The curious landscapes of Turkey’s Cappadocia region resulted from thousands of years of volcanic activity, erosion, and human input, which helped shape tuff, a porous rock formed by volcanic debris, into unexpected forms. From formations forged by nature to man-made rock structures, here’s where to find Cappadocia’s top rock formations.
Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley)
Devrent Valley is known for its lunar-like landscapes and sculptural rock formations, many of which, despite being the work of nature, appear as though they were shaped by human hands. Look out for fairy chimneys (tall spires of rock topped by a larger, harder piece of rock) and formations that—if you tilt your head at the right angle—resemble animals, including camels and seals.
Göreme Open-Air Museum
A must-see site in Cappadocia, Göreme Open-Air Museum is home to a collection of rock-carved churches, chapels, and monasteries created by Byzantine monks. The highlight of the site is Karanlik Kilise, a rock church filled with well-preserved religious frescoes.
While most of Cappadocia’s rock formations are visible above ground, there are also some spectacular subterranean sites. The underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymakli feature a network of underground tunnels and rooms carved directly into the volcanic rock.
A popular hiking spot in the region, the Ihlara Valley is known for its 8.6-mile (14-kilometer) gorge, which plumb depths of up to 328 feet (100 meters). The red-rock walls of the gorge are steep and sheer in parts, and man-made cave churches are peppered throughout the valley.
Also known as the Three Beauties, this trio of fairy chimneys in Ürgüp is one of the most-photographed formations in the region. According to local legend, the stones represent a princess, her shepherd husband, and their child, all of whom were turned to stone—according to the princess’ wishes—after her father, the king, ordered they be killed.
The euphemistically named Love Valley is the butt of many jokes, thanks to its cluster of phallic-shaped pillar formations. Formed by the gradual erosion of the soft volcanic rock, some of these pillars reach heights of up to 130 feet (40 meters).