Turkish Cave Architecture

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Caves cut in tuff formations, Cappadocia, Turkey. All photos: Nicolai Steinø

Most architecture is created by adding material – bricks, stone, wood, concrete, roofing, etc. – in order to bound space in various ways. In Cappadocia, Turkey, architecture has for the past 3.000 years been created by removing material. The landscape of Cappadocia is dominated by tuff formations resulting from volcanic eruptions hundreds of thousands of years ago. Since then, erosion has caused the soft tuff to develop into numerous different forms, from soft rolling slopes, conic “fairy chimneys” to penis-like columns, topped with harder stone material which has prevented the tuff from weathering away.

Many cultures and civilizations have passed through the area over the centuries. Phrygians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks and Ottomans have settled an resettled the area in succession. And they all made caves in the soft tuff structures that could easily be carved out. An abundance of different cave structures, ranging from simple extensions of natural caves, dwellings and pigeon cotes inside fairy chimneys, to entire towns carved into the sides of the mountains and even entire underground cities complete with stables and food storages, wells, dwellings, churches, and burial chambers.

While many of the cave structures are very plastic and resemble the works of modern expressionist architects like Mendelssohn (Einsteinturm) or Saarinen Jr. (Terminal 5, JFK Airport), the Byzantines carved out cruciform churches with columns, domes and vaults, resembling the interiors of conventionally built Byzantine churches. These 11-13th century churches were beautifully decorated with frescos depicting saints and biblical events along with peculiar abstract or naïve symbols unlike any other Christian decor. Although many of the frescos have been partially demolished due to the Islamic ban on the depiction of religious figures, some are still remarkably well maintained.

Though once populated by thousands of people, most of the cave structures have now been abandoned by man, partially due to danger of collapse – some of the tuff structures have been hollowed out to the brink of their structural capacity – but mostly due to a general increase of wealth and demands for improved living standards. Where structures have actually collapsed, the architectural eye can enjoy live sections that reveal the complex and otherwise hidden spatial configurations of the caves.

Cappadocia is located in central Anatolia, midway between Ankara and the Turkish Mediterranean coast.

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“Love valley”, Göreme, Cappadocia

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Typical landscape in Cappadocia

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The ‘Kale’ (castle) of Uchisar, Cappadocia

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Frescos of a Byzantine cave church

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Typical peri bacasi (fairy chimneys)

3 comments

  1. Det er unfair. Du har sådan nogle lange artikler. Prøv lige at se min Længste!

  2. Nice text und pictures, thank you.

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