Cappadocia and its Rural Landscape

Theme: Revitalization of Rural Heritage Landscapes

by Ms. Münire Nurgül Büyükgüllü
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Istanbul, Turkey
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
Masters Candidate in Restoration (Conservation) program, Istanbul Technical University (ITU)



Revitalization can be considered as one of the important aspects of rural heritage. It affects both the local people, the built environment and its surroundings. Especially with the help of rural tourism, the rural areas can be revitalized. In this content, the effects of rural tourism on the revitalization of the rural areas will be explained.


Figure 1: Göreme, Love Valley, (Source: ©author, 2018)

Rural heritage and its revitalization is extremely important due to the fact that it faces several problems related to its development. The balanced exchange between tourism and the local community should be taken into consideration. Rural tourism is a delicate subject regarding the conservation statement of the site. Both the dwellings and its surroundings of natural heritage must be preserved. In the European Council “the Protection and Enhancement of the Rural Architectural Heritage” (1989), it has been stated that the built and natural heritage are inseparable.

For the revitalization of the rural areas, tourism is a leading factor and the local people should be a part of the process of the rural development. In the European Council “Rural Revival Policies in the Balance Between Town And Country” (1973), it has been asserted that the new jobs other than the agricultural field, should be present by the development of tourism and recreation areas and the local people should benefit from the economy with the support of public authorities. Hence, Cappadocia and its rural landscape is an example of the revitalization of rural heritage by tourism.

Brief History of Cappadocia

Cappadocia is located in the province of Nevşehir-Kayseri in the central Anatolia region. Many civilizations have lived in the area since Catholic period and it was an important center of Christianity, especially in the 7th to 13th century A.D. The area is especially known for its “fairy chimneys” and attracts many visitors every year from different countries.

The Mount Erciyes and Mount Hasan’s Tufa were erupted by water (from the Kızılırmak River and Melendiz River) and wind, caused interesting rock formations. Therefore, Avas have lead the formation of the igneous rocks from time to time. Since the erosion had been occurred in various parts of the rocks, some of the fairy chimneys were in the shape of conic bodies with a hat at the top. Apart from the geological formations, Cappadocia has Troglodyte villages, many subterranean cities, ancient churches and many more that are located among the rocks

Figure 2: Ürgüp, Paşabağı (Monks Valley), (Source: ©author, 2018)

As stated before, Cappadocia is very significant of its Christian sanctuaries dating back to the 4th century. The area is famous of its middle Byzantine period churches and it is known that the Christians came to the area to flee persecution. Even the subterranean cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu was used to refuge (ICOMOS, 1985). Although some of the carved monuments are dated back to the late periods and have been used for different purposes such as storage, shelters or cells as apart of churches. The churches in the area have examples of the post-iconoclastic Byzantine art. Some of these important churches are Tokalı Church, El Nazar Church, St. Barbara Church, Karanlık Church and Elmalı Church.

Taking all of these matters into consideration, the area was declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The area includes Nevşehir, Ürgüp and Avanos, the pigeon site of Karain, Karlık Church, Yeşilöz Theodoro Church, Soğanlı Archaeological Site, the subterranean cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu and Göreme National Park. Consequently, it was inscribed as “Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia” by the criteria I, III, V and VII.

  • For criterion (I), the iconoclastic artworks,
  • For criterion (III), the villages and buildings representing the timeline of Byzantine Empire till Seljuk Turks, can be stated.
  • Since Cappadocia is a unique example of both nature and human interaction, it was considered for the criterion (V).
  • For the criterion (VII), the geological formations and the rural landscape of Göreme Valley can be given.

Overall, the geological process still continues to evolve and new formations still continue to occur. Consequently, the Outstanding Universal Value of Cappadocia represents within its natural and cultural heritage.

Architectural Aspects of the Area

The geological formations could also be seen in the dwellings in villages. The natural heritage of the area has been affected by people and it turned into a cultural heritage as well. Different layers of culture and history have been formed the surrounding traditional architecture. Thus, the buildings were accordingly constructed with the traditional materials, Tufa rocks. Since Tufa rocks can easily be forged, people took advantage of the materials and built vernacular their settlements. Realizing the process of Tufa rocks, the settlements were built by three methods, which are rock Hewn, stone masonry and mixed (rock and masonry). Most of the buildings are mixed, some of them even get support from the rocks as well. Additionally, the stone masonry buildings date back to the 19th century (Ertürk & Karakul, 2016).

Figure 3: Göreme, (Source: ©author, 2018)

The rock Hewn and stone masonry buildings have good conditions of living both in summer and winter. Including underground stories, the rock Hewn buildings have many rooms with different purposes to use. Furthermore, with their courtyards and private open areas, the houses form a different example of dwellings. The architectural and natural elements have formed a rare combination and eventually this lead many people to come and visit the area.

In addition, the rock Hewn churches are known to be built by the Christians as stated before. Both the architectural and natural elements were taken into consideration while building these churches. It can be stated that the rock Hewn churches were formed according to built churches even though they are carved inside out with the elements such as vaults, domes, pendentives etc. (Kostof, 1989, as cited in Öztürk, 2010).

Tourism and Its Effects

Cappadocia is one of the main Turkish attraction that comes to one’s mind when he decides to visit Turkey. It is quite natural. It welcomes many tourists every year both from Turkey and abroad. The area is very rich with all of the villages and the unusual geological formations. There are many places to visit such as Göreme, Uçhisar, Ürgüp, Çavuşin, Ortahisar, Mustafapaşa and many more. However this leading factor of tourism caused several problems to the area indeed.

First of all, tourism has a major effect on the conservation of the cultural heritage. With the uncontrolled visitor flow, the rock Hewn structures were against serious damages. In many churches, wooden platforms were placed due to abrasion. The frescoes and the artifacts are still affected by the visitors. Also, around the Göreme Open Air Museum, the roads were shut down due to the damages they caused. Because of the vehicles’ vibrations, some of Tufa rocks were falling down and in the villages nearby, the houses were deteriorated (Bilgili, 2018). In addition, there are new settlements around the villages surrounding the area. These new buildings shouldn’t corrupt the natural aspects of the environment.

Since the area is formed by both natural and human interaction, it should be protected as it is. Also, in some of the villages, while restoring the buildings, the decorations do not resemble the original ones while to build new dwellings, the decorations are imitating the old ones and appeared as originals.

Figure 4: Uçhisar, Pigeon Valley, (Source: ©author, 2018).

However, tourism could be considered as a positive factor too, especially for rural development. Before inscribing the area as UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monuments were facing severe conditions of damage. The traditional aspects of the villages were left maintenance-free and were deteriorated. Due to the earthquakes, the fairy chimneys were damaged but could also be considered as a part of the process of the geological formations. Also, the churches were abandoned after the Christian community has started to leave the area and this eventually caused the rock Hewn churches to deteriorate and expose to vandalism. This is an important matter to consider the authenticity factor. Because of inscribing on the World Heritage List, all of the monuments and decorations were restored and kept monitored because it is a touristic site now.

As a conclusion to the fact that the area has become a touristic place rather than a dwelling settlement, the monuments have become a touristic object and are reused as hotels. Even though there are villages that are still protecting their authenticity mostly such as İbrahimpaşa village, it can be observed that in some of the villages such as Ürgüp, Ortahisar and Göreme, the amount of buildings which are reused for tourism have increased (Karakul, 2019).

Examples of Revitalization

In this case, revitalization is a significant factor considering the touristic value of the area. Some of the works that have been done were successful and some were not unfortunately. Four of the successful examples will be given and explained.

