I was shocked when I found out that most people allocated only 2-3 days for the Cappadocia region and I thought that my generous five days would be enough time to explore much of what there was to see. Boy was I ever wrong. There is no way five days is even remotely enough time to experience this amazing region! With my limited time, it was difficult to see much beyond the obvious. Though, sometimes, I was able to get a little bit off the beaten path thanks to the help of a local tour. One such place was the Soğanlı Valley which is located in the southern portion of Cappadocia. If you’re staying in the more popular northern part of Cappadocia, Soğanlı can pretty much only be visited either by tour or by rental car/motorbike. Unlike the better known Göreme Valley, Soğanlı is not inundated with people. So if you want to hike, explore dovecotes, peek into caves, and admire rock churches – all in relative peace – Soğanlı is the area for you.
Soğanlı Valley is about 55km away from Göreme and it has been settled since the Roman times. Today, the area’s history is rather weighty, both in the village as well as in the Byzantine era rock churches. One of the interesting things about the village is its women. They have stumbled upon a business idea that is helping keep the area alive – dolls. I am always entertained by the fact that foreigners tend to get excited over something that locals think is mundane. And I’m not being rude – I fully consider myself to be one of those funny foreigners! In the case of Soğanlı, the mundane item is a doll. The Soğanlı Doll is a rag doll that has been made for centuries by women for their children. A round item is used for the head (today it is a bottle cap) and the body is a stick wrapped with cloth or cotton. The whole thing is dressed up in traditional (or at least, colourful) fabrics. The end result is loved by local kids and tourists alike. And you can definitely buy one while at Soğanlı. If dolls aren’t your thing, there are also other handiworks for sale, though if you’re there in the summer, you may feel less inclined to buy thick gloves and socks.
There are many reasons why I have a like-hate relationship with tours. I like them (small ones) because they allow me to go further afield since I don’t have the funds to rent a car when I travel by myself. But I also haaaaaaate them because they run on an inflexible schedule that doesn’t allow for proper exploration. So while Soğanlı Valley has a number of fascinating rock-churches, we only got to see one. And for the life of me, I can’t remember if we were ever told the name of this particular rock church. But what I do remember was the pair of tourists in there snapping away at the already damaged frescoes with their camera… With. The. Flash. On. One does not just walk into rock churches and aim flash photography at a 1000 year old fresco! It’s people like them that give us tourists/travelers a bad name! Turn off your flash, please!
Dovecotes are another thing to check-out while here. These would have been built by enterprising monks who raised doves not because they were cute or yummy – but because they wanted their poop. The dovecotes were essentially a hollowed-out rock (so basically a cave with a rock face). Holes were made into the face, large enough to allow in a dove. Once inside, there were sticks above the cave floor upon which the dove can rest. And from which it could poop. The pile of poop, more politely known as guano, was harvested as it made excellent fertilizer for local vineyards. Yay for poop.
Things to Know
- Rent a car if you can – this valley is worth a few hours of exploration and you can’t do that if you’re on tour.
- There is a restaurant near the central parking area so you don’t have to pack a picnic if you don’t want to.
- The ladies selling the Soğanlı dolls will ensure that you don’t miss the opportunity to buy one – so don’t worry about not finding them!