The Cappadocia region of Turkey is famous for pottery and carpets, but it's especially famous for its rocks. The volcanoes in the area, Erciyes and Hasan, spent millions of years belching out tons of volcanic ash and lava. Over time the layers of ash compacted, hardened, and became a soft crumbly rock called tuff (also called tufa). Because this rock is soft, it is easily eroded by water, wind, and sandstorms.
The landscape in Cappadocia is straight out of a sculptor's fantasy. Towers and turrets, caves and caverns abound.
During the last few thousand years, humans have helped the erosion along by carving into the rock to make homes, churches, and roosting holes for pigeons. Even entire towns were carved into the sides of hills.
In the picture below, people had been living and carving in this hill for so long, without knowing where other people were carving, that it weakened the rock too much. Eventually the whole hill face broke off and crashed down about 50 years ago. The village has been rebuilt nearby (on the ground).
The hotel I stayed in, Cappadocia Cave Suites, was built into existing caves that had been carved into a hillside (the government now restricts new carving to avoid further overcarving problems like the collapsed village above). The picture below shows the remains of an old Christian church whose outer wall had collapsed previously. The hotel room is right underneath it. Builders shore up or augment the caverns with blocks of stone (more tuff) and concrete.
Here is an area where humans haven't changed the landscape quite so much (though the small trees in the foreground are part of an orchard of fruit trees):
Note the size of the poplar trees at the bottom of the ravine in the following picture. They are probably 30-40 feet tall.
Ashes Aren't Just Ashes
The location in the picture above is known for the thickness and whiteness (purity) of the uppermost ash layer (because it was late in the afternoon, there isn't so much light down in the ravine, so the colors aren't as vivid). Other layers are different colors. Red layers indicate ash that had a high amount of iron in it, while yellow layers indicate a high sulfur content.
Sometimes you see larger pieces of rock (lava) that were caught in between layers of ash and then eroded into view. Look for the little dark rock about halfway up the tower:
The layers have different hardnesses as well. That's why erosion leaves the "mushroom caps", or seemingly-loose rocks perched atop a rock column. The harder layers don't erode, while the softer layers erode out from under them.
Up, Up, and Away
Flying up above Cappadocia in a hot air balloon provides a very different perspective of the lava and tuff rock formations. From here you can get a much broader view of the various layers. For example, it's easy to see that thick white layer of ash across a wide area that includes many ravines:
It's also easy to see how the lava created a huge flat surface, and how water created valleys as it ran down the rock (and you can see the snow-covered volcano in the distance):
Farmers have planted everywhere they can find a flat surface, including on top of the ancient lava and ash flows and down inside the water-carved valleys. Volcanic soil is very fertile if you can find a big enough space to plant.
Towns huddle at the bottom of the carved rocks:
Cappadocia is a true wonder of the world. For the gawker, it's an amazing place with fantastic formations every way you turn. For the day-dreamer, it's a place to imagine castles, camels, and embracing lovers. For the artist, it's Nature's Art on a grand scale. For the geology fan, it rocks!