GEOLOGY AND LANDSCAPE
The erosion that carves out this fascinating topography began over 60 million years ago and can be seen in various stages even today. As the devastating 1999 earthquakes illustrated, Turkey is caught between the insistent pressure exerted from the Asian and European continental plates. The Erciyes Mountain, Melendiz Mountain, and Hasandag - all dormant or extinct volcanoes - are the result of underground forces that thrust these landmasses above water level eons ago. Recurrent volcanic eruptions blanketed the area with boulders, ash, and lava, over time creating layers of sediment, with the underneath layers more solid than the newer, softer upper levels of sediment.
The formation of the fairy chimneys is just an example of wind and water erosion in an extreme state. The early stages of erosion are visible in the graceful channels and dunes of the valleys; but as the elements carve away at the channels, the mass of tufa splits from its supports and forms pillars or pyramids. And without the protection of those teetering basalt boulders caught in the balance of gravity and time, the pillars slowly whittle down to nothing, and the crowning boulder eventually comes crashing to the ground.
But Cappadocia has always been much more than its dramatic scenery. Humans, too, have left their unique mark on the region, carving cave storerooms, cave stables, cave houses and even entire underground cities out of the rock. To this day many of the soaring pinnacles are still inhabited and many of the rock-cut storerooms are still stuffed with grapes, lemons, potatoes and flat bread waiting for the winter.
From the time unknown, the local people called the strange rock cones that surrounded those kales (castles). Nowadays these amazing structures are usually called peribacaları (fairy chimneys). They come in an extraordinary range of shapes and sizes but most are tall and phallic-shaped with a cap of harder stone that protects the softer rock underneath from erosion. Eventually these caps fall off, whereupon the wind and rain start to whittle away the cone until eventually it, too, collapses.
The surrealistic geological formation of Cappadocia is one of the wonders of the world. It is the result of the natural forces during the intense volcanic activity.
This volcanic terrain is surrounded by and superimposed upon sedimentary basins of Cretaceous - Cenozoic era. However, the hydrocarbon prospectively of these basins and the thermal effect of volcanic activity on the sedimentary rocks have been little explored or quantified.
A remarkable feature of Turkey’s geologic landscape is several clusters of Middle Miocene to Quaternary volcanic rocks (14-0 Ma), including those in the Central Anatolia Plateau where Cappadocia is located. The region is about 300 km long and spans from the town of Kayseri in the east to Karapinar in the south-west, oriented in a north-east – south-west direction. Cappadocia is at a mean elevation of 1,050 m, and covered with volcanic or volcaniclastic rocks.
Along with the European Alps, the Taurus Mountains of southern Anatolia were formed during the Tertiary period of geological development (65 million to 2 million years ago). During the Alpine period of mountain-building, deep fissures and large depressed areas were created. The fracturing process allowed the subsurface magma (rocks in their molten state) to find its way to the surface where it formed the Erciyes, Develi, Melendiz, Kegiboydoran, and Hasan Dag cones.
After numerous eruptions these cones increased in size and formed a chain of volcanoes running parallel to the Taurus Mountains. Also the volcanic material slowly ran towards the depressed areas and covered the previously formed hills and valleys. This geological activity changed the general landscape of the region, giving it the appearance of a plateau.
Wind, climate, mechanical weathering, rain, snow, and rivers caused the erosion giving to Cappadocia its unusual and characteristic rock formations. The Cappadocia climate, with sharp changes of temperature, heavy rains, and melting snow in the spring, plays an important role in the formation of the Cappadocia landscape. In addition, mechanical weathering is responsible for fragmentation because rocks expand when heated and break up as they cool. Frozen water in the cracks can also cause fragmentation. However, the most important sources of erosion are rain and rivers. Heavy rainfall transformed the smooth surface of the plateau into a complex pattern of gullies that followed pre-existing fissures in the rocks. Eroded materials were then removed by the rivers. Sometime streams and rivers made very sharp vertical cuts into the volcanic soil and created isolated pinnacles at the intersection of two or more gullies. Rain and rivers also formed valleys such as Zelve and Goreme.
GEOLOGICAL WONDERS OF CAPPADOCIA
Fairy chimneys were formed when lava covering the tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) gave way along pre-existing cracks of sloping areas and became isolated pinnacles. They can attain a height of up to forty metres, have conical shapes and consist of caps of harder rock resting on pillars of softer rock. A fairy chimney exists until the neck of the cone erodes and its protective cap falls off. The subsequent disintegration of the remaining pinnacle continues until it is completely levelled down.
