Remember Star Wars and the surreal desert planet where Luke Skywalker grew up? (That’s Tatooine – for all you Star Wars fans.) Turkish tour guides will tell you Cappadocia was the film set for Star Wars. Not hard to believe. With its weird mushroom-shaped rock sculptures, rocky ravines and sand-swept lava valleys, Cappadocia sure looks like it could have been Luke’s home.
But while the fictional Star Wars hero might have had no problems, all those lava rock ridges and outcroppings look rather inhospitable for real human inhabitants.
So why would a trinity of saints (St. Basil the Great, his younger brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus) choose to settle in Cappadocia in the 4th century?
Cappadocia cave cities
Precisely that inhospitable looking rock. Dubbed “living rock,” this special tufa stone is soft and easy to carve, but hardens when it comes in contact with air.
Early Christians escaping persecution found the tufa stone ideal for tunneling out underground cave cities in which to live and hide from their enemies.
The rock was also easy for carving out churches and monasteries in the cliffs – a religious base from which they could spread the Orthodox Christian faith.
On a recent visit to Turkey, we squeezed through the tunnels of one such underground city (Kaymakli)…
We also flew in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia’s “fairy chimneys” and peered inside many churches cut into Cappadocia’s rock cliffs, some painted inside with beautiful frescoes.
Cappadocia’s rock-cut churches and underground cities were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
If you visit Cappadocia
It would be a pity to visit Cappadocia and not stay in a cave hotel :-). We chose Esbelli Evi (the Fantasy Cave Suite). Think fairy-tale charm!
More on Cappadocia cave cities
To read this story in full, see our article Turkish Tunnels: the cave cities of Cappadocia, published in the Autumn, 2012 issue of NUVO magazine.