Cappadocia and the Underground Cities

Added on by Alex Koehne.

As a follow up to my post about underground photography I thought I'd find some pictures I never posted of Cappadocia, Turkey. Some of these are already up in the Turkey gallery in the photography section of this site, but most are not. I wanted to wait to post them until I could add some text and information to them. It's such a remarkable place, it's really worth it to learn about what you're seeing. 

This is just outside the city of Goreme which is in the central region of Turkey known as Cappadocia. I have no idea why a science fiction or fantasy film hasn't been shot here yet - the terrain is truly otherworldly and magnificent. You can see all the colors that are stratified in the layers of rock along the mountain range and the unique shapes that the weather has worn in them.

But that's not the only distinguishing characteristic of this place. You see, the rock is not only colorful, but it is soft, relatively speaking. Apparently, glaciers that moved over this land many millennia ago, deposited large bolders along the way. These bolders protected the rock underneath from the elements. As rain eroded the rock, these "ferry chimneys" were left behind.

 Because the rocks were soft, early settlers in the area found that they could carve into them.

Soon there were homes, meeting spaces and churches carved into the rock.

This is a dinner table with benches:

And here is a religeous space:

You can see the elaborate carvings in the ceiling that has stood the test of time. But these carving are nothing compared to the amazing carvings and paintings that survived in some of the deeper complexes.

However, this was not just a clever use of the environment and resources at their disposal. These early Christian tribes were persecuted and uses the rock walls as defense as well as to hide within.

At the height of their persecution, the surface level dwellings no longer sufficed. The windows were visible and exposed and people still had to move outdoors to get from one "building" to another. To step it up... or down, I suppose, they dug in deep and created entire underground cities full of tunnels, shafts, airducts, food storage spaces, churches, meeting halls and living spaces.

To enter, you had to sneak past an old man and his dog and enter a crack in the wall of his work shed. Oh wait, that's Fraggle Rock. It kinda looks like Fraggle Rock though, doesn't it?

What you actually had to do was go through a single, discrete hole in the ground and decend steep steps carved into the rock.

At the bottom of the steps was a giant, rolling stone door that was smooth on the outside and thus could only be opened or closed from within.

It's like something out of Indiana Jones! Once inside, there are is a complex number of tunnels, floors and rooms.

And, this wasn't just a few feet underground. These cities dropped down many stories. Shafts were carved in that had small, hard to see openings on the surface but allowed airflow to come in, smoke to go out and a small amount of light to breech the lower levers. If you lean into one of the shafts and down, you see this:

That's deep! And from this vantage point, I am already several levels down. If you look up the shaft, you see this:

This is not a place for the faint of heart or for anyone suffering from even the slightest claustrophobia.

Up top, it was freezing cold and snowing hard. But down in the city, it was nice and cozy as we explored around on our own. This would be a bad place to get lost - but clearly, we didn't. At least not too bad.

Now a days, the underground cities are museums and are uninhabited. However, many of the ferry chimneys and other rock dwellings are not only inhabited but have families that have lived in them for generations. Some have additions built onto them and there are even several that you can stay in if you go and visit.


It is an incredible place and if you are ever in that part of the world, I highly recommend you go and explore the area! We only had a few days there but I would love to go back and spend more time hiking through the valleys, climbing up into the cliff dwellings and exploring this remarkable and little know place.