehir-Ürgüp road you can’t miss Ortahisar and its carved-rock fortress. The churches in the Balkan valley are some of the oldest in the Göreme region. In the neighbouring Hallaç valley, the Hallaç Monastery displays decorations from the 10th and the 11th centuries. North of Ortahisar, the Kızılçukur valley is breathtakingly beautiful, especially at sunset. In this valley is the 9th century Üzümlü Church.
The underground cities of Kaymaklı, Mazı, Derinkuyu, Tatların and Özkonak were all used by Christians of the seventh century, who were fleeing from persecution. They sheltered from the iconoclastic strife of Byzantium as well as other invasions in these safe and well-hidden complexes. These cities were a complete and self-sufficient environment, including rooms for grain storage, stables, sleeping chambers, kitchens and air shafts. Today they are well-lit and an essential and fascinating part of a Cappadocia tour.
West of Avanos, Gülşehir has Hittite rock inscriptions and nearby at Gökçetepe, there is a bas-relief of Zeus. South on the Nevşehir road is the 13th century church of St. John and farther along is Açıksaray, were the carved rocks hide churches and chapels.
West of Cappadocia over the mountains, lies Kayseri, known as Caesarea in Roman times. The city spreads out at the foot of the extinct volcano mount Erciyes (3916 meters).
In the winter months the ski center has excellent runs for downhill skiers and several pleasant hotels that cater particularly to them. Close to the Byzantine fortress is the 13th century Honat Hatun Mosque and the Huand Medrese (theological college) and also the Mahperi Hatun Mausoleum altogether forming the Huand complex, the first Selçuk complex in Anatolia. The Medrese is now an ethnography Museum. South of the complex, stands the beautifully decorated Döner Kümbet of 1276, a Selçuk Mausoleum of classic simplicity.
A major Selçuk city, Kayseri was an important center of learning and consequently, there are many medreses among the remaining historical buildings. Those interested in the Selçuk architecture should see the Çifte (Giyasiye and Sifahiye) Medrese, the first Selçuk school of anatomy, which is now the Gevher Nesibe Medical History Museum. Nearby is the lovely Sahabiye Medrese. Near the city’s bedesten (covered bazaar) is the restored 12th century Ulu Mosque. The Hacı Kılıç Mosque, north of the Çifte Medrese, dates from 1249. In the Cumhuriyet quarter , the 19th century Reşit Ağa mansion houses the Atatürk Museum which displays Atatürk’s personal belongings.
Most of the historical buildings in Aksaray, such as the Ulu Mosque, date from the 14th century. The Kızıl Minaret is noted for its attractive decorative brickwork.
Two of the most famous Caravanserais from the Selçuk period are in the area; 40km west of the city is the well preserved Sultanhan Caravanserai built by the Selçuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat and 15km towards Nevşehir is the Ağzıkarahan Caravanserai.
The Melendiz river at Ihlara valley, has eroded the banks into an impressive canyon. Byzantine rock chapels covered with frescoes pierce the canyon walls. Some of the best known are the Ağaçaltı (Daniel) church, the Yılanlı (Apocalypse) church.
Pick up from the hotel at sunrise. There are over 30 different departure points to ensure the most interesting flight path. Preparation of the equipment takes 20 minutes and the passengers are welcome to help or to take photographs as they wish. The flight time is between 1-1,5 hours and includes both low contour flying and also going high enough to see the landscape from above. After the landing and pack up of the balloon, an excellent local champagne and the flight certificates are offered before returning to the hotel for a late breakfast.
THE CENTRAL ANATOLIA REGION
This central region is now the heart of modern Turkey's political life and has been the centre of many significant societies and civilizations throughout history. The main cities in this region are Ankara, Çankırı, Eskişehir, Kayseri, Kırşehir, Konya, Nevşehir, Niğde, Sivas, Yozgat, Aksaray, Karaman and Kırıkkale.
Ankara, the modern-day capital, is located squarely in the middle of Central Anatolia and has been planned and developed for a contemporary society. The most visually impressive structure here is the Anıtkabir Mausoleum built for Atatürk, who founded the modern Republic of Turkey by winning the War for Independence and then made Ankara its capital. The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is among the best museums in the country and has exhibits from Anatolia dating from 50,000 BC to the 2nd century AD. In the surrounding areas, there are important settlements from early Anatolian civilizations. The Hittites migrated to the Anatolian plateau from the Caucus Mountains and set up the first kingdom in history to encompass the whole of Anatolia, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and from the Aegean Sea stretching to the east.
The capital of the Hittite Empire Hattushash, with massive walls and lots of temples, (now Boğazkale) and the second largest city Shapinuva are both located northeast of Ankara in the province of Çorum. Reliefs of all of the Hittite gods and goddesses can be seen in the open air temple in nearby Yazilikaya, which was an important pantheon of the Hittites. Alacahöyük is another important settlement and is known for the sphinxes which can be seen at the city gates.
Around the time of 1200 BC, the Phrygians came to the Anatolian Plateau from Europe and established their capital, Gordion, near Polatlı west of Ankara. Alexander the Great was supposed to have become the ruler of Asia by virtue of 'undoing' Gordion's knot with his sword. The tomb of the Phrygian King Midas, who according to legend turned everything he touched into gold, is located near Gordion. Near Eskişehir and Afyon there are a number of Phrygian cities and places of worship. South of the vast fertile Konya plane on the northern slopes of the Toros Mountains, Çatalhöyük is one of the world's oldest cities. Dating back to the Neolithic Era, it was an important cultural centre with many temples decorated with frescoes by city artisans. Konya and the surrounding regions would later be ruled during the Chalcolithic, Bronze, Hittite, Phrygian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras. It became the capital city of the Selçuk Empire in the 12th century and consequently experienced the most important Renaissance period of its long history. In the 13th century, Konya was completely transformed with Selçuk architecture.
The great Turkish philosopher Mevlana, who believed in human love and said that mystical unity with God could be reached by the Sema, a whirling dance to music performed by the dervishes, lived in Konya and established a following here. Every year in December, Konya holds a Mevlana Week which includes performances of the Sema. Mevlana is buried with his father Bahaeddin Veled in the Green Tomb (Yeşil Türbe), which has become the symbol of the city. The Dervish Lodge and the Mevlana Museum adjacent to the tomb are open to the public.
Southwest of Konya is the Beyşehir Lake, a relatively undiscovered paradise full of natural beauty and nearby is Kübad Abad, the summer home of the Selçuk rulers and a castle on Kızkalesi Island. The Eşrefoğlu Mosque and tomb in Beyşehir are important examples of the wooden architecture of the Selçuk. Northwest towards Akşehir is the home of Nasreddin Hoca, the famous 13th century folk philosopher whose brilliant wit, quick retorts and stories with subtle meanings is renowned far beyond the borders of Turkey. This much-loved icon died in 1284 and his tomb in Akşehir is the symbol of the city.
In the Eskişehir region, the great poet Yunus Emre is buried in the village named after him. He was considered to be an eminent pioneer of Turkish poetry, who used language, idioms and concepts of the ordinary man in an unpretentious fashion to convey divine justice, love and friendship. Many people pay respect to his work by visiting his grave.