The first example is the Sarıca Church, completed by KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture Ltd. The church is located in Ürgüp, Mustafapaşa. Sarıca Church is one of the churches in Cappadocia, dated back to 10th-13th centuries, which has “cross-in-square” plan layout such as Elmalı Church and Karanlık Church. The church was buried in ruins until the restoration project had started. Also, some of the interventions show that the area could have been used for a pigeon house. There were structural damages, missing pieces of the architectural elements such as columns, altar stone etc. and also erosion was part of the causes of deterioration. Hence, the restoration project started in 1997 and within the process of the project, the stages of documentation such as survey and restitution were also done. Thus, the architectural elements were repaired, a water drainage system was formed, some of the softened rocks were replaced with harder Tufa and the decorations in the church were restored. Later on, the church was open to public in 2004. The restoration work also included the visitors to fully experience the church with its interior by providing lighting, information panels and a walkway. Overall, the restoration work was a success and received several awards such as the ”Conservation Award” of the National Architecture Exhibition and Awards, The ”Green Palm” Award of GEO – SAISON, the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / EUROPA NOSTRA Awards, 2006 / Architectural Heritage Top Prize and more.

Figure 5 & 6: Sarıca Church, before and after restoration, (Source: Arkitera Architecture Center,

The second example is the Kayakapı Neighborhood. The restoration project was about the conservation of the historical monuments with their surrounding. The area of Kayakapı Neighborhood was in the disaster area declared in 1969 due to the earthquakes. Later on, the neighborhood was excluded from the disaster area and the project was done by Ürgüp Municipality and Kayakapı Tourism Investment Trade Inc. based on restore-operate-transfer model. The project was mainly focused on tourism and the neighborhood turned into a hotel area. The cave houses are named after the families that lived there last and turned into somehow modern suites. They represent the historical and cultural heritage of the area to the visitors and let them experience a different environment within nature.

Figure 7 & 8: Kayakapı Neighbourhood, 108 Muhittin Toker House before and after restoration, (
Figure 9 & 10: Kayakapı Neighbourhood, 119 Mehmet Tokat House before and after restoration, (

The third example is a conservation project called “Argos in Cappadocia”. The advisory of the project is the architect Turgut Cansever who won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The project takes place in Uçhisar village. The area was in ruins for many years and was full of rock Hewn buildings representing the traditional culture. The aim of the project was to protect the historical values of the area and finding the balance with tourism. As it was stated before in the previous example, some villages were declared as disaster areas by the support of the government and this village is also one of them. Soon after, people left the village and it turned into ruins. Later on, the founder partner of Argos in Cappadocia Hotel had discovered the village and in 1997 the restoration work had started. The hotel opened to public in 2010. The restoration work was done in 6 stages and in each stage new buildings were discovered. One of them was a monastery with 1500 years of history, used as Bezirhane and Caravanserai before and now it is used for social and cultural purposes. A wine cellar, underground water tunnels and terraces were found as well. Since it is a unique example of architecture, the stone masters have a major part in the restoration work. In the area there are several types of houses that expresses the typology of the region with courtyards and streets. Argos in Cappadocia is a successful example of the revitalization of the rock Hewn buildings.

Figure 11: Argos in Cappadocia, (Source: Arkiv,

The last example is the Göreme Open Air Museum which was already mentioned. It is quite famous for its natural and cultural heritage that the tourists pay a visit often. There are many churches open to visit in the Göreme Open Air Museum such as the Chapel St. Basil, Elmalı Church, Karanlık Church, Tokalı Church etc. All of the decorations in these churches express the period of Byzantine art. Some of the churches and their decorations show an integrity with each other and can be visited accordingly. Even though the area is quite large, the visitors still experience the multiple layers of historical aspects since there are many things to discover both inside and outside the churches

Figure 12: Göreme Open Air Museum, (Source: ©author, 2018)


Revitalization extremely important while restoring and preserving the rural areas. Due to the fact that tourism is a leading factor for the development of rural areas, it affects both the natural and cultural properties. However, it can be either positive or negative. Therefore, the topic of reuse and revitalization should be taken into consideration. On the other hand, as it is stated in the Article 6 of “the Venice Charter” (1964), the monuments are a part of their surroundings and the history. Therefore, the cultural and natural heritage should both be protected especially in the rural areas such as Cappadocia.


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