Land of beautiful horses

One of the most interesting features of the region of Cappadocia is the diversity of surreal rock formations created from volcanic activity over many millions of years. The following text is an edited version of information located at the Cappadocia Exclusive website.

Land of beautiful horses

Land of beautiful horses


The name “Cappadocia” dates back to Persian times, when the region was called as “katpatukya” meaning “Land of Beautiful Horses”. Since that time Cappadocia has seen the rise and fall of many different civilizations. It is a land of vast plains, rolling hills, rugged mountains and extinct volcanoes. It is a veritable treasure of historical relics from the Chalcolithic era to the Seljuk Turks period.

In recent times, Cappadocia became famous for its unique landscape of valleys and unusual rock formations, known as “fairy chimneys”. The formation of this strange landscape started during the third geological period, when three volcanoes located on the edges of this region began erupting frequently. The deposits of volcanoes ash, lava and basalt laid the foundations for today’s landscape. Earthquakes and ongoing effects of erosion have contributed to form the valleys and the “fairy chimneys” that can be seen today. As the rock below the top layer of basalt is extremely soft, it can be easily carved. Communities took advantage of this to make their home in the rock pillars and under the ground. Today, these examples of homes, churches and whole cities abound in Cappadocia.

fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

fairy chimneys


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. In addition to 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 Cappadocian climate, with sharp changes of temperature, heavy rains, and melting snow in the spring, plays an important role in the formation of the Cappadocian 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 preexisting 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.


Cappadocia fairy chimneys

Cappadocia fairy chimneys

“Fairy chimneys” were formed when lava covering the tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) gave way along preexisting cracks of sloping areas and became isolated pinnacles. They can attain a height of up to forty meters, 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 leveled down.


Erciyes, located to the southwest of Kayseri, is the tallest volcano in Central Anatolia and covers almost 1,500 square kilometers. 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.

Mt Erciyes

Mt Erciyes

There is a possible 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 symbolize 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 times 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.


Mt. Hasan Dag - Twin Volcano, Catal Hoyuk - Obsidian - Earliest Known Landscape

Mt. Hasan Dag - Twin Volcano, Catal Hoyuk - Obsidian - Earliest Known Landscape

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 meters 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.

For more detailed information go to our post focusing on Hasan Dag and Catal Huyuk


The Kizilirmak, the longest river (1,182 kilometers) 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 colored 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 favorable 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, 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 kilometers long and up to one hundred meters 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 centimeters along the shore. In the spring a variety of birds such as flamingos, cranes, and sea gulls can be seen on Salt Lake.

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