Fashioned by nature, embroidered by man by Faruk Pekin

A unique and bizarre landscape, neither lunar nor earthly, a surreal, incredible vision of shapes and colours, a “poetry in rocks”. An extraordinary region, unmatched in the world. A fascinating beauty. An appaling artistic treasure. An inincredible harmony of shapes and colors. An ideal landscape for history and art lovers, photomaniacs and walkers. A fascinating blending of natural and human activity. A unique geological, historical and artistic region of cave formations in the form of churches, store rooms, kitchens, factories, pigeon-houses, underground cities with wave upon wave of ranened & rocks, stone pyramids, cones and obelisks created by nature and hollowed by man. A bridge between East & West, the melting pot of peoples, languages, religions, cultures: an invaluable treasure of culture. That is Cappadocia.

With its contrasts like TV aerials on a rock roof, with the warm hospitality of its people, its traditional pottery crafts, its carpets & kilims, and the lovely, delicate objects carved from onyx (Hacı Bektaş Stone) Cappadocia is a wonderland of nature and artistic forms. A fairy land.

The region is located within a rectangle of Aksaray+Kırşehir, Kayseri+Niğde. Today the triangle of Nevşehir-Avanos-Ürgüp is the better know frame within the rectangle.

The name Cappadocia is believed to derive from, old Persian world Katpatuka, meaning “the land of beautiful horses”, but there are other stories, some says that the term comes from Kappadoks, one arm of the river Halys. Other add thet Kappadoks was the name of son of the Assyrian King Minias who came to the region.

Capadocia, with its unique diversity of nature and art, served as a bridge between the East and the West, situated as it was at the crossroads of ancient routes, one running from Ancyra (Ankara)-Soandus (Nevşehir) through the famous Cilician Gate down to Tarsus, the other from Iconium (Konya) to Caesarea (Kayseri). It also stood for centuries on the turbulent frontier between two great faiths, and it-self bore the marks of the great differences between two cultures.

Apart from its impressive natural beauty, Cappadocia is famous for the historical rock churches adorned with remarkable frescoes, the astonishing underground cities with their amazingly intricate security systems as well as a number of beautiful Seljuk and Ottoman monuments.

Cappadocia is no longer the land of Father Jerphanion, the famous French Jesuit art historian who was the first to classify many of the rock churches of Cappadocia at the beginning of this century. A great deal has been discovered since his day. Often visited but little known, it is still a land of mystery, still a virgin land.

Travel literature on Cappadocia is often confined to the widely traveled places like Ürgüp, Göreme, Zelve, Avanos and Kaymaklı. These are however only half the story. The other facet of our story include less visited sites such as Ihlara, Gelveri, Özkonak, Hacı Bektaş, Tağar, Sinassos, Cemil, Söviş, Soğanlı, Gümüşler, Kızılçukur, Güllüdere, Sultan Sazlığı. It is unfair to confine Cappadocia to the Nevşehir-Avanos-Ürgüp triangle. Unfortunately the liteature on market about Cappadocia concentrates mainly on churches, especially those with frescoes. Such an approach fails to provide an insight into the local details and a fine impression of its multi-lavered history. Neither it is able to bring into light to social context within those rock-hawn monuments.

Our aim, however, is prepaing a book which will take the fortunate ones to the “fairy land” where the cultural mosaic of the region is narrated scientifically backed up by the best photographs depicting the many details of the place and with texts which never fall behind the quality of our previous works prepared in line with the view-points of tourism experts, architects and poets.



The Cappadocian landscape was transformed in the course of centuries by the volcanic activity of the many volcanoes in the region, the most imposing of which are Mt. Hasan (Hasandağ, 3268 m), Mt. Melendiz (2963 m) and Mt. Erciyes (Mt. Argaeus of the Romans, 3917 m). The “volcanic mantle” of the region, accumulated during the course of millions of years, is approximately 100 metres thick. Volcanic activity at Hasandağ began 13.5 millions years ago and continued until 2000 B.C. with occasional dormant periods in between.

The inhabitants of the region were apparently well aware of the volcanic eruptions which had been taking place for thousands of years. Among the findings at Çatalhöyük, one of the finest examples of neolithic settlements, there is a startling wall painting of a mountain with double peaks with some red dots on the higher peak. This mountain, obviously depicted in the moment of eruption, is believed to be the Hasandağ volcano. The painting is now in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Another representation of Mt. Erciyes in eruption was found on a Roman coin minted in Caesarea long after the volcano had become extinct.

