The territory between the central Anatolian cities of Aksaray, Niğde, Nevşehir and Kayseri is historically called Cappadocia, and its unique geological formations and historical heritage startle all visitors who happen to pay a visit. The rocky formations of this territory which have come to existence after mother nature’s millions of years of work, and man’s contribution to this volcanic area offer to us the breath-taking harmony of man and nature.
Cappadocia harbors an infinite number of tumuli and antique cities because it has been home to the most various peoples since time began. All of these treasures are still waiting to be discovered by archaeologists who can contribute a great deal to the history of this region. Two of these antique cities which have been excavated till now and have illuminated Anatolian history to a certain extent are Kültepe near Kayseri, and Acemhöyük in Aksaray’s vicinity.
Cappadocia is simultaneously the area where one of the greatest civilizations of Anatolia, that of the Hittites, was founded and had flourished. It is therefore full with the beautiful traces of that antique civilization. Among the Hittite reliefs of the region we see those of Emirgazi, İmamkulu, Fraktin, Andaval, Göllüdağ, and Bor. Furthermore we have the Sivas, Sultanhanı, Andaval, and Karapınar inscriptions and a number of Hittite cities as remnants of this past glory.
After the fall of the Hittite Empire, Cappadocia came to be called the Tabal Land which was then ruled by the Phyrigians, Lydians, Persians, Macedonians and the Ariarathes Dynasty one after the other. Its military significance grew in the Roman Period and during the early Christian era, it witnessed an immense population growth. Thousands of churches and monasteries were built in this area according to the necessities of the monastic life, the rules of which the clergyman Basilius, a native of Cappadocia, had determined in the 4th century A.D. The natives of Cappadocia were always confronted with raids coming from the east and the south in the Byzantine era. They therefore had to construct their monasteries away from the main roads and in hidden valleys. The invading Persians coming from the east and the Arabs streaming in from the south devastated this region starting with the 7th century A.D. The local population of the times built the underground cities of the volcanic rocks which are now called ” the eighth wonder of the world”, and sought refuge in them. In the same period, the Iconoclastic Crisis broke out in the Byzantine Empire which had the impression of being a movement against painting and imagery, but was actually a political maneuver to subdue the power of the church. The Iconoclastic Crisis got hold of the region of Cappadocia as well. When the Arab invasions and the conoclastic Crisis were over, hundreds of new churches were built in Cappadocia, and they were decorated with the most beautiful paintings and ornaments possible. Priest Jerphanion, who has made the most painstaking research in this area, called the churches of that period, ” the archaic churches”, and stated that they were very freely decorated with pictures as a reaction to the Iconoclastic Period preceding it. Cappadocia witnessed the construction of the biggest and grandiose churches in the 10th century A.D indeed, but the golden age of the region took place in the following century. Especially the churches in and around Göreme are outstanding in architectural planning and iconographical creativity. But the 11th century A.D was also a time of great wars and political tumult. The Seldjuk Turks who immigrated to Asia Minor in this period fought hard against the Crusaders, who had set out from Europe to banish the Byzantine Empire and the Turks from Anatolia, and reach the Holy Land. The Seldjuk Turks erected unsurpassed examples of religious, military and civilian buildings in this period and in the 13th century which is termed to be the golden age of the Seldjuk Empire. That the names of the Seldjuk Sultan Mesud and the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus are mentioned together in the church of St. Georgius in the valley of Ihlara, is a good indicator of the Seldjuk tolerance towards the Christian population which built their churches and practiced their religion freely. We see the Seldjuk monuments mainly in Aksaray, Niğde, Nevşehir, and Kayseri which were on the caravan roads reaching Cappadocia. After the Seldjuk Empire was defeated by the Mongols in the 13th century, a number of principalities were formed all over Anatolia. The smallest of these principalities which was geographically closest to Byzantine Constantinople, namely the Ottomans, emerged as the strongest state and grew rapidly to form an empire extending to Europe, Asia, and African shores. The chief Ottoman monuments of Anatolia are seen mostly in Kayseri, Ürgüp, Niğde, Avanos, and Nevşehir. Particularly Nevşehir, which was the home town of the Grand Visier Damat İbrahim Pasha of the Tulip Era, was filled with numerous religious and civil buildings.
The churches of Cappadocia were belittled as ” works of provincial art” for a long time, but they show us all the consecutive stages of Byzantine art. Since they were erected throughout the Byzantine era, they display Byzantine architecture, iconography, and the art of painting from the beginning till its end. The research done in these churches show us clearly that the wall paintings have been done by the same artists and indeed by certain schools of painters. This fact and the existence of churches that were dedicated to emperors and to the clergy indicate that the local churches have not been the works of religious leaders and local artists only. Especially the churches of the Ihlara valley show Egyptian and Palestinian influences that were moulded in Cappadocia to form local interpretations. To analyze the artistic importance of these churches is surely one side of the coin, but the thousands of pictures seen on the church walls deliver crucial clues to the beliefs and the traditions of the times, and illuminate the secrets of the monastic life of the region.
The recent years have shown that we should preserve the natural wonders of Cappadocia and its immense cultural heritage to a much wider extent. Nature herself which is the sole creator of this incredible beauty also destroys the cultural residue as she goes on creating new formations. Rock settlements collapse because of erosion and the local population deserts the erosion of not having a direct influence over the natural and cultural history of the region. They must, therefore, be placed under the strictest control possible. The hotels between Nevşehir and Uçhisar which is the most renowned symbol of Cappadocia per se, and the buildings we see when we look at Ortahisar from the hills of Göreme overshadow the unmatched view of Cappadocia and Erciyes. The mistakes which are being made for the sake of tourism should never be pardoned, and the territory between Aksaray, Nevşehir, and Kayseri must be respected and protected with all our might.