Cappadocia Turkey: Underground Cities and Cave Churches
Posted On April 6, 2012
When I first learned about Cappadocia, I was up late watching a late night Sci Fi show on Ancient Alien God theory. The spokey of underground cities where 20,000 people could live in caves. The spoke cave cities of 13 levels deep and how for thousands of years these caves had lasted time. No one really knows how old these caves are… you can’t carbon date a cave. They think they are at least 1700-2000 years old. These caves helped save Christianity at a time where it was illegal and the Romans were looking to wipe it out! How do we know? There are hundreds of early 3rd and 4th century cathedrals built by these Christians. They went on to say there are 36 such cities that could support a hundreds of thousands of people…. underground! Some cities are connected by 9 KM tunnels. Only 10% of the caves had even been excavated. What!!? Seems to me like we’d learn more about ourselves and where we came from if we knew more about these caves. Why have I not heard of such an incredible place before? I immediately added it to my list. About 6 months later, when I was planning a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria I remembered these incredible stories and decided… I must go. I priced it out and for less than $200 I could visit this place. You can fly to within an hour of the place. I decided I needed to see how much of this was real. Much to my surprise, these crazy facts were real! I read as much as I could and gasped at the amazing pictures on any image search. I dare you to look. If you’re a world traveller, you’ll immediately add this to your list, and if not it will be a bucket list item. Don’t wait till you’re too old for this one. Remember there’s hiking and walking in caves. You don’t want to hurt your back.
How this destination of underground city supports a population larger than most civilizations at the time still boggles my mind. No way. Too incredible. Who wiped out these ancient people? Who were they, what did they believe? Was it an attempt to escape an alien overlord? Doesn’t matter. Despite whether you believe aliens built the multiple thousand year old tunnels or believe it was the Hittites an ancient civilization that’s no longer around, the mystery of these crazy tunnels and underground cities are no less of a wonder. There’s a lot you can read about Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in the world, less than 30 minute drive from Goreme. It’s only been available for tours since 1969. There are plenty of tours that take you on organized tours or you can rent a car and take it at your pace. The tunnels are excavated. I went 8 levels deep on my tour and there were at least 4 or 5 tunnels that went off into the dark, one such tunnel my guide explained went to the next city. In the underground city you’ll find a winery, church, animal stalls, wells, ancient phone system, ventilation shafts, and a morgue. I visited all of these places on my tour.
Travel Tip: I took the Green Tour. The green tour was the big loop which included Ihlara valley tour, at least one or two panorama stops, Derinkuyu, lunch at Belisirma, Selime monastery and Pigeon valley. It included the transport in a group van with driver and guide. A real guide. I used Hiro Tours, which did have a lot of Asians, funny to note. I paid 90 Turkish Lira, about $45 USD and saw tons of stuff that day. It was a full day tour that picked me up at my hotel and took me to an amazing overlook of the city. I started my day actually at 5:30AM! I woke up so I could start out on a balloon ride. A tip from my hotel guy, Mustafa was to try every day because the winds and weather are not always right. Don’t waste your time on the red tour. Wish I would have done that stuff myself on my time. Most of it was close to Goreme and while I do appreciate a guide at the Open Air Museum it is very rushed. 3 minutes in most of the ancient churches, and it is very crowded. I’d go in the afternoon after the tours have cleared out, and find someone who can tell you about each of the ancient churches and explain the artwork. Christian or not, they will do things to you. Dark church is an extra 8 Turkish Lira. It’s worth it. One of the best preserved and has had some restoration. There’s one across the street, another 8 Lira, and no time limit. We went back outside of the tour. Keep your tickets to the open air museum! Use it there and soak it up. That church was my touring friends favorite church of all. No pictures unfortunately.
It was an incredible experience. It still blows my mind to think I was crawling around these tunnels made for hundreds of thousands of humans, complete with animal stalls, that really could support life. When I was a kid I do remember thinking I was going to dig a cave that I could live in. I remember even seeing caves up in the mountains were I imagined bears would hibernate for the winter. I love caves.
Ancient Underground City–History Channel Clip
Not only could you visit this underground cave city, you could sleep in them. I started looking and most of the hotels in Goreme are in Caves!! How incredible? To the left is my hotel in Goreme. I flew into Kayseri, Turkey a round trip flight from Istanbul for about $130 plus taxes. The flight was about 1 hr 15 min.
