Didem Doğan

Cappadocia, villages, churches and monasteries

Cappadocia has been the land of many civilisations from antiquity to today. History books tell us around 3000 B.C. Assyrians lived here, then the Hittites came around 1750, following them Phrygians and Lydians, then Persians, Macedonians and the Pontus Kingdom ruled these lands. Around the first century it was already under the rule of Roman Empire. Many churches that were built around eleventh century have Greek words on it. When the Turks arrive around the thirteenth century the names of the places were changed. Matiana became Avcılar, Korama became Göreme, Prokopion became Urgup. Today, when we talk of Cappadocia we talk of hundreds of different villages and valleys, a vast area of natural and historical heritage.

When it comes to the origin of Cappadocia’s name, it is believed the Persian word Katpatuka, meaning the land of beautiful horses, turned into Cappadocia by time. Another hypothesis is that, Kapadox, which was one of the branch of Kızılırmak River, was given to name the people who used to live by this river.

Cappadocia has a different atmosphere of tranquility that does not remind you of wars or power struggles. It must be due to its monasteries and churches built by the first saints of Christianity around the third and fourth centuries here in this moon like place. From the cave monasteries to underground cities it has been a place of isolation and solitude, a perfect place to ponder on the purpose of life and stay away from the crowds.

Long before the time of the tourist crowds, these lands were widely inhabitant and maybe unknown in the West, until some adventurer voyageurs of the eighteenth century from Europe talked about a place where they saw pyramid shaped cave houses and churches carved into caves. One of them was the French voyageur Paul Lucas who visited in eighteenth century, another one is Charles Texier who came in nineteenth century.

Cappadocia’s cave churches and monasteries give us many clues to the foundations of Christianity. Three saints Aziz Vasilios, his brother Grigorios and his friend Gregory from Naziansus, who were born in Kayseri and lived in Cappadocia around 330 A.C have an important role in founding the monastery life. St Vasilios is named as Great Vasilios due to his contribution to Christian theology, his investigations of pagan rituals and adaptation of these to Christian practice, his writings on the Sacred Soul and the trinity made him an important philosopher of Christian theology.

Goreme and Zelve are two open air museums in Cappadocia where the cave monasteries and churches can be found. As you enter Goreme open air museum you will find a valley in half moon shape made of several caves where churches, kitchens, food halls were built. The churches are named by the details you will find inside them and the stories of early Christianity can be found at the wall paintings: The Church with Snake, the Sea Barbara Church, the Church of Apple, the Dark Church at the top (you will find the well preserved wall paintings inside and so it’s worth to pay the extra fee and go inside). Zelve, which is another open air museum, is a big valley and requires a more difficult walk. Being less visited I found it more delightful and enjoyed the views from the both sides of the valley. The valley of Pasabaglari, which is closed to Zelve, is also a must see place in Cappadocia.