I have just been watching a film partly set in a place called Cappadocia, so bizarre looking, it could have been a man-made film set, and I was intrigued enough to look it up. I had never heard of it, though the photographs I found were familiar, huge rock formations pointing skyward, surrounded by a flotilla of hot-air balloons, which they say is the best way to get an overall picture of the area.

People have been living – and some are still - either underground or in caves for literally centuries in this place, and there are a number of reasons for this, but the point is that the way people have lived and survived in Cappadocia is just as remarkable as its terrain.

Stone Age Settlements

Cappadocia has been home to many civilizations since the Stone Age. Taking advantage of the extraordinary terrain, many rock-cut settlements, houses, monasteries, churches, chapels, and underground cities were built.

This extraordinary place lies in the eastern part of the Central Anatolia Region in the middle of Turkey, around 30 kilometers from the closest airport Nevşehir, and a 3-hour drive from Ankara. With a population of an estimated 575, this is a not exactly a city as such, but is a large region touching 5 Turkish provinces, made up of small settlements spread out around the hills and valleys that make the region so beautiful.

Fairy Chimneys

The area is famous for its so-called ‘Fairy Chimneys’, a great name for a geological process that started millions of years ago, that gave rise to the rock formations that have made Cappadocia one of the most well-known tourist sites in the world. The area was covered in a thick layer of ash from ancient volcanic eruptions, which later hardened into a soft rock known as ‘tuff’. These fairy chimneys are still visible today, reaching up to 40m into the sky, and were formed by the natural forces of wind, water, and erosion, and caves were easily dug.

What is known is that they were used by the early Christians to escape the persecution and invasion of the Romans, and later from invading Arab civilizations. The stone in Cappadocia is relatively easy to carve - it's soft but hardens once it touches the air, making it ideal for exactly this type of settlement. All these were built in an invisible way to conceal the people living here during the various periods and became the living space for thousands of people in hiding.

Credits: envato elements;

Derinkuyu caught my attention as a ‘must-see’ for someone’s bucket list - it’s an ancient multi-level underground city originally used as a refuge, extending to a depth of around 85 metres, and was apparently large enough to have sheltered as many as 20,000 people together with their livestock and food stores. It was so vast that individual tunnels could be blocked by rolling huge stones across from within, making the narrow tunnels dangerous for invading enemies to enter single file. This underground city is 11 levels deep, has 600 entrances and miles and miles of tunnels connecting it with the 40 other underground cities, and is the largest excavated underground city in Turkey.

Hot Air Balloon Trips

These have proven to be a great way to see the whole area, with early mornings being the best time to fly when the temperatures are cooler and the air is still, and there are many booking sites that can offer this viewing sensation. Over 300 balloons might be seen, a remarkable sight in itself, offering passengers unforgettable views of the rugged rock formations, chimneys, and vast plains and their pastel-coloured natural structures.

Some hotels offer a stay in a cave for adventurous travellers, but I think all mod-cons are available in this day and age! It almost seems a shame that tourism might be taking over the real feeling of what life was like, but as temperatures soar beyond a stifling summer heat of 35°C in Nevşehir, visitors can explore the subterranean labyrinths in the cool - a historical journey that can fire up one’s imagination.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan