Things to Do in Goreme
Cappadocia’s wind-sculpted volcanic tufa has created an impressive series of valleys, dotted with towering “fairy chimneys” and dramatic rock formations. Taking its name from the pigeonholes carved into the tops of its fairy chimneys, Pigeon Valley (Güvercinlik Vadisi) is stunning, and visitors to Cappadocia shouldn’t miss it.
Uchisar Castle (Uçhisar Kalesi) is Cappadocia’s tallest fairy chimney, Mother Nature’s castle in the form of a volcanic rock outcrop visible from miles in any direction. While not a castle by the standard definition the outcrop was used during the late Byzantine and early Ottoman periods as a natural fortress for protection against armies on the surrounding plains. Erosion has revealed a honeycomb-like structure of cavities within the rock, many of which were used as natural dwellings until the makeshift village was evacuated during the 1960s.
A climb up 120 steps leads to the summit of Uchisar Castle — a perfect vantage point for watching a sunset over the stunning Cappadocian landscape.
The Rose Valley (Güllüdere Vadisi) in Cappadocia is filled with enormous, cone-shaped rocks and offers some of the region’s best hiking. Home to the Cross Church (Haçli Kilise), the Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise), and other sighes, the valley is particularly striking late in the day when the sinking sun brings out the stones’ rosy glow.
Cappadocia is already well known for its unusual rock formations, but at Devrent Valley—nicknamed Imagination Valley—these large stones are the densest cluster found anywhere else in the region and they seem to take on a life of their own.
Monks Valley (Paşabağ Vadisi) in Cappadocia is famous for its perfect fairy chimneys, sculpted from ancient lava, ash, and basalt. Often known as Pasabag, Monks Valley is famous for its opportunities to hike among the boulders and into the hills that ring the area. If you just want to relax, in the small village by the road there are stalls serving hot spiced wine in winter, and freshly-squeezed juices in summer. There are also a few cafes where you can grab a bite to eat, and stores selling Cappadocia textiles and artwork.
Monks Valley was once home to hermetic monks who sheltered in the smaller cones atop the upper sections of the fairy chimneys. There was once a Simeon monks’ hermitage here too, and today you can still see the chapel dedicated to Saint Simeon who, fed up with all the attention he was getting in 5th century Aleppo when word got around that he could perform miracles, hightailed it to the top of the highest fairy chimney he could find, and only descended in order to receive food and drink from his disciples.
The Zelve Open-Air Museum sits on site of the remains of a Byzantine monastery that was carved into the rock face in ancient times. Zelve was a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th century, and in fact the area was inhabited right up until 1952. 15 years after locals abandoned the site, Zelve was turned into the open-air museum that can be seen and explored today.
The site features various remnants of local life, including houses, a tunnel joining two of the valleys, a mill, and a small mosque. Beyond the mill, the Balıklı Kilise (Fish Church) can be found, while the impressive Üzümlü Kilise (Grape Church) adjoins it.
The three valleys of Zelve are a great spot for trekking around and exploring in peace, as it isn’t as popular with tourists as the Göreme Open-Air Museum nearby. The site also has a good walking trail looping around the valleys, giving access to various caves and chambers and featuring dramatic crags and pinnacles along the way.
Famous for the castle-like rock formation looming 90 meters high above the town, Ortahisar, or Middle Castle, is, well, right in the middle of the Cappadocian towns of Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar, and Neveshir.
Though it is becoming more popular with visitors, Ortahisar is still a quiet farming town that’s sleepier than many of the other Cappadocian hotspots that are today bursting with boutique hotels. Life in Ortahisar is based around the cobbled streets which extend from the central square, and wandering the streets lined with stone houses is a great way to get a taste of life in a traditional Cappadocian town.
The town is also known for the Culture Museum Restaurant, where a series of dioramas in the upstairs room displays traditional life in Cappadocia, while downstairs the restaurant isn’t a sideline next to the gift shop, it’s in the actual museum. Just a few kilometers is a museum of another kind, Goreme Open Air Museum. You can walk there from Ortahisar if you have good hiking legs! Also, 1km northeast of the town center, you can visit Hallacdere Monastery where intriguing animal heads are sculpted on the walls.
Smaller than Cappadocia’s other subterranean cities like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, Ozkonak Underground City (Özkonak Yeraltı Şehri) is also much less crowded. On the northern slopes of Mount Idis, as you hunch to stroll the tiny corridors of this ancient city you'll feel very big compared to the people who once lived here. Likely built in the Byzantine era, though perhaps even older, Özkonak Underground City was rediscovered in the '70s by a local farmer who wondered where his excess crop water was going. Turns out it was going into a huge subterranean city stretching ten floors deep and able to house 60,000 people.
Reaching a depth of 40 meters in total, today only the first four floors of Özkonak Underground City are open. As you wander the tiny corridors, you'll see the sophistication of the city which had a built-communication system made up of pipes that connected all 10 levels. Look out for holes in the walls too — these provided ventilation in the event that Özkonak city would have to close itself off to the outside world if enemies tried to invade. The underground city also had its own winery and water well, and if enemies did get too close, well Özkonak’s inhabitants were more than ready to pour hot oil on them through secret holes designed for that very purpose.
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