Cappadocia—Where People Lived in Dwellings Carved by Wind and Water
THE apostle Peter spoke of Cappadocia. He addressed his first inspired letter, in part, to “the temporary residents scattered about in . . . Cappadocia.” (1 Peter 1:1) What type of land was Cappadocia? Why did its inhabitants live in dwellings carved out of stone? How were they exposed to Christianity?
“We found ourselves suddenly lost in a forest of cones and pillars of rock,” said British traveler W. F. Ainsworth, who visited Cappadocia in the 1840’s. The unique landscape still startles modern-day visitors to this region of Turkey. Huddled like mute sentinels among the Cappadocian valleys are strange “statues” of stone. Some look like gigantic chimneys towering 100 feet [30 meters] or more into the sky. Others resemble gigantic ice-cream cones, obelisks, or mushrooms.
How beautifully the sun paints these statues with different colors during the course of the day! At dawn they are a pale pink. By midday they take on the color of bleached ivory, and the setting sun turns them a golden ocher. What formed this “forest of cones and pillars of rock”? And why did the people of the region make their homes in them?
Carved by Wind and Water
Cappadocia is located in the heart of the Anatolian Peninsula, which bridges Asia and Europe. This region would be a plateau were it not for its two volcanoes. Millenniums ago, their mighty volcanic eruptions covered the area with two types of rock—hard basalt and soft tufa, a white rock formed from solidified volcanic ash.
As rivers, rain, and wind began to erode the soft tufa, canyons opened up. In time, some of the cliffs bordering these canyons gradually broke up into a myriad of columns of rocky cones, endowing the land with sculptures found nowhere else on earth. Some of the rocky cones took on the appearance of veritable honeycombs. The local inhabitants carved out rooms in the soft rock and added more rooms as the family grew. They also found these dwellings to be cool in summer and warm in winter.
Living at a Crossroads of Civilization
The cave dwellers of Cappadocia would likely have been left largely to themselves had they not lived at an important crossroads of civilization. The famous Silk Road, the 4,000 mile [6,500 km] trade route linking the Roman Empire with China, went through Cappadocia. Besides the tradesmen, Persian, Greek, and Roman armies traveled along this route. These travelers brought new religious ideas.
By the second century B.C.E., Jewish settlements were evident in Cappadocia. And Jews from this region were present in Jerusalem in the year 33 C.E. They were there to celebrate the Festival of Pentecost. Thus, the apostle Peter preached to Cappadocian Jews after the outpouring of holy spirit. (Acts 2:1-9) Some evidently responded to his message and took their newfound faith back home. Hence, Peter addressed Cappadocian Christians in his first letter.
As the years went by, though, Christians in Cappadocia began to be influenced by pagan philosophies. Three principal Cappadocian church leaders of the fourth century even strongly defended the unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity. They were Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and his brother Gregory of Nyssa.
Basil the Great also encouraged a monastic life-style. The humble Cappadocian dwellings carved out of stone were well-suited for the austere way of life he recommended. As the monastic community grew, complete churches were constructed inside some of the larger cones. By the 13th century, about three hundred churches had been carved out of the rock. Many of these have been preserved until today.
Although the churches and monasteries have fallen into disuse, the life-style of the local people has changed little over the centuries. Many caves still serve as dwellings. Few who visit Cappadocia fail to marvel at how its ingenious inhabitants converted natural formations into practical homes.
[Map on page 24, 25]
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