CAPPADOCIA - HACIBEKTAS

nevcapa1.jpg (24375 bytes)The road to Nevşehir and Cappadocia passes through Hacıbektaş, the town where Hacı Bektaş Veli settled and established his Bektaş Sufi order in the 14th century. The dervishes who followed the sect's tenets of love and humanism were housed in the monastery which includes a mausoleum and mosque. The complex is now a museum open to the public. Onyx, plentiful in the region, was used by the disciples of this order and has come to be called Hacıbektaş stone. In town there are many onyx souvenirs for sale. It is worth stopping to wander through the interesting Archaeological and Ethnographical Museum.

nevsehirkapadok.gif (20085 bytes)Nevşehir, a provincial capital, is the gateway to Cappadocia. In the town itself the hilltop Seljuk castle, perched on the highest point in the city, and the Kurşunlu Mosque, built for the Grand Vizier Damat Ibrahim Pasha, are among the remaining historical buildings. The mosque forms part of a complex of buildings which includes a medrese, a hospice and a library. An ablution fountain in the courtyard still bears its original inscription. The Nevşehir Museum displays local artifacts.

Violent eruptions of the volcanoes Mt. Erciyes (3916 meters) and Mt. Hasan (3268 meters) three million years ago covered the plateau surrounding Nevşehir with tufa, a soft stone comprised of lava, ash and mud. The wind and rain have eroded this brittle rock and created a spectacular surrealist landscape of rock Erciyes Mountainscones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines, in colours that range from warm reds and golds to cool greens and greys. Göreme, known in Roman times as Cappadocia, is one of those rare regions in the world where the works of man blend unobtrusively into the natural surroundings. Dwellings have been hewn from the rock as far back as 4,000 B.C. During Byzantine times chapels and monasteries were hollowed out of the rock, their ochre-toned frescoes reflecting the hues of the surrounding landscape. Even today troglodyte dwellings in rock cones and village houses of volcanic tufa merge harmoniously into the landscape.

Ürgüp, a lively tourist center at the foot of a rock riddled with old dwellings, serves as an excellent base from which to tour the sights of Cappadocia. In Ürgüp itself you can still see how people once lived in homes cut into the rocks. If you wish to buy carpets and kilims, there is a wide selection available from the town's many carpet dealers. These characters are as colorful as their carpets, offering tea, coffee or a glass of wine to their customers and engaging in friendly conversation. If 'sightseeing and shopping haven't exhausted you, the disco welcomes you to another kind of entertainment. At the center of a successful wine producing region, Ürgüp hosts an annual International Wine Festival in October. Leaving Ürgüp and heading to the south, you reach the lovely isolated Pancarlik Valley where you can stop to see the 12th century church with its splendid frescoes, and the Kepez church which dates from the tenth century. Continuing on to the typical village of Mustafapasa (Sinasos), the traditional stone houses with carved and decorated facades evoke another age. Still travelling in a southerly direction, just past the village of Cemil, a footpath on the west side of the road leads to Keşlik Valley where you will find a monastery complex and the Kara Kilise and Meyvalı churches, both of which are decorated with frescoes. Back on the main road you come to the village of Taşkınpaşa where the 14th century Karamanid Mosque and Mausoleum Complex, and the remains of a medrese portal on the edge of town, make for a pleasant diversion. The next village is Şahinefendi where the 12th century Kırkşehitler church, with beautiful frescoes, stands at the end of a footpath 500 meters east of the village.

Soğanlı, 50 km south of Ürgüp, is a picturesque valley of innumerable chapels, churches, halls, houses and tombs. The frescoes, from the 8th to the 13th century, trace the development of Byzantine painting.

Four kilometres north of Ürgüp is the wonderful Devrent Valley where the weather has eroded the stone into peaks, cones and obelisks called fairy chimneys.

Two kilometres to the west, in the Çatalkaya Valley, the fairy chimneys have a peculiar mushroom-like shape, which has been adopted as a symbol of the town.

The Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastic complex of rock churches and chapels covered with frescoes, is one of the best known sites in central Turkey. Most of the chapels date from the 10th to the 13th century, the Byzantine and Seljuk periods, and many of them are built on an inscribed cross plan with a central cupola supported by four columns. In the narthexes of several churches are rock cut tombs. Among the most famous of the Göreme churches are the Elmalı Kilise, the smallest and newest of the group; the Yılanlı Kilise with fascinating frescoes of the damned in serpent coils; the Barbara Kilisesi; and the Çarıklı Kilise. A short way from the main group; the Tokalı Kilise, or Buckle Church, has beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the New Testament. The town of Göreme itself is set right in the middle of a valley of cones and fairy chimneys. Some of the cafes, restaurants and guest houses are carved into the rock. For shoppers, rugs and kilims are plentiful.

Continuing on the road out of Göreme, you enter one of the most beautiful valleys in the area. Rock formations seemingly out of a fantasy rise up before you at every turn and entice you to look longer and wonder at their creation. For those who climb the steps to the top of the Uçhisar Fortress the whole region unfolds below. Rugs and kilims, and popular souvenirs can easily be purchased from the shops which line Uçhisar's narrow streets.

At Çavuşin, on the road leading north out of Göreme, you will find a triple apse church and the monastery of St. John the Baptist. In the town are chapels and churches, and some of the rock houses are still inhabited. From Çavuşin to Zelve fairy chimneys line the road. Unfortunately, it is dangerous to visit the churches in the valley because erosion has undermined solid footing.