The volcanic mantle formed by volcanic tuff, lava, ash and boulders was subjected to considerable erosion by rainfall, snow floods, rivers, strong winds and temperature changes. The rivers of Melendiz (Garsuara, Archelais) and Kızılırmak (Red River, the Halys of antiquity) and its tributaries, the continental climate with its great extremes of temperature, rainfall and the special character of the rock provided the necessary conditions for this rapid intensification of erosion resulting in the deep narrow canyons, valleys, ravines and distinctive formations peculiar to the region. The erosion, however, was halted by the hard basalt and andesite rock, leaving untouched the heavy boulders that led to the formation of stone pyramids, weird cones, unearthly needles and strange pillars surmounted by rock.

These pyramidal and pillar-like formations with boulders on top are popularly known as “fairy chimneys” by the people of the region. These “fairy chimneys”, some of which reach a height of 30-40 m. at some points, constitute an absolutely unique natural phenomenon.

The volcanic mantle and the erosion that transformed it were not evenly distributed throughout the region, giving rise to the infinite variety of peculiar rock formations that exist in the area. These rock formations display a whole range of colours from the beige of Göreme to the pink of Güllüdere or from the violet of Ihlara to the red of Kızılçukur. The variety of metals and minerals emitted during the eruptions determines the particular colour which also varies with the season of the year and the time of day. So one should expect to get different hues on pictures taken at different times on the same spot on the same day.

The soil is composed of tuff, a soft porous rock that can be easily dug and shaped when moist, but hardens quickly after carving. This characteristic has opened up a number of new possibilities for the people. A troglodytic dwelling became the best and the most practical type of dwelling. The inhabitants of the area developed a new kind of settlement by hollowing out the fairy chimneys, these soft, tuff covered volcanic formations as well as the subterranean soil, to form two or three – storeyed houses, underground cities, churches, mosques, dovecotes and cool-air depots. The most outstanding characteristic of these dwellings is that they are always dry, protected from the harmful effects of moisture by a steady temperature (12-15 °C) which provides a natural system of air conditioning. This makes it possible to remain indoors during hot summers and cold winters.

The process of erosion and formation still continues, creating new cones and pyramids. Nevertheless urgent conservation measures must be taken immediately if we are to preserve this heritage from the constant threat of erosion and vandalism.

The soil of Cappadocia is very fertile. Apples, apricots, pears, almonds, onions and potatoes, as well as grapes from which the famous Cappadocian wine is made, are all grown in this fertile soil. Local farmers used the guano of pigeons as a fertiliser, and dovecotes and pigeon-houses have been built in order to collect it. In some places these pigeon-holes are framed with whitewash to attract the doves.



The history of Cappadocia dates back to the Middle-­Palaeolithic Period. Various obsidian tools have been found on the eastern flanks of Mt. Melendiz. İğdeli Çeşme, 4 km to the west of Acıgöl, Aşıklı Höyük (Aşıklı Mound) near the stream of Melendiz, 25 km to the west of Aksaray; and five different settlements within the boundaries of Niğde province can be traced back to the Neolithic Period. There are also a number of scattered settlements in the region dating back to the Hattians and Hittites.

Acemhöyük, to the northwest of Aksaray, is a settlement belonging to the Early Bronze Age. Excavations at Sulucakarahöyük (Hacıbektaş) have yielded finds from the Hittite, Phrygian, Roman and Byzantine periods, while those at Topaklı Höyük near Avanos date back to the Old Hittite Kingdom.

The chronology of the region can be traced from the Neolithic Age (7000 – 5000 B.C.), the Early Bronze Age (3000 – 2000 B.C.), the Assyrian Trade Colonies (2000 – ­1750 B.C.) and the Old Hittite Kingdom up to the Hittite Empire (1750 – 1450/1200 B.C.). Records show that Aegean tribes visited the region around 1200 B.C. This period was the Dark Age in Anatolia which lasted until 750 B.C. in Cappadocia. During the 8th to the 6th centuries, Cappadocia was under the hegemony of Phrygians and Lydians. The area was also exposed to successive invasions by Cymmerians (700/650 B.C.) and Medes (585 B.C.), and was finally conquered by the Persians in 546 B.C.

Alexander the Great showed no interest in actually occupying Cappadocia, and contented himself with a levy of taxes on the region after 334 B.C. The turbulent period which followed (330 B.C. – 17. A.D.) is referred to as the Kingdom of Cappadocia. A numlier of local kings bearing the name Ariarathes (one of these was Ariarathes V Eusebius, whose widow, Nysa, murdered her five sons in order to retain power) and Ariobarzanes ruled the region from the capital of Mazaca. The Roman Emperor Tiberius annexed Cappadocia in 17 A.D., changing the name of its capital from Mazaca to Caesarea (present-day Kayseri).

After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Cappadocia became a province of the Eastern Roman Empire and was ruled by Byzantine emperors. Christianity arrived very early in Cappadocia. It is not definitely known whether or not St. Paul visited Cappadocia during his missionary journeys, but one remains certain that the first Christians in the region suffered intense persecution until Christianity was proclaimed as a free religion by Constantine the Great in 313.

