Cappodocia was surrounded by 3 volcanoes. When they erupted millions of years ago, they left behind a layer of Tufa which is much softer than other sedimentary layers. This is the layer which rock churches were cut into during the period 4 th to 8 th centuries.
The paintings inside the rock churches in the Ilhara Valley were very vibrant colors. Many had damage from being attacked during the Iconoclastic period. They were Byzantine Christian art preserved mainly by their remote locations and the dry climate.
Farmers use stones to show their fields borders.
During the Arab invasions of this area, Byzantine Christians added to cities carved down as many as 13 stories below ground. They lived totally underground since they included wells for water and ventilation shafts for fresh air. Once the invaders moved on, the people moved above ground and resumed their lives. These cities were not rediscovered until the 1960s.
It is believed that the earliest of these underground cities were started during the Hittite period. As people needed protection, they would retreat to them and continue to enlarge and expand them. Sometimes, people lived underground for 3 or 4 months at a time. The need for safety drove their creation and use.
From the early 2 nd century, Christians had settled in this area to live a solitary Christian life. As more and more were attracted to the area, Christian communities started to form here. St. Basil formed small secluded settlements where Christians lived a simple life of prayer and work. Education was a main focus of this work. Goreme preserves many of the rock cut churches of this period and allows tourists to see them without damaging them.