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Cappadocia Caves - History Underground

By Edited Sep 9, 2015 7 12


Part 1

 If there’s one region in Eastern Europe that is brimming with a rich history and an enchanting landscape, it is Cappadocia, Turkey. Most Turkish tours include this region in the itinerary and Cappadocia tours feature underground cities, churches and fairy chimneys whose history goes back to prehistoric times. Visitors to the Cappadocia caves are always enthralled by the mysteries of past civilizations that made their homes here.  


Rock Formations of Cappadocia



Where is Cappadocia Located?



Map of Ancient Turkey or Anatolia


Cappadocia, now informally called Kapadokya, is actually an ancient name given to the large fertile region in central and eastern Anatolia or Asia Minor, which is now modern day Turkey.  Although we now refer to it as a much smaller region dominated by the towns of Goreme and Urgup in the Nevsehir province, its historical significance comes from a much larger area bordered by the Euphrates in the east, the Taurus mountains in the south, the Kizilirmak River in the west, and the Black Sea in the north. In addition to Nevsehir, the provinces included in ancient Cappadocia were Aksaray, Nigde, Kayseri, Konya and Ankara.  

The unique landscape on this high plateau is dotted with volcanic peaks that erupted millions of years ago, with the lava and erosion creating the famous natural fairy chimney formations. The soft rock made it ideal for Cappadocians to carve out cave homes and churches. The Goreme National Park[1] is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the open air museum being the most visited site in Cappadocia.

But who were the ancient Cappadocians and what is their legacy? The Bible’s New Testament mentions Cappadocia as an important Roman province and it was once strategically located on the Silk Route during the Ottoman rule, making it a melting pot of cultures and a target of many invaders. However, the rise of the region began much before these eras.


Prehistoric Times and the Early Bronze Age

Ongoing excavations in Asikli Hoyuk and Kosk Hoyuk have unearthed dense and surprisingly large brick settlements from the Aceramic Neolithic Period between 5900 and 3200 BC. Baked figurines, stone and bone tools, and ornaments made from different kinds of stones were all found on mounds in these towns. Evidence of the first form of brain surgery in the world was found here on the skeleton of a woman in her twenties.

The Assyrian civilization[2] made its way here during the Early Bronze Age, around 1960 BC, to carry out extensive trade and they introduced writing in the cuneiform script for the first time. Clay tablets from this era show a form of writing that tells of business and marriage contracts, taxes, interest rates and other similar things. The use of metals in Anatolia was prolific, with Cappadocia trading its gold, silver and copper for tin (the basis of bronze) and other metals. Textiles and perfumes were also major trading goods. As the Assyrians and Anatolians coexisted peacefully, a mix in their religious beliefs and cultures gave rise to the origins of the art of the later Hittite period.

During Assyrian rule, several administrative and trading centers or “karums” were established. Each center existed independently from central authority, and this form of government extended to the Hittite rule.


The Hittite Empire

Around 2000 BC, a tribe of Indo-Europeans came to Anatolia and settled among the existing natives while also expanding towards Syria. These Hittites became powerful opponents to the Egyptians, but eventually signed a peace treaty with them. By this time, the region became an important hub for trade.

While Hattusa was made the capital of the region, each small kingdom was ruled independently, which gave rise to some kingdoms wanting to break away completely from the empire. This weakened the Hittites and caused their eventual defeat to the Phrygians from the Balkan Mountains in 1200 BC. This was around the same time that north western Anatolia, which was under Trojan control at the time, was captured by the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Soon after Central Anatolia towns were destroyed, new Late Hittite kingdoms began to spring up closer to the south east and Cappadocia. The Late Hittite kingdom that rose here was called Tabal[3], and extended over Nevsehir, Kayseri and Nigde. Hittite hieroglyphics can be found on rocks in the region.


Greek Settlements and Persian Rule

The Greeks ruled the western region of Anatolia for a long time after the fall of the Hittites. The king of Lydia, which was one of the Greek settlements, ruled over most of Anatolia and introduced the use of the first coins in the region.

It was in 546 BC that the Persians invaded Anatolia and established themselves over most of Anatolia, thereby starting a period of unrest between themselves and the Greeks. It was at this time that the name “Katpatuka”[3] or “Land of the Well Bred Horses” was given to the region because of the wild horses found here. It was divided into sub-autonomous regions and governed by “satrabs”.

