The dramatic landscape of Cappadocia has lured travelers since ancient times to the tall volcanic cones, “fairy chimneys,” and cave dwellings carved out of tufa teetering above deep valleys. A Roman province since the first century of the Common Era, the area is now central Turkey. Although virtually no medieval texts or objects from the region survive, there are over 700 rock-cut and masonry churches made between the sixth and fifteenth centuries, many of which contain frescoes and carvings.

General assumptions have long associated the Cappadocian cave dwellings with monasticism, particularly during the period of Byzantine Iconoclasm (c. 730-843). That narrow view is expanding, and scholars are reinvestigating settlements and burials along with church decoration, finding that landed aristocracy, a military elite, and even some emperors populated Cappadocia and made it a bustling border region in Byzantine times.