In the 4th century, the region became a theological centre with a number of very eminent theologians but after the 5th century it was exposed to the raids of Isaurians, Sassanids and Arabs, forcing the people to withdraw into underground cities. After the first Arab attack in 642, the region became a scene of continuous warfare, very largely due to its situation on the frontier between two rival faiths. The raids and border wars continued for about 200 years, hindering the development of the rock churches in the region.

In 726, Emperor Leo III, induced by certain economic and political factors, put a ban on frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible, inaugurating the epoch of Iconoclasm (the practice of holy image breaking). Except for a short period of reconciliation between 787-813, this period of bitter disputes over holy images lasted until 843. Some of the Cappadocian cities supported the iconoclasts, forcing those who wished to retain the worship of images to take refuge in remote and inaccessible regions. This phase of iconoclasm was accompanied by the persecution of monks, and the closure and dissolution of some of the monasteries.

From the 9th to the l3th century, in the period following the lifting of the ban on images, the art of fresco-painting flourished throughout the whole of Cappadocia. between 872 and 1071, after the painful years of Iconoclasm (726-­843), the Byzantines were successful in halting the Arab raids. During this period more castles were built while at the same time a remarkable system of luminous signals was developed whereby light beams from high towers could transmit messages all the way from the Taurus Mountains to Constantinople within an hour. During all these years more churches continued to be hollowed out under the influence of the Middle Byzantine Renaissance emanating from the capital Constantinople.

The final defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuk Turks at the battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) in 1071 was the beginning of the mass migration of Seljuk Turks to Central Anatolia. Cappadocia was soon conquered and the Seljuks immediately began to adorn the region with magnificent caravanserais, mosques, medreses, and türbes, while at the same time a number of new towns were founded, like Aksaray and Nevşehir. The life-style in the valleys of Cappadocia underwent little change after the arrival of the Seljuks. In addition to the harmony between the natural environment and the life-style of the Cappadocians, there grew up a tradition of tolerant coexistence between Christian and Moslem communities which lasted for centuries.

In the l3th century; however, the region was devastated by the invading Mongols. After the decline of the Anatolian Seljuk Empire (1075 – 1318) the area was governed by the İlhanids and Eretna and Karamanid principalities. The Ottoman Empire established its hegemony in 1466 which is maintained until the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

When Seljuks arrived in Anatolia they found a predominantly Christian population. Convinced that religious toleration would be politically expedient in establishing an effective rule, they, and later the Ottomans, showed great tolerance to the Christian inhabitants of Cappadocia. The Christian and the other minorities lived in peace and security, in accordance with Islamic law and tradition. The churches thus survived and remained in use until the Orthodox Christians of the region were obliged to leave the area after 1923.

The Imperial Rescript promulgated in 1839 (known in Turkish history as the Tanzimat – the Reorganisation) and its complimentary of 1856 Imperial Rescript (known as “Islahat Fermanı” in Turkish) ensured equal status for persons of all religions, and the Christians of Cappadocia, feeling more secure about their future, began to construct new stone houses. As can be seen in the historical development of towns like Sinassos (Mustafapaşa), Urgüp and more specifically Gelveri (Güzelyurt), where they were still minting their own coins at the end of the l9th century.

The atmosphere of peaceful coexistence with the Seljuk Turks encouraged the creation of even more rock churches in Cappadocia after 1075. Many Christians served in the Seljuk army or in the state offices, a fact confirmed by a sketch to be seen in the Church of St.George (Kırk Damaltı Kilisesi) in the Valley of Ihlara. In a fresco on the west wall of this church portraying the donors, the husband of the female donor is depicted wearing a Seljuk robe and turban.

The dedicatory inscription in the rock-cut church of St. George says that: “This most venerable church dedicated to the assistance, the high wish, and care of the lady Thamar, here pictured and of her Emir Basil Giagoupes, under his high Majesty the most noble and great Sultan Masud at the time when Sire Andronikos reigned over the Romans.”

Such was the fusion of the different cultures of the area that some church wall paintings contain decorative bands of kufic lettering characteristic of Islamic culture. In the Yılanlı Church (located in Ihlara Valley) Christ is pictured seated cross-legged on the floor in the Islamic manner.

Meanwhile, the Turkish inhabitants of the same area hollowed their mosques out of the rock, giving their minarets the shape of the Byzantine ciboria, another sign of the interaction of the two great faiths.

This region, rich in myths, the birth place of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nazianzos, was also in later centuries the homeland of famous Moslem mystics such as Mevlana, the founder of the sect of the Whirling Dervishes, Ahi Evran, the founder of the Ahi Brotherhood and Hacı Bektaş Veli, the founder of the Bektaşi sect, with their philosophies emphasizing universal peace.