During his march towards the Persian dominated lands in the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great[4] laid claim to Cappadocia and put Macedonian satraps in charge of it for 20 years. His reign, however, was marked by power struggles between the ruling governors and the Anatolians, which eventually led to Ariarthes I, a Persian aristocrat, being made king. He extended the borders of Cappadocia to the Black Sea and his land saw relative peace till the death of Alexander. The period after that was characterized by conflict as Cappadocia fought many battles as an independent kingdom until it became a Roman province in 17 AD.


Roman Rule

Once the Emperor Tiberius conquered Cappadocia, he made Caesarea (modern day Kayseri)[5] the capital and had the road leading west reconstructed, which brought about a commercial and military resurgence of the area. The Roman legions soon had to defend the capital against Arab attackers from Iran, leading to the construction of the city’s walls.

Roman rule continued till the end of the 3rd century, but Anatolia then came under Eastern Roman rule after the partition of the Roman Empire. Constantine the Great made Byzantium the capital of this new empire, and the western line of rulers came to an end in 476. The new empire later came to be known as the Byzantine Empire, and Byzantium was renamed to Constantinople(modern day Istanbul).


Byzantine Era

Cappadocia Cave Church
It was around this time that a few early Christians of Kayseri began seeking refuge[5] from Roman persecutors and discovered the rocky landscape of Goreme. Constantine converted to Christianity and Christians built homes and monasteries in the underground caves of Cappadocia. The Cappadocians and Byzantines also built a complex network of military defenses and underground cities to protect themselves during the invasion and six year rule of the Sassanid Empire in the 7th century.

Between the 8th and 9th century, religious debates grew stronger as Islamic influences began to creep in. While Cappadocian monks favored religious icons, the growth of Iconoclasm led to public displays of religious images and symbols being banned in other parts of Anatolia. This again led to those favoring icons to take refuge in the Cappadocian caves. It was at the end of the Iconoclast period and up to the 11th century that most of the area’s churches and frescoes were built and created. This is considered Anatolia’s literary and artistic renaissance, with the orthodox Roman church separating from Roman Catholism.


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Cappadocian Caravanserai

 Continue reading the fascinating story of Cappadocia in Part 2...


Baptism of Christ - Fresco in a Cappadocia Church in Goreme

To read more about Cappadocia's underground cities, churches and fairy chimneys, go to Part 3...



Nov 2, 2012 9:33am
Thank you for this very interesting information. Thumbs up!
Dec 6, 2012 9:16am
EXCELLENT!!! Great images, and good work on introducing this archaeological site to the uninitiated (such as myself). BIG thumb's up, Tweet, and a +1! And congrats on the front page!
Dec 6, 2012 9:32am
Thanks Vic! If you'd like to take a look, I've continued this series in 2 others articles - its history from the rise of Islam and a look at the history of its natural and man made sites. Turkey is on our bucket list, hopefully sometime in the next 5 years.
Dec 28, 2012 9:50am
Great article. Fascinating info. Thanks for putting this together!
Dec 28, 2012 10:28am
Thanks for visiting!
Feb 20, 2013 10:09pm
I really enjoyed visiting Capodocia in Turkey. One of the most unique areas in the world and well worth seeing or at least reading about. Enjoyed this article.
Feb 20, 2013 10:24pm
I really think it's one of those locations that doesn't get enough exposure considering how much it has to offer. Thanks for reading!
Mar 7, 2013 11:31pm
Great Post! I am going to share it with my friends. Thanks
Mar 7, 2013 11:53pm
Appreciate that and thanks for reading!
Apr 5, 2013 7:41pm
Great article. I've added it to my bucket list!
Jan 1, 2014 11:22pm
Thanks for filling in on the history of this area. We had a great visit and enjoyed the monastery and caves as well as the underground place of refuge. They showed us a place where they used to make wine underground in stone vats. I am not too sure what they did for sanitation!
Apr 2, 2014 7:06pm
Valuable information! A great read before my trip to Cappadocia :)
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  1. "Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia." World Heritage List - UNESCO. 8/04/2013 <Web >
  2. "Cappadocia." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 8/04/2013 <Web >
  3. Jona Lendering "Cappadocia - Livius." Livius. 8/04/2013 <Web >
  4. "Cappadocia - Province of the Roman Empire." UNRV - Ancient Roman Empire History. 8/04/2013 <Web >
  5. Jona Lendering "Cappadocia 3 - Livius." Livius. 8/04/2013 <Web >

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