Found in a remarkable landscape entirely sculpted by erosion, Göreme National Park in Turkey is characterized by a rocky landscape honeycombed with networks of ancient underground settlements and outstanding examples of Byzantine art. Located on the central Anatolia plateau, the unique rock structures of Göreme not only create a distinctive terrain of mountain ridges, valleys and pinnacles known as “fairy chimneys” or hoodoos, but also reveal one of the most striking and largest cave-dwellings complexes in the world.
About 30 million years ago, volcanoes spewed ash over the landscape and the ash solidified into rock, called tuff, many meters thick. Over millennia, wind and water eroded the tuff into odd shapes, including spires and cones. Beginning in the 4th century, small anchorite communities began to inhabit the pinnacle formations and started to mold the soft tuff to their needs, creating windows, doors, stairways, and even churches. The rupestral (rocky) dwellings, villages, and convents created by the anchorites still retain the fossilized image of the Byzantine Empire.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Göreme National Park has more than a hundred underground settlements, but only a few are open to visitors. Traversing the underground civilizations is one way to admire the historic creations, but another worthwhile experience is viewing the terrain from the sky on a hot air balloon tour, which begins every day at sunrise. Spring (April to June) and Autumn (September to November) are the best times to visit the area, when temperatures are more comfortable, but winter (December to March) can offer an eccentric winter wonderland scene if you are considering a trip during the holiday season.