Cappadocia: Creation of its Natural Wonders and History of the Region

Cappadocia: Creation of its Natural Wonders and History of the Region:

The geological formations of Cappadocia came about as a result of two contradicting natural forces that started millions of years ago. The first was the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan, which covered the plateau surrounding Nevsehir with tufa, a soft stone comprised of lava, ash, and mud. The second was the territorial erosion that started after the build-up was over. The erosion was caused by the wind, the rivers, the rain, and sharp temperature changes in the region, which caused splits in the rocks. Rainwater filled up crevasses on the surface of the plateau and gave birth to streams and rivers, which carried away the volcanic residue and eroded earth and which sometimes created separate hills. The result of the tufa build-up and of its subsequent erosion is a surrealistic landscape of fretted ravines, rock cones, and capped pinnacles (or fairy chimneys), in colors ranging from warm reds and golds to cooler shades of green and gray.

Dwellings have been carved into the rocks as far back as 4000 BC, and churches and monasteries were hewn from the rocks during Byzantine and Seljuk times. Cappadocia is one of the rare regions in the world where the works of man blend unobtrusively and harmoniously into the natural surroundings.

Cappadocia harbors innumerable tumuli and antique cities, witnesses to civilizations that stretch back thousands of years. The oldest scenic painting of the world is a wall fresco found in Cappadocia. It dates back to 6200 BC and shows the houses of a city in front of an erupting volcano.

Anatolia entered her gold age around 2000 BC with the trade colonies of the Assyrians and the ascension of the Hittite Empire. After the downfall of the Empire around the 12th century BC, the succession of different dynasties began: Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans. Cappadocia witnessed an immense population growth during the early Christian era, and thousands of churches and monasteries were built. The invading Persians from the east and the Arabs from the south devastated the region in the 7th century AD. Monasteries had to be constructed in hidden valleys and away from the main roads. Underground cities were built.

After the Arab invasions and Iconoclastic crisis – which banned imagery (726-843 AD) – were over, hundreds of new churches were built in Cappadocia, and were very freely decorated with pictures as a reaction to the Iconoclastic Period. The 11th century saw the golden age of the region, but was also a time of wars and political tumult between the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantine Empire, and the Crusaders. The Byzantinians were defeated in 1071, but it is thought that the Muslim Seljuks were tolerant of the Christian population and allowed them to practice their religion freely. The churches of Cappadocia show the consecutive stages of Byzantine architecture, painting, and iconography from the beginning to the end and deliver clues as to the beliefs and traditions of the times. The most outstanding monuments of the Seljuk period are the caravanserais, which offered food, shelter, and medical services to traveling merchants. The complexes often had mosques, baths, hospitals, and even stud farms.

In order to read more about the World Heritage site of Cappadocia – the Goreme National Park and Rock Sites – please go to the UNESCO sites section under the Turkish flag.