Lonely Planet Writer

Eastern Turkey’s fairy chimneys are now open to visitors

Millions of years in the making, now visitors can see eastern Turkey’s legendary ‘fairy chimneys’ for themselves as the site opens up to tourism.

The fairy chimneys of Narman are less famous but no less impressive than Cappadocia. Photo by Izzet Keribar

Similar in appearance to their more famous ‘sisters’ in Cappadocia, the Narman fairy chimneys in Erzurum are impressive, surreal structures with a vibrant, red hue caused by the iron oxide in the sediment. Unlike Cappadocia however- where it’s not uncommon for some caves to be used as boutique hotels – these eastern structures are almost completely removed from mass tourism. However, one expert predicted they could draw up to six million tourists to the area every year.

The area has been on Unesco’s temporary heritage list since 2012 and it’s hoped the recent new infrastructure and facilities might push the structures onto the permanent list, leading to increased funding and a tourism boost. Tourism authorities have been working to turn the Narman fairy chimneys into a geopark for the last number of years and it’s hoped the latest move will also to boost travel to the country, which has suffered in the last couple of years due to security concerns.

How are fairy chimneys formed?

Rose Valley in Cappadocia is already a Unesco World Heritage site. Photo by Feng Wei Photography

According to local legends that have persisted for thousands of years, the structures were believed to be huge chimneys belonging to fairy houses that existed underground. In geology, the pillars are called hoodoos and are mainly found in dry, hot deserts.

Turkey’s hoodoos were caused by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago that resulted in layers of ash covering the ground, eventually forming into a soft kind of rock. Erosion wore away the softer elements, leaving only the tough, durable pillars stretching into the sky.

Although they are popularly associated with Turkey – Cappadocia’s famous chimneys once starred on their banknotes – they’re also found in Utah, Colorado and South Dakota in the USA, France, Alberta, Serbia and Taiwan.