When we first arrived in Cappadocia, we were awestruck at the stark, ancient beauty of the terrain around us. As far as the eye could see, the lunar landscape boasted eerie-looking rock formations jutting up from the valley floor and hundreds of caves, crevices and cubby holes dotting the cliffs.
The formation of these incredible “chimneys” are the result of thousands of years of volcanic eruptions which set the groundwork for wind and water to erode away the soft tufa layer of rock while the harder, resistant rock remained. (Some people actually have the nerve to ask their tour guide, “Who put those rocks on top and how did they do it?”)
This remote area located in the center of Turkey is teaming with biblical history. In fact, the Cappadocia region once known as Anatolia, was the seat of the Hittite empire of the Old Testament (descendants of Noah’s grandson, Canaan) 1750BC-1200BC. Fast forward to around 500BC – the Persians reigned for almost 200 years during which time the region acquired its name, “Katpatuka” which meant “Land of the well-bred horses.”
Fast forward again to the Roman period (17AD – 395AD). In Acts 2:9, pilgrims from Cappadocia were among those assembled with the believers in Jerusalem when they received the initial baptism of the Holy Spirit and heard the Apostle Peter preach his powerful message. Many members of this new religious sect, the Christians, migrated away from cities and settled in the remote areas of Cappadocia during the Roman persecution. There are more than 200 cliff settlements in various sizes including full monasteries. Goreme Open Air Museum is the site of a huge monastic complex with more than eight churches each containing beautiful frescoes of biblical themes many of which have retained their vibrant colors due to the cool, dark environment that is conducive to preserving color (no photos allowed inside.)
The area of Cappadocia is literally “more than meets the eye.” During times of persecution and invasion by the Romans and later the Arabs, entire communities sought refuge underground. These underground settlements were large enough to be considered cities – a complex maze of tunnels that connected the outside world with an expansive subterranean world that included kitchens, sleeping areas, wineries, community centers, churches and even stables and tombs. We visited one particular city called Derinkuyu and as we descended deep into the cool earth to four floors below the surface, it was hard to imagine that there were still four more floors under us that were part of the city! It was incredible to see the quaint chapels decorated with simple drawings of early Christian symbols painted on and carved out of the rock. Even more beautiful was the realization that in the dark of this underground chapel, devout followers of The Way gathered to worship the Light of the World.
From the depths of the earth to the heights of the clouds! After our underworld experience, we chose to take a hot air balloon ride to see it all from a bird’s eye perspective. The bone-chilling predawn lift off was exhilarating and as the rising sun painted the cliffs and chimneys a warm shade of ivory and sienna, we marveled at God’s creation of this mysterious and sacred place.