While Hacı Bektaş Veli preached brotherhood, freedom of thought and belief, and required no strict observation of religious rituals, Mevlana preached love, positive reasoning, benevolence, charity and unlimited tolerance, calling people of every faith, including pagans and fire worshippers, to his centre. They influenced many Christian inhabitants with their mystical approach to life, which eased the way for the Christians of Cappadocia.

The fusion of the two peoples also brought about important consequences on the cultural level. Greek speaking Christians gradually abandoned their own language for Turkish, which, however, they wrote in Greek script. Even the Bible was written in Turkish but with Greek characters. Some villages such as Sinassos and Gelveri remained mostly Christian until 1924.

Between 1923-1924, in accordance with the mutual agreement between Turkey and Greece based on the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, the Christian inhabi­tants of Cappadocia who were recognised as having Greek nationality were exchanged with Turks living in Greece. The old houses are now occupied by the families of those Turkish immigrants, and when the Anatolian Christians who departed then come back as tourists to see their hometowns and the houses that were once theirs, they receive a very warm welcome from the present-day inhabitants.


It is an astonishing fact that it was not until the l8th century that the landscape of Cappadocia began to attract attention. There was a surprising silence about Cappadocia on the part of travellers or the many distinguished inhabitants including Emperor Julian the Apostate (360 – 363), a brilliant writer who spent some years in exile near Caesarea, and St. Basil the Great, who produced hundreds of letters.


The first European traveller to describe this spectacular region was Paul Lucas who was sent out by the French court to survey the lands around the Mediterranean. In a report written in 1712 he describes the thousands of pyramid shaped rocks he had seen during a brief visit in 1705. He was so fascinated by what he saw that he described one of the fairy chimneys as “a woman holding a child in her arms” (Virgin Mary and Christ ?). Lucas’ account aroused a great deal of curiosity and discussion in the Western World.

In 1818, John MacDonald Kinneir, a captain in the East India Company, published a study of the region based on a visit he had made in 1813. Then came travellers with military aims like the Russian colonel Wrontchenko in 1834 and Pierre de Tchihatchev in 1848. In 1834, the famous French architect, Charles Texier, who travelled extensively throughout Anatolia and illustrated his works with engravings of most of the historical places, devoted a special chapter in his book to Cappadocia, its geography and history.

The General Secretary of the British Geological Society, WJ. Hamilton, visited the region in 1839 and published a collection of his scientific notes in 1842. He is acknowledged to be the first traveller to give a full description of Göreme and the Soğanlı Valleys.

A Cappadocian, Nicholas Rhizos from Sinassos, published the first guide book on the region in 1856 with a name of Kappadohia, before the other Anatolian Orthodox people like P Karolides, R. Elefteriadis.

The physical setting and the historical background of the environment continued to be highlighted in the works of certain scholars such as H.K. von Moltke, W Wilson, W E Ainsworth, A.D. Mordtmann, W.M. Ramsay, J.R.S. Sterret and H. Rott.

A young Jesuit father, Guillaume de Jerphanion, visited the region several times, particularly in the years between 1907 and 1912, and dedicated nearly half of his life to an attempt to draw up a detailed classification of the Cappadocian churches. Nicole and Michel Thierry, whose work was published in 1963, were the first to put Ihlara Valley into literature in detail. Marcell Restle has documented all the monuments with great thoroughness, while Dr. Lyn Rodley, a British scholar, grouped and classified the churches according to their functions.



At the end of the first century when Christianity first spread to Cappadocia and Christian worshippers began to practise their religion in secret, Mithraism still remained the predominant cult throughout the Roman Empire, attracting most of the adherents of the cults of the Mother Goddess Kybele, Dionysus, Attis, Isis and Serapis. In the second half of the first century, Christianity began to spread rapidly, gradually replacing the cult of Mithra. The otherworldliness preached at the secret meetings of the Christian adherents and the obvious bias against the wealthy led the Romans to regard them as enemies of the established order. Persecution followed, creating local martyrs like St. Theodore and the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (present-day Sivas), who were later depicted in the frescoes adorning the churches.

Christianity spread out to the Gentile world not from Jerusalem but from Antioch, a city that lay quite close to Cappadocia beyond the Cilician Gate. St. Paul, who was born in Tarsus in the southern part of Turkey, close to Adana, spread the gospel in Anatolia, a land destined to become the cradle of Christianity, and proclaimed Christianity a universal religion.

The beginning of the 4th century saw the triumph of Christianity Its success was largely due to the composite character it had acquired during its immersion in the melting-pot of different beliefs, its granting women full rights of participation, its appeal to the poor and the oppressed, who were suffering under heavy taxes and oppressive economic conditions, and its propagation of democratic morality and humility, all of which made it a source of hope and consolation for the suffering and oppressed masses.

