Many settlements in Cappadocia were established primarily as monastic communities. As Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in the 4th century, St. Basil the Great wrote the rules for monastic life that are still followed by monks and nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church. He advocated community life, prayer and physical labor rather than the solitary asceticism that was popular at the time and it was under his guidance that the first churches were built in Goreme Valley. Here, a number of small communities with their own churches formed the large monastic complex that is now the Open Air Museum. Hundreds of churches are reported to have been built in this valley but no churches from St. Basil's time remain. In Goreme, the Tokali Kilise or the "Buckle Church" is easily the loveliest of the churches with graceful arches and beautiful frescoes.
The most impressive monastery in Cappadocia is the Eskigumus Monastery to the east of Nigde off the Kayseri-Nigde road. It is the most southerly of the Cappadocian monasteries and lies close to the route taken by the invading Arabs who traversed the Tarsus Mountains from the south to plunder Kayseri in the 7th century. This route follows the Tarsus River through a precipitous defile called the Gulek Bogazi. It was known in the ancient world as the Cicilian Gates and was used by Alexander the Great in his eastward campaign against the Persians. The nondescript entrance to the Eskigumus Monastery was designed to shield the monastery complex from invaders passing by. It was so successful that the monastery was not discovered until 1963, having escaped the vandalism to which many of the Cappadocian churches and monasteries were subjected. The large inner courtyard boasts high walls surrounded by monastic rooms and storage chambers. The main church is spacious and airy and its well-preserved frescoes are considered to be the best example of Byzantine art in all of Cappadocia.
Near Uchisar is a valley that has become quite popular with hikers. It is known by many names (Valley of the Pigeon Lofts, Dovecote Valley, Pigeon Valley) but they all refer to the thousands of pigeon houses that have been carved into the soft tufa since ancient times. Although they can be found throughout Cappadocia, they are especially plentiful in this valley which must have one of the greatest collections of pigeon lofts in the world. They were carved wherever space allowed including abandoned caves and the walls of collapsed churches. They lack the architectural interest of the doocots of Scotland or the elaborate Persian pigeon towers but their sheer numbers are astonishing. In Cappadocia, pigeons have long been a source of food and fertilizer. The advent of chemical fertilizers has reduced the use of pigeon fertilizer. However, some farmers still maintain their lofts because they insist that the reputation of Cappadocian fruits as the sweetest and most succulent in Turkey is entirely due to the pigeons' droppings.
Although referred to as "cities," the underground communities of Cappadocia probably served as temporary shelters rather than as permanent hidden cities. The incessant darkness is hardly conducive to life and some of the passageways are little more than crawling spaces that would have been intolerable in long-term situations. No one is certain as to the number of underground communities that exist or even by whom they were built.
The two largest communities that have been unearthed are located at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, 20 and 30 kms. south of Nevsehir on the Nevsehir-Nigde road. It is thought that the Hittites may have excavated the first few levels in the rock when they came under attack from the Phrygians around 1200 BC. However, some archaeologists believe that the oldest caves, those hewn with stone rather than metal tools, are substantially older. These chambers were later expanded into an extensive troglodytic complex by Christians escaping the Arab invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries.
Discreet entrances give way to elaborate subterranean systems with air shafts, waste shafts, wells, chimneys and connecting passageways. The upper levels were used for living quarters while the lower levels were used for storage, wine making, flour grinding and worship in simple chapels. Everywhere, walls have been blackened from the use of torches. There is a connecting tunnel between Kaymakli and Derinkuyu that allowed three people to walk through at the same time but it is not available to the public as parts of the tunnel have collapsed.
Only 10 kms. to the east of Kaymakli is another cavetown at Mazikoy that may be connected with Derinkuyu but this remains to be proven. This community was built within the walls of a cliff. Unlike Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, there are no stairs or grades that pass from one level to the next. Instead, the different levels are well defined with connecting tunnels through which people climbed up or let themselves down by means of footholds carved into the walls of the shafts. Mazikoy is often bypassed because it is a smaller community, its location is away from the main road and a certain agility is required to fully appreciate its features.
Avanos (Venessa) a town which is famous for its fine pottery works, located on the Red River, Kizilirmak.