01 Apr Cappadocia
Cappadocia (in turkish: Kapadokya) is an incredible region of the Central Anatolia, whose geological wonders span in a triangular zone between Kayseri, Nigde and Kirsehir, or more specifically, the area from Avanos to Ürgüp and Nevsehir, with an enchanted, unique landscape in the world.
The aridity of its climate limits agricultural activities to cereals and fruit’s crops, and its vast prairies are ideal for raising horses, sheep and minor cattle. The mining has been another important economic sector and its main extractions include silver, copper, onyx and salt.
The name “Cappadocia” is derived, according to some interpretations, from the word Katpadukya or “Land of beautiful horses”, famous animals in the region for serving as a gift to the Assyrian and Persian kings. A Bible passage seems to confirm this trend, calling “Cappadocians” to the inhabitants of the area.
Geological formations, the natural look
The strange and beautiful geological formations of Cappadocia dated back from millions of years. When the volcanoes of the region were active, the lava ejected covered hills and valleys to form a high plateau, composed mainly of tuff and some anomalous basalt layers. Here began the process of transformation in the unique landscape of Cappadocia, with the destruction of these layers as a result of erosion (by heavy rain and snow melting in spring) and abrupt temperature changes, a process that has been kept going for thousands of years and is still active today. In general, the wind has a circular effect on the landscape, while the rivers and the rain has horizontal and vertical influences, respectively.
In comparison with the tuff, basalt layers have been less affected by erosion and served as a protective cover. This juxtaposition of different materials has produced capped columns, pyramids and conical formations with a sort of darker lids or caps, known as peribacalari, or “fairy chimneys”. While the surrounding tuff wear through, one block of hard, resistant to erosion rock stands up for himself and culminates forming the top of a large cone. A fairy chimney exists until the neck of the cone is eroded and its lid or cap falls.
History of Cappadocia
Between the years 5000 and 4000 B.C., existed in the region several independent and isolated principalities. However, the first historical records dated from the early XIX century B.C., when ancient Assyrian traders settled there and formed trading colonies, for swaps and exchanges.
From 1750 to 1200 B.C., Cappadocia became the “Low Country” of the Hittite kingdom, as an important commercial area of the famous Silk Road. Later, with the Persian invasion, Cappadocia was made a satrapy, in the middle of the Royal Road from Susa to Sardis. But after the fall of Darius’s Empire and the empowerment of Alexander the Great, the ancient Persian province managed to avoid submission to the new Emperor of Macedonia, and finally ends in the hands of the local Ariarathes dynasty, whose descendants would become allies of Rome.
Thus, in the year 17 A.D., Cappadocia became part of the Roman Empire, under the aegis of Emperor Trajan, who militarized the area and built new fortress. With the establishment of the new Byzantine Empire, Christianity was inserted in the region and built the first churches, carved into the rocks.
But with the arrival of the Seljuks, ancestors of the Western Turks who finally took the region, the monasteries were abandoned and occupied by locals. Part of the Christians continued to live here until the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. It was in that year that was established the Republic of Turkey, ending the domination of more than four centuries of the Ottoman Empire.
The religious aspect
Christianity came early to Cappadocia. St. Paul passed through Caesarea (Kayseri today) on his way to Ankyra (Ankara). In the fourth century A.D., the region contributed three new saints: St. Basil the Great of Caesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen. St. Basil the Great was the son of godly parents and received his education in Constantinople and Athens, but gave up her promising career to become a monk. Impressed by the ascetic life, was established as a hermit in Cappadocia, accompanied by Gregory Nazianzen. From there Basil defended the Christian faith in the churches of Anatolia, who had suffered divisions because of the Arian controversy. In 370, Basil replaced Eusebius in the office of bishop and with his incredible organizational skills, he established hospitals, encouraged monastic life and reformed liturgy. His leadership had been a pillar of Eastern monasticism, and the play “The Liturgy of St. Basil”, probably compiled by him, but later revised and edited, is still used some Sundays in the Orthodox churches.
Anchorites from the Early Church, who were seeking refuge from the distractions of the world in wild and remote places, chose Cappadocia to develop his monastic life, dedicated to prayer, penance and fasting, often in artificial or natural caves. The martyrdom was the ultimate goal of a devout Christian. But once Christianity was accepted as an official religion by Constantine the Great, in 330, the martyrdom days came to an end but a peaceful and safe life didn’t seemed to satisfy those believers. The geography of Cappadocia then showed as a very suitable for people who preferred an ascetic existence.
Between the seventh and eighth centuries, when Arab invasions began in Anatolia, Christian monastic communities were urged to hide and dig shelters in the rock and earth. Over time, these lodges became great and safe underground cities.
Churches in Cappadocia
In Cappadocia there is an estimated of 600 churches carved into the rocks, conceived by its creators as replicas of the capital’s. The walls were covered with beautiful frescoes, also influenced by the so-called iconoclastic period, between the VIII and XIX centuries.
To create these frescoes, mostly belonging to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, two different techniques were used: painted directly on the rock, or in a very thin layer of plaster. In churches that plaster were not used, the paintings became widespread, with the characteristic of ocher red as the predominant color.
In many pictures you would realize that eyes and faces of the characters are rubbed off, because in the Islamic period it was believed that this action could kill the painted subject. There are also vandal scratches and carvings of initials, which today is strictly prohibited. The visitors should be aware that the use of flash cameras inside churches is not allowed.
The simplest church had a single, rectangular, vaulted nave, with an apse covered by a projection arc. There are many variations of the churches, some of them even with a triple apse and dome, cross planned. As the churches were carved into the rock, they don’t need to rely on columns, so columns and vaults are rather symbolic structures. The names of the churches are based on their style or decoration, for example, The Sandal and The Buckle Church. The apses of the churches tuck in different directions, as they are carved in accordance with the natural formations and the availability of suitable rock pieces. In most churches there are graves wells, probably from donors or dignitaries of the Church, according to tradition.