After Constantine the Great, Christianity was gradually transformed from a persecuted faith into a state religion. The Christians fiercely attacked the remnants of paganism and tried to convert pagan shrines and temples of Anatolia into Christian churches. At the same time the Latin language was gradually replaced by Greek.

Then came the schismatic discussions on theological problems which split the Christian communities into rival sects based on Monophysitism, Arianism, Nestorianism and other theological currents of belief and led to deep political and social rifts. There was growing criticism of the increasing wealth and worldliness of the church, and the growth of ascetism and the reaction of the impoverished East led to the rise of monasticism and the foundation of monasteries throughout the region. In the 4th century, Cappadocia became the centre of the rising current of monasticism initiated by the three great Cappadocian masters of theology, St. Basil the Great, “the light of the world”, his close friend St. Gregory of Nazianzos (Nenezi, present-day Bekarlar) and St. Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa.

St. Basil (329 – 379), son of a wealthy professor of rhetoric, studied in Constantinople and Athens and made visits to the monastic settlements of Egypt and Syria, following which he developed a doctrine resting on the pillars of poverty, obedience, labor and religious devotion. When he became Bishop of Caesarea he spent all his wealth on the poor and the sick. Pleading insistently for the sharing of wealth and goods, he preached that “no one man is sufficient unto himself to receive the gifts of the Spirit”; and in the monasteries he taught, “for if each one, after having taken from his wealth whatever would satisfy his personal needs, left what was superfluous to him who lacks every necessity there would be neither rich nor poor.”

Rejecting the excessive self mortification, introversion and seclusion of the hermits in Egypt and Syria, he directed his followers to create small and disciplined communities based on communal labour and individual meditation in tune with prevailing economic conditions. He drew up the rules of the Orthodox monastery system, which had a very considerable influence on Benedictine organisation.

St. Gregory of Nazianzos (or St. Gregorios the Theologian, 330 – 389), who was a very close friend of St. Basil, is famous for the defence of Orthodoxy put forward in his Five Theological Speeches, a work which led to his being regarded as one of the leading church theologians along with St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom and Athanasius.

Many of the Anatolian caves were occupied by hermits and monks, and examples of these can be found in Latmos at Lake Bafa, Mt. Galesion near Ephesus, Spylos near Magnesia (Manisa), Mykele between Priene and Ephesus, and Mt. Olympos (Uludağ) near Bursa. Others, such as the famous Monastery of Sumela, are to be found in the vicinity of Trabzon, and another monastery is to be seen in the rock-cut village of Sille near Konya. Recorded history provides very little information concerning these early monasteries. Some sources state that the first monasteries were hollowed out in Gelveri, a spot very close to Nazianzos, the birthplace of St. Gregory.

In line with the rules of St. Basil and St. Gregory the monks practised work as an exercise of faith. Some monastic duties involved social responsibilities such as the education of children, the care of orphans and the solution of agricultural problems. Consequently the monks became natural community leaders and monasteries became a powerful political force in provincial society.



Many of the religious symbols of the earlier Christian period are depicted in the paintings adorning the churches of Cappadocia. After the cross itself (Maltese, true Byzantine, or Greek ), the fish is the most important and widely used Christian symbol. In the New Testament Christ is referred as “the Fisherman of Souls”, “The Great Fisherman” of the faithful, who pulled the believers out of the Sea of Damnation. The initial letters of the old Greek word for fish ICXC = ICHTHYS was taken as standing for IESOUS CHRISTOS THEOU HYOS SOTER (Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Saviour).

Other symbols appearing in the churches in Cappadocia are:

Pigeon or dove: Represents peace, fertility, purity, love, innocence and Holy Spirit.

Deer: Represents eternal being, healing and the cured soul which has drunk water from the Fountain of Life. Deer was also very important in the ancient pagan religions of Anatolia.

Peacock: The symbol of resurrection and transfiguration.

Cock or rooster: The symbol of alertness, prophecy and light (day), an oracle. The white rooster stands for good luck, while a black one is the symbol of evil (It wards off evil spirits, whom it scares away by its crowing. The figure of a cock is placed on the top of a church to frighten off the Devil.).

Lion: Represents victory and salvation.

Rabbit: Represents sexuality, the devil and magic.

Palm: The symbol of eternal life and vital energy, a direct descendant of the Eastern “tree of life”.

Fir-tree: The symbol of fertility and healing.

Grape: The symbol of Jesus. It was also a symbol for earlier Dionysian rituals in Anatolia.



