An ancient kingdom of Anatolia in Asia Minor, located in the east-central region of modern Turkey. Center of the ancient Hittite empire, and an important trade center on the Silk Road. A one-time refuge of early Christians, and later part of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Situated on a volcanic plateau known for its unusual geological features, both natural and man-made, including the famous fairy chimneys and underground cities and churches.


The borders of Cappadocia varied throughout its history, as it shrank or grew with its fortunes and those of the empires that surrounded it, particularly the Persians, Romans, and certain Greek states. It generally has been considered to consist primarily of the volcanic plateau in eastern central Turkey, crossed by the Halys River (now called Kizil Irmak). In general, Cappadocia extended from the Halys River valley to the Euphrates River in the east and west, and from the Black Sea to the Taurus mountain ranges north and south. The kingdom of Pontus, located to the northwest, was part of Cappadocia for significant periods of its history, but seperated around the 3rd Century BC pulling the Cappadocian borders back from the Black Sea. The two kingdoms were later rejoined under Roman administration.


Written history in Cappadocia begins with the establishment of an Assyrian trading colony in Anatolia in or around 1960 BC. Writing from that era seems to indicate that trade had existed between Asia Minor and Assyria. The Anatolian region, and Cappadocia in particular, had significant natural mineral resources that could be exploited, but lacked important resources needed for forging bronze, thus providing a natural environment for trade with other regions. Assyrian influence in Anatolia included the introduction of the Assyrian written language and religion, as well as innovations in metal working and art.

Around 1750 BC, the emergence of native art forms and language, bolstered by immigration from Europe gave rise to the first identifiable Hittite empire, centered around the city of Hattusas (Boghazköy) and speaking an Indo-European language. The name Hittite may have come from the original inhabitants of the region of Asia Minor where the kingdom was established, the Khatti or Hatti, who were replaced or absorbed by European immigrants around 1800 BC. Throughout its history, this first Hittite empire warred periodically against the Syrians, at one time having an attempt to invade Babylonia thwarted by a combined force of Egyptians and others. This early period of Hittite dominion is generally called the Old Hittite Kingdom.

Cappadocia was only one of several Hittite states in Asia Minor, including related groups in the Taurus and Cilicia mountain ranges, but was the cultural and political center of a group of Hittite states that existed in a loose confederation of trade and diplomacy until around 1200 BC, when it was repeatedly invaded by kingdoms including the Thracians, Assyrians, and Phyrgians. This series of invasions, which included the destruction of most of the important towns in Cappadocia and the other Hittite kingdoms, initiated a collapse that left the Hittite presence scattered and generally under the dominion of foreign powers. One theory holds that the true cause of the collapse was an outbreak of smallpox, brought home by Hittite warriors who had captured Egyptians infected with the disease. The outbreak eventually killed the king of Cappadocia and his heir, and destabilized the region.

The Old Kingdom was followed by the Late Hittite Kingdom, which was little more than a brief resurgance of outlying provinces and towns of the Old Kingdom, the major cities and towns of Cappadocia and other important regions having been destroyed in the repeated invasions that ended the Old Kingdom. The Phyrgians, Cimmerians, and Medes all briefly ruled Cappadocia, but between 585 and 547 BC, the entire region of the Old Hittite Kingdom was brought under the rule of Persia. The Persians administered the former Hittite kingdoms as semi-autonomous provinces, allowing native religion and language to persist. The fire-revering Persians (being Zoroastrian) felt great reverence for the Cappadocian volcanos, particularly those in Ericyes and Hasandagi, and encouraged development in Cappadocia, including building a royal road to connect the Cappadocian administrative capital to the Aegean region.

First in 334 BC, and again in 332 BC, Alexander the Great defeated Persian armies, leading to his conquest of the former Persian empire. However, Alexander was never able to bring Cappadocia entirely under his control; the Cappadocian nobility rejected the general sent to rule them, and instead elevated a Persian aristocrat to the kingship. This king, Ariarthes I, extended the borders of Cappadocia to the Black Sea, and inagurated a period of peace that would last until the death of Alexander, and a longer period of Cappadocian independence that would last until the establishment of Roman rule in 17 AD. Pontus became a seperate kingdom later in the 3rd Century, and Cappadocia fought wars with them, as well as the Macedonians and Galatians.

