Millions of years ago, lava from the volcanoes of Erciyas to the East and Hasan to the west covered the region and formed what we call as Cappadocia today. The history of Cappadocia begins with the arrival of man after the lava had cooled more than 10,000 years ago.
Mingling with the people of Neşa in the area, the Proto-Hittites founded the strong Hittite Kingdom. They made Hattusa their capital and their kingdom lasted until BC 1200. The most extensive information about the Hittite civilisation was obtained from the written sources found at the excavations at Hattusa and Kanish of Kayseri.
In BC 1200 coming to Anatolia invaders repeatedly sacked, burnt and eventually eliminated the Hittite Kingdom. We can still see the traces of those conflagrations at Boğazköy, Alacahöyük and Alişar. After the destruction of the Hittite Kingdom, many small states were formed and there was no central control over Anatolia for hundreds of years. Afterward the Phrygians who were famous for horse raising took control from BC VI to II centuries.
Unfortunately we do not know where the Phrygians originally came from, in which areas they first settled or how they managed to form such a powerful kingdom. But we do know that they came to Anatolia across the Bosphorus and, according to Herodotus, they were called ‘Brygs’ or ‘Birgs’ in Europe. After the Phrygians, Cappadocia fell under the control of the Medes for a short period of time. With the sudden collapse of the Mede Empire in the mid-6th C BC, the whole of Anatolia came under Persian rule in BC 547.
The Persian Empire was divided into states administered by governors called “Khshatrapa”‘ by the Persians and Satrap by the ancient Greeks. There were more than 20 satrapies during the Persian period. Because they were part of a larger kingdom they paid their annual taxes with gold, silver talents or horses, therefore “Katpatuka” meant ‘the Land of Beautiful Horses’ in Persian.
BC 333, Alexander the Great occupied the southern part of Cappadocia. And after appointing a Persian named Sabiktasas, he continued south on his great campaign to conquer India. About a year later, Ariarethes I, loved and supported by the locals, became the King of Cappadocia. Although he extended the borders of his Kingdom to the Black Sea, Perdiccas, one of Alexander’s stepsons, marched into Cappadocia and seized control. Due to Alexander’s sudden death with no heir, his empire began to weaken. Struggles for power amongst his generals, known as Diadochi in history, continued for about 300 years. Eventually the Romans brought an end to the last Hellenistic kingdom in BC 30.
Ariarethes II, the adopted son of Ariarethes who had left the country after Perdiccas’ campaign, returned to Cappadocia in BC 30. And he took over the southern region so he was able to restore unity.
Ariarethes III, IV and V extended the boundaries of their kingdoms. The Cappadocian king Ariarethes V sunmmoned Greek artists and scientists to his palace. At this time the cities of Mazaka (Kayseri) and Tyana (Kemerhisar) got Hellenised and Hellenistic culture became dominant in all of Cappadocia. After the death of Ariarethes V, the history of Cappadocia was one of turmoil and strife as control of the region swung between Rome and the Pontus Kingdom. And control eventually rested with the Roman Empire.
In BC 47, Caesar’s army at war with the Pontus Kingdom, conquered the southern Pontus region, including Cappadocia. The Roman army later settled in Mazaka and changed its name as Caesarea. Moreover the area became a Roman state in BC 17.
Jesus was thirty when he began teaching the word of God in Palestine. And later Roman governor of Jerusalem, who claimed Jesus would found a new state in Palestine, had him crucified upon the accusations of Pontius Pilate. Soon after his death Jesus’ disciples left Palestine to spread the lessons of Christianity in different regions.
Christianity developed in Central Anatolia and they placed great importance on the building of churches and monasteries. This might be with the influence of Gregory of Naziansus, Gregory of Nyssa and St Basil the Great. Three important theologians of the time, all native to Cappadocia. The early places of worship were usually small monastic retreats. These were not architecturally significant buildings. But they were modest places of worship generally built in the valleys, near the river beds. Or in places difficult to access as Christianity was still not freely practiced.
In 310 in the midst of civil turmoil and rebellion within the Roman Empire, Constantine became Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 313, he liberated Christianity and named Byzantium as Constantinople (now Istanbul) the new capital of the Empire. Thus along his reign he tolerated Christianity therefore it spread rapidly and developed with the construction of many churches, monasteries and hermitages. Thereupon Cappadocia and its places of Christian worship fell under the influence of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The 7th C saw important events both in the Byzantine Empire(Eastern Roman Empire) and abroad. In Arabia a new religion, Islam, arose and spread to the borders of Byzantine Empire. Mesleme, a commander of one of Caliph Ömer armies, brought his army as far west as Kayseri to defeat the Byzantines in 717 and 718. Within the Empire, the developing tendency of monks to worship icons to the degree of idolatry was seen as heretical.
With the law passed by Leo IV in 726, the Iconaclastic Period began and the power of the Church over society diminished. During this period, religious depictions were forbidden and many churches and monasteries were abandoned. The Iconoclastic Period continued until 843 when Empress Theodora once again liberated icons. Following this, new churches popped up in the valleys of Göreme, lhlara and Soğanlı. The interior of these churches had beautiful decoration of frescoes showing scenes from the Bible. The most beautiful churches and frescoes of the Byzantine Era date back to this period. And the building of churches continued until the 13th C the beginning of Ottoman rule.
Seljuk Turks who took control of Anatolia in 1071, never restricted the religious, beliefs and practices of the Byzantines. Churches and mosques were often built in the same town exemplifying the religious and cultural tolerance that pervaded this period. A good example of this is Zelve valley.
Although it is not possible to give an exact number of churches, chapels and hermitages built in Cappadocia, 400 would be a reasonable guess. In early Christianity, believers often hollowed out simple cave to serve as private places of worship. Most of the surviving frecoes and decorations found in the churches of Cappadocia date back to the periods after Iconoclasm. They are either in the classical style with beautiful, detailed drawings or simply depict the subject. Many share the same architectural lay-out.
The caves of Cappadocia, served as shelters for invading armies, later turned into places of secret worship. However with the invasion of the Seljuk Turks in 1071 and their tolerance for Christianity, these underground caves and hidden places of worship lost their importance. After the collapse of the Seljuks, the period of small states started in Anatolia. And Cappadocian towns become a part of different states at different times.
One of those states, the Ottomans, grew to control the whole of Anatolia. Although they tolerated Christianity during the Ottoman Period, there was no significant religious development. The Christian community in Cappadocia effectively came to an end with the population exchange between Turkey and Greece after the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
History, nature and mankind have created many important wonders in Cappadocia:
1- The unique natural landscape, including fairy chimneys, rock formations and valleys.
2- The rock-hewn churches decorated with frescoes from the 6th – 12th C of scenes from Bible, especially the lives of Jesus, Mother Mary and saints.
3- The underground settlements many consider to be the 8th wonder of the ancient world. They date back to long before Christ and were served as secret places of worship and shelters.