Rock-carving is not confined to Cappadocia. In countries such as China, Jordan, Ethiopia and Sicily, people have long been hollowing their houses out of rock. In Turkey, in the vicinity of Ahlat (west of Lake Van), in the town Hasankeyf, around Mt. Tektek and in Karaman (in the Valley of Ibrala Suyu, the Village of Taşkale) we can see many caves used as dwellings. Apart from the very well-known villages such as Ürgüp, Göreme, Çavuşin and Uçhisar, troglodytic life still exists in other villages of Cappadocia, namely Doğala, Çardak, Gölcük, Ovaören, Suvermez, Koyulutatlar, Gümüşkent, Selime, Yaprakhisar and Bozcayurt.

Cappadocia represents a strange symbiosis of nature and human activity and has the richest collection of rock-cut architecture and decoration. This was a different type of architecture, a logical response to the local conditions. It was the necessary result of the scarcity of timber and a natural response to the local geological conditions.

The advantages of tuff, which rest in its maintaining a constant temperature and humidity in hot summers and cold winters combined with the simplicity of the carving the soft rock, were exploited by the first settlers of Cappadocia. At first they carved their dwellings out of the rock in the form of simple caves, but later they developed their techniques to such a level that they could hollow out shelters, sanctuaries or burial chambers, either under or ­above the ground.

The technique used in carving remained the same throughout ages: it consisted of first wetting the tuff with water, then carving it and finally waiting for it to dry and harden.

The Cappadocians carved to imitate built architecture, giving no special attention to construction problems pertaining to statics and the strength of materials. AIl those columns, apses, domes, vaults, chancel screens which the carver has given shape to, have no architectural function. They are purely ornamental. The Cappadocian artist imitated the basic internal architectural elements of the construction of classical churches. That is why we see free set columns, asymmetrical pillars, and imperfect cupolas.

The Christian places of worship in Cappadocia can be roughly classified into three as Lyn Rodley puts it: The refectory monasteries, the courtyard monasteries and the hermitages. The refectory monasteries have a refectory with a rock-cut table and benches, a church and a few undecorated rooms. The courtyard monasteries have a large hall, a kitchen and a single church, all grouped in an orderly manner around a usually three-sided courtyard. The hermitages are the small, single-naved churches scattered around in Cappadocia. The horseshoe-shaped blind niches and the façades of some of the monasteries are the most important features of the Cappadocian rock­cut architecture.

The churches may be classified according to their architectural features as single-naved, twin-naved, three aisled, free cross, cross-in-square, and transverse barrel vaulted.

The rock-cut architecture began almost in the 6th millennium B.C. and developed up to the present day.

During the 5th and 6th centuries Cappadocia enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity which gave rise to large masonry built churches which can be seen today in Gelveri (the Church of St. Gregory of Nazianzos), Viranşehir (Kara Kilise and Kemer Kilise), Sivrihisar (Kızıl Kilise), Eski Andaval (Basilica of Constantine) and Göreme on Argaeus (Panaghia). The period of insecurity in the 7th and 8th centuries resulted in the construction of simple churches. The period of relative stability from 872 to 1071 again encouraged the construction of large rock-cut churches generally decorated with paintings.

In the l9th century particularly in the second half, following the introduction of reforms by the Ottoman government giving property rights to the minorities, the Christians of the Cappadocian region began to build new and fantastic churches and buildings in the local stone, and they continued to do this until the great population exchange of 1923.

Rock-cut architecture is still the fashion in Cappadocia as can be seen in many rock-cut restaurants, hotels and discos, hewn out quite recently.


The Göreme Open-Air Museum resembles a vast monastic complex composed of scores of refectory monasteries placed side by side, each with its own fantastic churches. It is obviously the first sight to be visited by any traveller in Cappadocia, standing as it does in the very centre of the region with easy access from all directions. It contains the finest of the rock-cut churches, with beautiful frescoes whose colours still retain all their original freshness. It also presents unique examples of rock hewn architecture and fresco technique.

The area covered by this Open-Air Museum forms a coherent geographical entity and represents a historical unity. There are eleven refectories within the Museum, with rock-cut tables and benches. Each is associated with a church. All the churches of the Museum belong to the mid to the late 11th century. These churches can be divided into two groups according to the workshops which executed them and the paintings: the Column group and the Yılanlı group.

The Column group includes the Elmalı Kilise, the Karanlık Kilise and the Çarıklı Kilise, all dating back to the 11th century. The paintings in this group must have been executed in the same workshop, and are well-known for their quality and the complexity of their programme.

The Yılanlı group includes the Yılanlı Kilise, the churches of St. Barbara and St. Catherine and the Kızlar Kilisesi. In these churches the panels of paintings are separate from each other, ie. they do not follow a continuous scheme. Most of them have narthexes which function as a funeral.