Erciyes / Argeus Mt
Erciyes, located to the southwest of Kayseri, is the tallest volcano in Central Anatolia and covers almost 1,500 sq. km. The cessation of volcanic activity and the ensuing erosion of the central crater give Erciyes the appearance of being much older than other volcanoes in the region. Because Erciyes was always snow-covered, the Hittites (second millennium to 1200 BC) called it Harkasos or White Mountain. The Hittite pantheon included a number of mountain gods, including Erciyes. From the region of Imamkulu in Cappadocia, a 13th century BC Hittite rock carving depicting a storm god above three mountain gods, furnishes proof of the Hittite veneration of Cappadocian volcanoes. In fact, a man-made tunnel discovered near the summit of Erciyes might have been used for worshipping the mountain. It is highly probable that a link exists between the Greek legend of Typhon and Zeus and the volcanoes of Cappadocia. According to the legend, Typhon was an enormous monster with horrible dragon heads, countless coiled serpents for legs and arms, and a mouth emitting flaming rocks. Volcanic eruptions were said to be the battle between Typhon and Zeus, the only god who stood firm against the monster from Cilicia (of which Cappadocia was a part). A Hittite bas-relief from Malatya dating from 1000 BC portrays the weather god (prototype of Zeus) slaying a coiled serpent. Flames and volcanic bombs issue from the serpent's body, which might symbolise volcanoes.
In ancient times Erciyes was known as Argeus and was mentioned by many historians, including the famous 1st century geographer Strabo, who claimed one could see the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea from the top of Erciyes. Although Strabo erroneously identified these bodies of water, his comments nevertheless indicate that large lakes existed nearby in central Anatolia. He further described Erciyes and the surrounding area as having vast marshes emitting fire and smoke.
During Roman times most of the coins minted in Kayseri had images of Erciyes, since the early Hittite cult of mountain worship merged with the Roman veneration of their emperors and Zeus (Jupiter). Numerous statues from that area also depict Erciyes and demonstrate the degree to which it was venerated by the people of Cappadocia.
In much later time, the renowned 16th century Turkish architect Sinan, a native of Kayseri, was inspired by Erciyes's conical form. This influence can be seen in his masterpiece, the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, whose silhouette reflects the conical shape of Erciyes.
Hasan Dağ (Hasan Mt)
On the way to Goreme near Aksaray lies Hasan Dag, one of the most impressive volcanoes in Anatolia. Hasan Dag consists of two summits, and rises almost 3,300 metres above sea level. Although Hasan Dag and Erciyes were formed at the same time, Hasan Dag looks much younger because of constant eruptions through its central vent.
Kizilirmak / Red River
The Kizilirmak, the longest river (1,182 km) in Turkey, starts in the eastern part of Turkey and makes a great circle in Central Anatolia before flowing into the Black Sea. It was called the Red River due to the soil that coloured the water. This river, known to the Hittites as Marassantiya and to the Greeks and Romans as Hallys, was historically important. According to Herodotus, the Hallys divided Anatolia into two major parts, the Black Sea shores and the land facing Cyprus, and formed a natural border between the Persian and the Lydian empires.
Before his campaign against Persia, the Lydian King Croesus consulted an oracle that predicted, If you cross the Hallys, a great empire will be destroyed. Croesus interpreted this in a favourable way and had the Greek philosopher and physicist Thales diverts the Hallys so that Croesus' armies could cross the dry river bed. However, this ingenious solution did not save him from defeat at the hands of his enemy, Cyrus the Great of Persia.
The Melendiz River
The Melendiz River is one of the most important rivers in Cappadocia, originates in Sultan Pinari on the outskirts of Melendiz Dag to the south of Nevsehir. It is fed by many sources, passes between the villages of Ihlara and Selime, and disappears into the marshy area surrounding Salt Lake. Over thousands of years the Melendiz cut a path through the rocks to form the vertically-walled Ihlara valley, an area fourteen kilometres long and up to one hundred metres deep. The canyon eventually attracted human beings, who made rock-cut dwellings, storage areas, monasteries, and churches in the canyon walls.
Salt Lake is the second largest lake in Turkey and was at one time twice its present size. The Melendiz furnishes Salt Lake with fresh water, and a subterranean source supplies it with a vast amount of salt water. During the summer heavy layers of salt can reach a thickness of up to thirty centimetres along the shore. In the spring a variety of birds such as flamingos, cranes, and sea gulls can be seen on Salt Lake.
REGIONS AND SITES OF CAPPADOCIA
♦ Underground City of Derinkuyu - the largest & deepest excavated subterranean city, which could house up to 20.000 people
♦ Underground City of Kaymakli - the next largest excavated subterranean city, which could house up to 5.000 people
♦ Göreme National Park & Open-air Museum - cave churches with frescoes
♦ Zelve Valley & Open-air Museum - an empty cave town with churches
♦ Paşabağ (Monk Valley) - mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys
♦ Ihlara Valley - the deepest gorge of Anatolia
♦ Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley) - animal-shaped fairy chimneys
♦ Uchisar Castle - A rock-cut castle. You’ll see it driving back and forth
♦ Ortahisar Castle - Troglodyte village with rock-cut castle
♦ Sobessos - The only late-Roman/early-Byzantine settlement found in Cappadocia, mosaic pavements, Roman baths
♦ Avanos Town - Town of pottery & craftsmanship
♦ Hacibektaş Town - Centre of Bektasi sect of Islam
♦ Gülşehir Town - First settlements in Cappadocia
♦ Caravanserais - Inns, «caravan palaces» on camel trains through Asia Minor