Tiberius conquered Cappadocia in 17 AD, beginning the era of Roman rule. In truth, Cappadocia had been allied with Rome intermittently for more than a hundred years prior to its annexation in 17 AD, in order to defend itself from invasion by Mithradates VI and Tigranes of Armenia. Cappadocia at one point fell to invasion, but was restored by Pompey, though later the king was deposed and replaced by Mark Antony due to his disloyalty during the reign of Julius Caesar (he switched sides during a Parthian invasion). The capitol, which had been Mazaca during the 300 years of Cappadocian independence, was renamed Caesarea Mazaca (called Kayseri, a local corruption of Caesarea). The Romans built new roads connecting Cappadocia with points West, bringing in new commerce. The Roman Legion defended the region from several invasions from the East, though the capitol was sacked by Iranian forces during the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus.

It was during the Roman era that Cappadocia began to assume some importance in the development of Christianity. Small Christian communities had existed in the region since a visit by St. Paul during his travels. Early anchorite ascetics had been attracted to the rugged and remote landscape of the Cappadocian plateau, and small communities of ascetics had sprung up throughout the wilderness. Additionally, groups of Christians seeking to escape Roman persecution had entered Cappadocia during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD, taking refuge in the caves and underground cities used by the earlier Hittites for shelter and defense. Eventually, thriving proto-monastic communities existed in many of the cave structures. These communities were formalized in the 4th Century, when St. Basil (Bishop of Caesarea) laid out rules for the establishment and operation of monastic communities. By the end of the 4th Century, at least 3 Cappadocian Christians had been selected for sainthood.

After the division of the Roman Empire, Cappadocia was placed under the auspices of the Byzantine rulers. Throughout the 7th Century, Cappadocia suffered from attacks by the Iranian Sassanids, and later by the Arab Ummayid Empire.

The 8th and early 9th Century coincided with the period of Iconoclasm proclaimed by Leon III, and many iconophiles took refuge in the cave churches and cities of Cappadocia. Though a number of the icons and frescos found in cave churches were destroyed or defaced during this period, many survived, and many were restored or recreated after the iconoclastic period ended.

Byzantine rule continued until the 11th Century, when the Seljuk Turks invaded Anatolia. The Byzantine Emperor Romanos Diogenes, a Cappadocian, was defeated and captured in 1071, and in 1080 a Seljuk Anatolian State was founded, centered around Konya. The conquest of Caesarea (Kayseri) in 1082 signaled the collapse of resistence to the Turkish invasion, and the Seljuks immediately began reconstructing the cities damaged by the war, as well as the new construction of mosques, medreses, and other underpinnings of Islamic culture. Christian presence in Cappadocia persisted for a while, but the underground communities gradually dwindled in the face of Muslim domination, and a lack of state support for Christianity. Communities fled, converted, or simply moved into more convenient residences, and gradually the elaborate cave churches and cities that the Christian community had used since the 1st Century were taken over by new inhabitants, who largely used them as homes and storage facilities. However, some of the underground constructions were concealed so well that they were not rediscovered until the 20th Century. The Hidden Church, for instance, built into the side of a ridge, was not found until 1956, and had much of its artwork intact.

The Seljuk kingdom was replaced by the Ottoman Empire, and life continued more or less as normal for the people of Cappadocia. The region was quite peaceful throughout the Ottoman rule, and Christian communities continued to thrive outside of the underground cities in the face of official toleration on the part of both the Seljuk and Ottoman governments. Construction of new Eastern Orthodox sanctuaries continued throughout these periods, and resulted in the construction of what are now local landmarks. In 1907, Cappadocian was 'rediscovered' by the Western world by a French Jesuit priest- the rest of the West largely having forgotten about Cappadocia since its conquest by the Turks in the 11th Century.