There are at least 18 churches and chapels in the Museum area. Some have fixed metal grilles at the entrances for safety reasons.

The small sizes of the churches conform to St. Basil’s emphasis on the necessity for small monastic units. The extraordinarily rich interiors provide an amazing contrast to the very simple exteriors. The churches are named, throughout Cappadocia, after characteristics attributed to them mostly by the local Turkish population.

Your entrance ticket is also valid for the Tokalı Church, located outside the Open-Air Museum. The normal way of visiting the Museum is by proceeding along the path in a counter-clockwise direction. This route is carefully labelled. Beginning with the St. Basil church you will proceed to the Elmalı (temporarily closed), St. Barbara and Snake churches, the Refectorium, the Karanlık, the Çarıklı churches and the Nunnery.



On the right on entering the museum you will notice a rock tower covered with a large number of hollows. This is the Monks’ Convent.

The first church you visit is the Church of St. Basil, situated at the far right of the entrance to the Museum. In the entrance to the church there is a long narthex lined with graves both large and small. The small graves are thought to be those of orphans admitted to the monasteries at the age of ten. Burial in a church or chapel was the most direct route to Paradise.

Leaving the grave-filled narthex at your back, you will enter a church with three apses with some simple decorations in red and a few scenes painted directly on the rock surface. On the south wall there is a niche with three crosses, representing Christ and the two thieves who were crucified with him. In the apse we see Christ enthroned and next to him Virgin Hodegetria with the donor kneeling in front her (the only fresco in the church on a layer). On the north wall we see St. Basil standing and St. Theodore riding on a horse. On the south wall St. George is depicted killing a dragon with a lance.

St. George is a local hero and is found depicted in many churches of Cappadocia. The dragon or snake which he is in the act of killing is generally considered to be the monster guarding a magic plant on the summit of Mt. Erciyes.

Killing a dragon or a serpent is a theme employed in many churches of Cappadocia. It has deep roots in mythology, representing the combat between the saviour and the forces of evil. In the mythology of the Hattians, the chief god Telepinu kills the dragon Illuyanka. The same story is also to be found in the Hittite mythology. A Hittite bas-relief from Malatya depicts the weather god slaying a coiled serpent. A similar combat took place between Zeus and Typhon, while Bellerophon kills the monster Chimaera with the tail of a serpent.




(The Church with the Apple)

Elmalı Kilise is one of most attractive of the rock-cut churches of Cappadocia (closed for restoration in 1991). Leaving the Church of St. Basil and keeping to the path, you will notice the yellow sign pointing to Elmalı Kilise. A narrow corridor leads into the inner courtyard, from which access is given to the church itself by a narrow door in the north wall. The old entrance on the west is no longer usable, the façade and the vestibule having collapsed into the ravine below.

The name “Elmalı Kilise” means “Church with the Apple” and refers either to an apple tree that used to stand outside the original entrance or to a globe resembling an apple in the left hand of the Archangel Michael in the fresco painted on the northern dome in front of the main apse.

It is an inscribed-cross church with four irregularly placed columns and three apses, and with domes over the cross arms, making nine altogether. There is a seat on the right hand side of each apse with low benches along the walls.

Elmalı Kilise is richly adorned with lovely frescoes of a somewhat light-hearted nature. Apart from the paintings on the lower parts of the walls, the frescoes are all in a good state of preservation.

The paintings were applied to a layer of plaster, superimposed on earlier an iconic decoration. Characterised by vivid colours such as olive-green and ochre, they illustrate biblical scenes, Old Testament tales, and stories of the saints, bishops and martyrs.

The scenes depicted are: Christ Pantokrator (Omnipotent, All-Ruler) on the main dome, holding a book in his left hand and raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing; the Deesis on the main apse conch, with Jesus Christ enthroned and the Virgin Mary, and St. John the Baptist pleading for the Sinners on the Day of Judgement; the angels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Phlogetheil and Sychael on the side domes; the Ascension on the western dome; the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the pendentives of the main dome; the Virgin Child in the northern apse; the Archangel Michael on the southern apse; a row of bishop saints on the main apse wall (from south to the north) comprising Blaise, Nicholas, John Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory of Nazianzos; and the prophets David, Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, Jonah, Habakkuk, Elijah and Moses on the crossarm vaults of the main dome.

The scenes on the walls are: (east) Last Supper, Myrophores (one of the women bearing spices to the sepulchre of Christ); (south) the Anastasis (Resurrection), the Crucifixion and Transfiguration; (west) the Baptism, the Raising of Lazarus, the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace (Three Hebrews); (north) the Entry into Jerusalem, Nativity, the Hospitality of Abraham, and the Entombment.

