Trail of the unexpected: Mustafapasa

A remote town in Cappadocia hides its history behind ruined façades.

Sunshine streams through the entrance of the cave, its white fingers reaching across the softly worn ground towards the deeper recesses. As my eyes adjust to the black interior, a rough-hewn chancel emerges from the darkness; behind that, I can make out the stone slab of a small oblong altar. The cool air settles on my scorched skin like balm – welcome respite from the fiery heat that envelops the valley outside.

This is one of a number of chapels that have been painstakingly carved into the steep rock face of the Gomede valley, just west of the small town of Mustafapasa in Cappadocia. Looking back at the fissure through which I have just entered, a staggeringly beautiful panorama is framed against the crumbling walls. A vast ochre-and-white-striped ridge snakes through the dry plains like a huge stone wave – but one topped with looming, stratified monoliths. The result of thousands of years of wind and rain erosion, the startling rock formations and magical "fairy chimneys" of Cappadocia, in South Central Anatolia, make for a spectacular landscape.

At the heart of the region, the ancient centres of Uchisar, Goreme and Urgup form a much-visited nucleus that offers richly decorated Byzantine churches and wild, untamed scenery to tourists drawn from Turkey's shimmering coastline to its wilder central regions. Lying just outside this cultural triangle, to the south, is Mustafapasa.

A combination of bad transport links to nearby towns and a lack of varied accommodation means it is a quiet place, where some tour buses pause for only an hour or so midway through lengthier itineraries.

Almost all the towns and villages in the area are built – or rather burrowed – to the same architectural blueprint: hollowed-out dwellings, scooped directly from the soft volcanic tuff. Home to numerous civilisations over the centuries (the Assyrian, Hittite, Roman and Byzantine empires are some of the cultures that have occupied the area), these small outposts are the result of a complex and interminable mingling of influences.

Mustafapasa is no different, except in this town the warrens of grottos are hidden behind statuesque neo-classical façades. Unmistakably Hellenic in style, the town is celebrated throughout the region for the ornate carved stonework of these beautiful houses. On some, a date or name has been embroidered into the decorative stonework in Greek letters; subtle clues that allude to the thriving Greek Orthodox community of wealthy merchants who settled in the town in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

The tour groups that whizz through the town invariably pause to take snapshots of Mustafapasa's magnificent Greek houses. In a landscape where many villages seem to evanesce into the amber cliffs at a distance, retreating into the dramatic rock formations until only the hollowed mouths of windows and doors remain, such calculated ornamentation is an arresting sight.

However, moving past the relative bustle of the town square, it becomes clear that very few of these old Greek houses are occupied. The vast majority have been left to the mercy of the weather for decades. Doors hang off their hinges, revealing vacant interiors devoid of life, bar the stray cats that wander freely through the barren rooms and open staircases.

The hotel my husband and I stayed in was similarly inscrutable. A rambling sandy-coloured maze of a place, the Monastery Cave Hotel's smooth exterior belies a multilayered labyrinth of sunny terraces and small cave rooms. Until recently, these atmospheric rooms were used as monks' cells and the corridor walls are peppered with shallow coves blackened by candle flame.

When I asked Ercan, our host, why so many of the houses were empty, he relayed the sad history of the town with the rapid fluency of someone who has spent a long time honing his speech. He told us said that the houses have stood empty since 1923, when the forced population exchange between Greece and the newly independent Turkey saw the expulsion of religious minority populations. Turkish-speaking Christians who had settled in Turkey for generations were deported in their thousands, irrevocably altering the cultural demography of Kemal Ataturk's nascent nation.

Back then, Mustafapasa was known as Sinasos ("city of the sun") and was home to more than 8,000 Greek Orthodox Turkish nationals, who had lived peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbours for generations. The incoming residents – Muslim families from the Baltic states – numbered far less than the out-going Greeks and chose not to occupy the most imposing of the newly vacated houses. The population has since dwindled to 1,500 and the town now contains an array of beautiful, ramshackle shells that retain an air of faded grandeur, despite their decrepit state.

Elsewhere, the minaret of a 17th-century Seljuk mosque looms over one of the town's two squares, while later attractions, including the Ottoman-era Sakir Pasa Medrese (university college) and the impressive late 19th-century Church of Constantine and Helen, are both located prominently in the centre of town.

The churches of the Gomede valley are harder to date, and may well have been carved by early Christians who flocked to the sanctuary of Cappadocia's hills between the first and 11th centuries. Their atrophied remains are a sombre reminder of Mustafapasa's place in Turkish history.

Travel essentials: Mustafapasa

Getting there

* The gateway to Cappadocia is Kayseri airport, served via Istanbul by Turkish Airlines (020-7471 6666; from Heathrow, Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester; and Pegasus Airlines (0845 084 8980; from Stansted.

Staying there

* Monastery Cave Hotel, Mustafapasa, Urgup, Nevsehir, Turkey (00 90 384 353 5005; hotelmonastery. com). Doubles start at €15, room only.

More information

* Turkish Tourism Office: 020-7839 7778;

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas