Located in east-central Anatolia, southeast to the capital city of Ankara, the moonscape region of Cappadocia in Turkey is famous for unique geological features called fairy chimneys. Situated on the rugged plateau north of the Taurus Mountains, Cappadocia with its geological oddity of honeycombed hills and towering boulders of otherworldly beauty seems to be plucked from a whimsical fairytale. Ancient settlers had dug into its huge cone-like mountain formations, created over time by the erosion of the relatively soft volcanic ash around them, to create their dwellings, even entire underground cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, which were used by the early Christians as their hiding places.
Apart from that, the rock-cut churches and underground tunnel complexes from as early as the Byzantine era are also scattered throughout the region. With its weird landscape of magical beauty, Cappadocia is famous for its fairytale scenery, cone-shaped rock formation, cave dwellings and the hundreds of hot air balloons that soar in the sky during sunrise each morning.
The earliest appearance of the name of Cappadocia dates from the 6th century BC, when Cappadocia’s feudal nobility was dominated by a Persian satrapy or provincial governor and Zoroastrian temple cults were widespread. However, the discovery of Neolithic pottery and tools in Cappadocia evidences an early human presence in the region and excavations at the modern town of Kultepe have uncovered the remains of the Hittite-Assyrian city of Kanesh, dating from the 3rd millennium BC.
It is now generally agreed that in the Late Bronze Age, Cappadocia was known as Hatti, the homeland of the Hittite power centred at Hattysa. It continued till the fall of the Hittite Empire in the 6th century, when the rule of Cappadocia was taken over by some feudal aristocracy, dwelling in strong castles and keeping the peasants in a servile condition and later made them apt to foreign slavery. It was included in the third Persian satrapy.
After the fall of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great, intending to rule the region, sent troops under his general Perdiccas in 322 BC. But, somehow Ariarathes, the last Achaemenid Persian governor of the province of Northern Cappadocia, became king of the Cappadocians and extended the borders of his Kingdom as far as to the Black Sea. However, Cappadocia fell into the dynastic orbit of the Seleucids, following the death of Alexander. Although a descendant of satraps continued to rule and Persian religious practices persisted, Cappadocia transferred its allegiance to Rome and remained faithful, despite the Pontic and Armenian attacks of the 1st century BC. Later, Roman Emperor Tiberius annexed Cappadocia 17 BC, for its strategic geographical position and its command over the passes in the Taurus Mountains.
However, apart from a few significant cities, Cappadocia remained underdeveloped in antiquity, because of its rugged terrain and modest agricultural output. Moreover, its location on the eastern side of the Byzantine Empire left it in a vulnerable position and open to the attacks by the invaders. In reality, the construction of the heavier fortifications in the area was initiated due to the regular raids by the tribal groups in the 5th century.
Despite that, the Cappadocian capital, Caesarea (modern Kayseri) was ravaged by a sudden attack by the Sasanian army in 611. As if that was not enough, the repeated attacks by the Arabs began in the 7th century and continued into the 10th. Probably, during those periods of instability, the large complexes of man-made caves and tunnels of the city were built or expanded to be used as refuges.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, Cappadocia enjoyed a period of prosperity, which led to a surge in the construction of the rock-cut churches and monasteries. Many of the surviving churches from the period are richly decorated. Following the defeat by the Seljuk Turks in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Byzantine Empire lost Cappadocia permanently and various Turkish clans under the leadership of the Seljuks began to settle in Anatolia. With the increasing rise of Turkish power in the region, Cappadocia gradually became a tributary to the Turkish states and some of the population converted to Islam. Cappadocia remained part of the Ottoman Empire for the centuries to come and now remains part of the modern state of Turkey.
Today, with its unique geological, historical and cultural features, Cappadocia has become a popular tourist destination. In the modern days, Cappadocia covers an area extended roughly from Kayseri west to Aksaray that include the sprawling underground cities of Derinkuyu, Kaymaklı and the Goreme National Park, containing a large number of rock-cut churches and dwellings. The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars, which add an extra attraction for the tourists. The Goreme National Park and other rock sites in the area were enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.