The charming town of Avanos, on the banks of the Kızılırmak River, displays attractive vernacular architecture and is known for its handicrafts. Every August the town hosts an Art and Tourism Festival where a creative and friendly atmosphere pervades. Pottery is the most popular handicraft and it is usually possible to try your hand at making a pot in one of the many studios. Rug weaving and knotting is also making a revival. Leaving Avanos in a southerly direction you come to an interesting Seljuk caravanserai. On the Nevşehir - Ürgüp road you can't miss Ortahisar and its rock carved fortress. The churches in the Balkan Valley are some of the oldest in the Göreme region. In the neighbouring Hallaç Valley, the Hallaç Monastery displays decorations from the 10th and the 11th centuries. North of Ortahisar, the Kızılçukur Valley is breathtakingly beautiful especially at sunset. In the valley is the 9th century Üzümlü church.

The underground cities of Kaymaklı, Mazi, Derinkuyu and Özkonak were all used by the Christians of the seventh century as places of retreat in order to escape persecution. They fled from the iconoclastic strife of Byzantium as well as other invasions in these safe and well hidden metropolises. A complete environment, these cities included rooms for grain storage, stables, sleeping chambers, kitchens and air shafts. Today they are well lit and an essential and fascinating part of a Cappadocian tour.

West of Avanos, Gülşehir has Hittite rock inscriptions, and nearby, at Gökçetepe, there is a bas-relief of Zeus. South on the Nevşehir road brings you to the 13th century church of St. John, and farther along is Açıksaray where the carved rocks hold churches and chapels.

West of Cappadocia, over the mountains, lies Kayseri, known as Caesarea in Roman times. The city spreads out at the foot of Mt. Erciyes (3916 meters), an extinct volcano. In the winter months the ski center has excellent runs for downhill skiers. Close to the Byzantine fortress the 13th century Huant Mosque and Medrese and the Mahperi Hatun Mausoleum comprise the first Seljuk complex in Anatolia. South of the complex stand the beautifully decorated Döner Kümbet of 1276, the Archaeological Museum and the Köşk Medrese, a Mongol building of classic simplicity. A major Seljuk city, Kayseri was an important center of learning and consequently there are many medreses among the remaining historical buildings. Those interested in this particular architectural form should see the Çifte Medrese, the first medieval school of anatomy and the lovely Sahabiye Medrese. Near the city's bedestan is the restored 12th century Ulu Mosque. The Haci Kılıç Mosque, north of the Çifte Medrese, dates from 1249. Rugs woven in finely knotted floral patterns continue a centuries old tradition. Local production can be purchased in any of the town's carpet shops. South of Kayseri, in Develi, stand three more important Seljuk buildings: the Ulu Mosque, the Seyid-i Şerif Tomb and the Develi Tomb. Nearby, the Sultan Marshes, the habitat of many species of bird, are of interest both to ornithologists and nature lovers. North of Kayseri, Kültepe, known in ancient times as Kanesh or Karum was one of the earliest Hittite commercial trade cities. Today, however, only the foundations remain. Many of the finds can be examined in the Kültepe Museum as well as in the Kayseri Archaeological Museum.

On the same road is Sultan Han, a caravanserai built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in the early 13th century and a favourite stop for tourists.

Niğde, the Nahita of Hittite times, lies in a valley flanked by volcanic peaks and commands the ancient trade route from Anatolia to the Mediterranean. Nigde's castle owes its present form to the Seljuks, and the elegant Alaeddin Mosque dates from the same period. From the 14th century era of Mongol rule are the Sungur Bey Mosque and the Hüdavend Hatun Mausoleum. an excellent example of the Anatolian tomb tower. The 15th century Ak Medrese now houses the Archaeological Museum.

Ten kilometres out of town is Eskigümüş, a Byzantine monastery and church with massive columns and frescoes. These frescoes, which date from the 10th and the 11th centuries, are among the best preserved in the region.

Bor, south of Nigde, was once a Hittite settlement. The town's historical buildings include the Seljuk Alaeddin Mosque and the Ottoman bedestan. Farther on, in the same direction, Kemerhisar is the site of the important Roman city of Tyana. A few more kilometres brings you to some Hittite ruins and a Roman aqueduct. Most of the historical buildings in Aksaray, west of Nigde and south of Cappadocia, such as the Ulu Mosque, date from the 14th century. The Kızıl Minaret is noted for its attractive decorative brickwork. Two of the most famous caravanserais from the Seljuk period remain in the environs. Just 40 km west of the city is the well preserved Sultanhan Caravanserai built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat, and 15 km towards Nevşehir is the Ağızkarahan Caravanserai. The Melendiz River, at Ihlara, has eroded the banks into an impressive canyon. Byzantine rock chapels covered with frescoes pierce the canyon walls. Some of the best known are the Agacalti (Daniel) Church, the Yılanlı (Apocalypse) Church and the Sumbullu (Hyacinth) Church.

Güzelyurt is another valley with dwellings dating from prehistoric times. You can see the beautiful silhouette of Mt. Hasan rising like a crown above the town. The valley's underground cities, buildings carved into the rock, interesting vernacular architecture, churches, chapels and mosques embody all of the characteristics of Cappadocia and give visitors a sense of historical continuity. A popular tourist destination, Güzelyurt's hospitable residents, extensive accommodation and restaurants ensure a pleasant stay.