In the modern era, Cappadocia is regarded as a treasure trove of archaelogical and artistic sites, as well as a beautiful and unique natural landscape. Many of the icons and frescos of the cave churches and underground communities are preserved- though many have been defaced, either by Iconoclastic Christians, or later Muslim residents- and in many cases pre-Iconoclastic representational art, Iconoclastic geometric designs, and the more complex representations of the post-Iconoclastic era exist side by side, or one atop the other. Periodically, new delvings are discovered, when someone climbs to a new vantage point, or when a cliff face or other structure is eroded, revealing the chambers within. Cappadocia was one of the few areas of Anatolia and Asia Minor to retain much of its Asian culture during antiquity, rather than being dominated by the Aegean culture of the rest of the Meditteranian, and so affords a great deal of insight about interactions between the different civilizations of the era through its archaelogical record. Most excavation in Cappadocia and the rest of Anatolia focuses on the Hittite and Roman-era sites, but there are also significant pre-historic and Seljuk sites that are yet to be exploited. The cave churches, fairy chimnies and underground cities continue to draw tourists from the West.


Cappadocia's geology is dominated by the volcanic activity that gave the area its present appearance. The Cappadocian plateau itself is composed largely of volcanic ash, with softer tufa intermixed with harder, more durable igneus rocks like basalt and andesite. The erosion of the soft tufa, particularly when shielded by harder rocks, created many of the unusual features of the landscape, such as the fairy chimnies (large, conical projections rising from the ground), and above ground features that look more likely to be found in a limestone cave. The areas numerous caves are a product of the same forces of erosion. Large deposits of copper and iron in the area contributed to the early economic importance of the region, and to some of the innovations that took place there; Cappadocian Hittites are thought to have been the first people in the world to smelt iron ore.

Underground Structures

The soft tufa that gave rise to so many of the natural features of the beautiful, but at times bizarre, Cappadocian landscape also made possible the construction of the many cave homes, churches, and cities that Cappadocia is known for. The soft tufa and ash were easily worked with primitive hand tools, leading to natural structures that were enlarged or reshaped by humans possibly as much as 4,000 years prior to the modern day. Most of these structures were likely created for storage, or to be used as hiding places during times of war or instability. They were enlarged, decorated, and concealed over the generations, resulting in structures that can be honestly termed underground cities- extending more than 80 meters underground (all the way to the water table), and consisting of as many as 8 seperate levels, all of which are served by ventilation shafts that keep fresh air continually flowing into even the bottommost levels.

More well known are the many underground churches created by Christians seeking refuge from persecution or invasion. It is suspected that religious rebels had been making use of the caves since the time of the Hittites, and so their use by Christians comes as no surprise. The churches were constructed in the same way that the larger cities were, and many of them feature the same complex designs. The churches are more likely to include religious artwork, including large frescos depicting the life of Christ or the Apostles. While much of the art has been vandalized, many are at least partially intact. At times, the lines between the cave churches and the larger cities were blurred, such as at sites were entire religious communities lived and worshipped in the fashion of the early anchorites. One such example is Zelve, which was inhabitted until the 1950's when it was abandoned due to fear of rockfalls. Intended both as a Christian community and a place of refuge from attackers, it includes many chapel structures, as well as a labrynth of tunnels designed to confuse invaders. The full extent of the city still has not been mapped.

All of these underground structures were designed to be hidden from attackers and casual observers. Many times, entrances were built into cliff or ridge faces, so that you had to hike above the entrance and then climb down in order to gain access, or even see the entrance. Others entrances were concealed by overhanging structures, or blended in with the landscape. Many of the entrances had large millstone doors that could be rolled into place and wedged shut, buying time for the occupants to escape from more carefully concealed entrances elsewhere in the complex.

N.B:The dates provided here, particularly those relating to events that took place in the BC era, are somewhat unreliable. They depend on the opinions of archaelogists, and the dating provided by chroniclers of ancient times (Heroditus, for instance, wrote about Cappadocia in the 5th Century). The dates provided by any single source seem to differ from those provided by another. As I was attempting to synthesize several sources, primarily from the web, I've been intentionally fuzzy in some places, and in others have fudged dates in order to maintain consistancy and causality.

  • "The Cave Churches of Cappadocia",
  •, articles on Cappadocia, the Hittites, and Pontus.
  • HiTiT Turkey (a travle guide),
  • Cappadocia Online,
Many of these are nice sources of travel information (including where to find hotels, transportation, etc.). If you're planning a trip to Eastern Central Turkey, they may be worth checking out.

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