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Cappadocia Caves - The Dawn of a New Era

By Edited May 29, 2014 3 3

Part 2

The Seljuk Empire

Cappadocian Caravanserai

After conquering Iran and Mesopotamia, the Seljuk Turks advanced to Anatolia in 1071. The Byzantine Empire was weakening and the Seljuks defeated the Byzantine emperor. By 1080, an Anatolian Seljuk State was founded, with Konya being made the capital. Kayseri was captured and the Seljuks made major inroads throughout Anatolia, even reaching the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Along the way, they met resistance not only from the Byzantines but also from the Crusaders who were on their way to the Holy land. 

Even though the Seljuk Empire only lasted two centuries, they laid the foundation for the future of Ottoman art and culture. They built caravanserais (roadside inns), madrasas (schools), tombs and mosques that had the stamp of their nomadic culture in the architecture. 

Seljuk rule brought about the dawn of a new era for Cappadocia and Anatolia. While Anatolia had in the past been an important territory for the Christians, it began to slowly join North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe as an important region under Islam. Some of the Anatolian Christians converted to Islam at this time, but most Greek Byzantines moved to the Greek stronghold of Ionia on the western coast, while many Cappadocian Christians still lived in peace here. Until the Ottomans invaded, parts of Anatolia were briefly occupied by Mongols and the Karamanids.


The Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire

By the mid-15th century, Seljuk soldiers from the vast Ottoman Empire entered Anatolia to consolidate their empire. The last stronghold of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was captured and they converted young Christians to Islam before recruiting them into their army. The remaining Christians were treated with tolerance.

The Ottomans had great wealth and power and were made up of two groups – the original Turkish Muslims and the new converts. The decline of Ottoman rule started when these two groups started to fight for control of the crown. They managed to last for the next three centuries, and Nevsehir became an important city by the early 18th century and was made the capital of Cappadocia.

Under the Ottomans, many Cappadocians adopted a Turkish dialect that was written in the Greek alphabet. Those who lived in the few Greek dominated areas surrounding Kayseri still spoke Greek, but with a heavy Turkish influence. This was called Cappadocian Greek.

The Europeans had gained a strong foothold in parts of Northern Africa, further weakening the Ottomans. Cappadocia soon lost its importance in Anatolia and was only re-examined in 1907 by a French priest. The region joined the rest of Anatolia when it became the Republic of Turkey after the First World War. At this time, there was an exchange in citizens of Greece and Turkey, with people returning to their native countries. There are a handful of people in Greece today who still speak Cappadocian Greek.

As the Greeks left Turkey, the Cappadocian cave churches were abandoned and local children ran amok, vandalizing them and the frescoes. It was not until much later that the Turkish government started to make an effort to preserve the region’s historical importance.


Cappadocia’s Early Tourists

Tourism in Cappadocia really started in the early 18th century when Europeans started to take notice of the region. In 1704, King Louis XIV of France sent a man named Paul Lucas to explore. Lucas reported that he saw strange houses in pyramid form that had doors, windows and stairs. Not knowing that the fairy chimneys were man made, he used his imagination to describe them as “monks with hoods” and busts of animals and people. He visited again 15 years later and decided that the area around Caesarea was a graveyard. Upon hearing Lucas’ stories, Europeans were both intrigued and suspicious.

The next European visitor of note was a man named C. Textier. He travelled to Cappadocia in 1833 and spent four years there, waxing lyrical about the landscape. Englishman Ainsworth visited in the 19th century and compared the formations to the ruins of a great ancient city, and also said that they depicted several animal forms.

It was only late in the 19th century that geologists and scientists began to explore and write about Cappadocia, with the French explorer and priest, G. De Jerphanion, examining the churches, monasteries and frescoes in detail.


Tourism Today

Go Ballooning over Cappadocia, Turkey
These days, Cappadocia is gaining ground as a tourist hotspot in Turkey, and the cave churches in Goreme have become part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Excavations continue, as the region’s underground cities and churches are numerous, with something new being unearthed every year. In addition to tourists exploring the Cappadocia caves, they also take to the skies in hot air balloons to marvel at the stunning landscape filled with fairy chimneys. Cappadocian wines are starting to make their presence felt, and international artists are discovering the draw too. A Cappadocia tour could also include other outdoor activities like trekking, mountain biking, caravanning and camping. To complete the experience, a stay in a cave hotel is popular.

Many of those that travel to Turkey concentrate only on Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), but that is a huge mistake. Including Cappadocia in your travel itinerary will give you the entire picture of the country’s history, while also providing you with truly breathtaking photo opportunities.


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Turkey
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Rock Formations of Cappadocia

To read about Cappadocia's history before the rise of Islam, go to Part 1...


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 9:35am
Than k you for the exotic travel tips. Thumbs up!
Nov 10, 2012 4:49pm
Great piece and as a history buff I am compelled to give you 2 BIG thumbs
Apr 2, 2014 7:08pm
Wow. I didn't know Cappadocia was a tourist destination that early in history. Wonderful!
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