Travel Tip: If you’re traveling to Cappadocia region of Turkey, you’ll either come in via bus by which there is a great system. It’s a LONG ride from Istanbul. The flight to Kayseri drops you into an airport with no support to book hotels or to book transport. The taxi’s are outrageous and there is no wearing them down. I tried for 15 minutes working my way. It is 45 minute drive to Goreme and they’ll charge you at least $45 or 90 Lira to take you to Goreme. The shuttle is 10 Euro if you book ahead. I personally wanted to tour the cave hotels to make my preference. I went off season, but do your research. There isn’t just one cave hotel. My cave hotel Tekka Guesthouse
I’d have lunch in caves, find toilet caves, and by the end of the week spent most of my time in caves. Yes it felt a bit Flintstones, but getting away from the reality of life didn’t mean you had to give up all of the ammenties. I had power, a queen bed, heat or A/C, and other things you’d expect. Some caves can get cold at night. For 40 Euro a night I had wifi and it included a Turkish breakfast of eggs, with bread and cheese and various fruits and jellies. Incredible vegetables, and for dinner get one of those great stewed pot meals unique to the area.
The event you need to make sure you prepare yourself for in your journeys to central Turkey and the cappadocia region is hot air ballooning. It was explained to me that there is “No Better Place on Earth” to go ballooning. After the experience I have to admit that is the case.
Compare these incredible canyons to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, or Zions, and where of these other canyons can you find a hot air balloon? You’re lucky if you can helicopter those canyons, but expect to pay out the nose for it. While it may seem expensive to pay 100 Euros or 130-160 euros for a bit more than an hour of flight time, I have to admit if you did the flight path we did, you’d feel very satisfied with the wonder of flying over the fairy chimneys, many different canyons and over the tops of grape vineyards, farms, pumice quarries. Our pilot Mike, a British balloon pilot had 20 years of experience with Butterfly Balloons. My hotel was organized my ride, for 130 euros, 30 off the normal walk in price. According to my guide you could get cheaper rides that were shorter where you’d essentially go up and down, they’d try to fit a couple of flights in during sunrise. I was up for the ride, and our crew drove nearly 15 miles outside the city and past the prison to catch the 12 mile an hour winds. Our pilot flew us across the valley along side another balloon. They stayed in contact as we cruised the valleys and meandered the canyons. I’ve ballooned in Luxor Egypt, another place I highly recommend ballooning, and I’ve flown helicopters above the Hoover Dam and I have to say, this flight was the best. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the natural formations and watching the sunrise. I felt like I was in good hands throughout the flight. I have never heard of actually landing a balloon right on the trailer and that’s what we did. He bought us down and the crew safely walked us over to the trailer and set us down. Incredible. We didn’t get the nice little dance they do in Egypt, but the captain did crack open the Champaign and pomegranate juice.
Hot-air ballooning is very popular in Cappadocia and is available in Goreme. Trekking is enjoyed in Ihlara Valley, Monestry Valley, Urgup, and Goreme. In the four days I was in Goreme I was able to fit in the hike through the Ihlara valley and visit 4th and 5th century Christian churches carved into the canyon walls. Ancient paintings still exist on the walls, many of them in incredible frescoes from the 10th and 11th century’s with some of them dating back much earlier.
The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars. People of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out houses, churches, and monasteries from the soft rocks of volcanic deposits. Göreme became a monastic center in 300—1200 AD. There is so much to see there. The open air museum includes half a dozen ancient churches with rich paintings, and the monestaries up in the canyons. Don’t miss the Apple church, Snake Church, Dark Church, and the one across the street. Those are by far my favorite. In the Ilhara valley you may only see one of the churches, but if you want you can take it at your own pace and go in as many as you want. I worked it out with our guide and ran ahead and was about to see four different churches. Was amazing to see them alone with no one around looking at incredible works with no one around, that marvel the best of what I’ve seen elsewhere exposed to the elements.
Growing up I was always fascinated to think of what might be living in a cave way up a canyon wall. In this reality, not only would you find a big cave, you’d find frescos, ovens, and incredible artwork and thousand year old history. I’m still blown away by the not only hundreds but thousands of caves, and more being found today. Over 36 underground cave cities are known today. In the city of Goreme there are more cave hotels than there are hotels that are not in caves. I highly, highly recommend it. There’s something so otherworldly about the whole experience. There’s just so much to explore in cliffs, canyons, and even in the cities. I would be amazed at how much our guide would down play there being anything significant to find, and we’d come upon churches and monasteries like the one below. We’d find out it was from early Christianity, and older than not only any other church I’d been in, but that includes churches in Jerusalem, and cities all over the middle east. As a Christian myself I found it again incredible to strengthen my faith by soaking up the messages of redemption through Christ, and seeing baptismal fonts from the 4th century (Apple Church) used for immersion was just plain cool.