The scenes on the lunettes are: the Betrayal by Judas, Jesus being Led Away, and the Adoration of the Magi. Bishops, martyrs and saints including Sergius, Bacchus, Barbara, Theodore, Constantine, Helena and Irene are depicted on the cross-arm vaults, walls and lunettes.

The Baptism scene is particularly interesting in so far as it shows the pillar in the River Jordan. Another scene, showing Christ being dragged away with a rope around his neck, is unique in Cappadocia.


The entrance to this church lies just behind the Elmalı Kilise, overlooking the ravine below. In front of the church are a number of graves. It is a cross-domed church with two free-standing columns and three apses, built in the late 11th century. The inscription on the north wall cites the names of the priests Phalibon and Marulines who were probably the major donors.

The church is adorned with simple and rather crude decorations painted directly onto the tuff and consisting mainly of the symbolic representation in red ochre of a number of strange creatures and animals, together with squares, triangles and zig-zag patterns.

The crude and repetitive nature of the decoration has led some art historians to assign this church to the Iconoclastic Period. A closer and unbiased study of the symbolic content and the similarity of the technique to that used in the churches of the 9th century and later, would appear to suggest a later date. The religious symbols of Christianity commonly used in this church reveal a slightly more esoteric quality. The strange creature pictured on the north wall (a locust?) deserves careful attention.

As for the symbolic representations, the three crosses above he right apse deserve special mention. The cross in the middle, surrounded by double circles and set between the crosses of the thieves who were crucified together with Christ, represents Christ himself, while the four small red circles around the cross represent Christ’s four wounds and the nails on the cross.

There are also frescoes painted over a very thin coat of plaster. The main apse contains Christ Enthroned, the north wall portrays St. George and St. Theodore on horse­back killing the dragon or snake. The figure on the west arm of the north wall is of St. Barbara, after whom the church was named and who was imprisoned by her father in a tower to protect her from the influences of Christianity When, in spite of this, she was converted to Christianity her father tortured and killed her but was struck down by a thunderbolt. St. Barbara was revered as the patron saint of soldiers.



(The Church with the Snake)

Yılanlı Kilise is a simple barrel-vaulted burial chapel, end­ing in a flat-ceiling rear chamber on the south. It is sur­rounded by a refectory with several rock-cut chambers above. The small apse on the left wall contains a Deesis. The church, which was built in the 11th century (c.1070), has figurative ornamentation superimposed on sim­ple red decoration.

When you enter the church you will find yourself facing the fresco depicting Christ on the south lunette immediately opposite the entrance. The small figure beside Christ is probably the donor of the church. The upper section of the vault to the left of the entrance contains frescoes depicting St. Onesimus and the equestrian saints George and Theodore killing the dragon; the Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena with the “true cross”. St. Theodore, the “soldier-­saint”, who like St. George and St. Demetrius is very popular in Cappadocia, was a Roman soldier who was tortured and burnt alive in Amasea because of his refusal to worship pagan gods and his attempt to set fire to the temple of the Mother Goddess.

There are halos around the heads of Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena as signs of their saintliness. Both of them contributed to the promotion of Christianity. Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity as a free religion for the Romans, while Helena was the discoverer of the “True Cross”, seeing it in her dream and travelling all the way down to Jerusalem to find it under the temple of Venus. Before proclaiming it as the “True Cross”, Helena held it over the corpse of a young man, who immediately returned to life.

On the upper wall to the right of the entrance, St. Basil, St. Thomas and St. Onuphrius are represented. The fresco of St. Onuphrius is an unusual one. St. Onuphrius, pictured nude with long white hair and beard, is said to have been a hermit who lived in Egypt during the 4th and 5th centuries. After leaving the monastery where he had served as a monk, he retreated to the Egyptian desert to meditate and to mortify his flesh. He lived there for seventy years eating only palm dates and using only palm leaves to cover his body His deep suffering brought him widespread renown in Cappadocia.

There is still another folk tale about St. Onuphrius included in some guide books. According to the story, Onuphrius, usually portrayed with extraordinary chest muscles and a palm leaf covering his genitals, was actually a very sexy girl who was transformed into an ugly male after pleading to be kept away from sin and temptation. That is why some books refer to him as a “sinful woman”. Some even describe him as the Christian counterpart of the Hermaphrodite of Greek mythology.



In the area between the Yılanlı and Karanlık churches, there is a labyrinth of monks’ cells and communal halls, together with the “nameless church” or the Chapel of the Tombs with a burial chamber for orphans, and the Göreme Chapel with an inscribed-cross plan. The entrances are closed from time to time for reasons of security.

The most interesting structure in this area is the large refectory, probably the best of its type. On the left, we see a long table and benches carved into rock ending in a concha which probably contained a fresco of the Last Supper. On the ground there is a large receptacle for pressing grapes. On the walls there are small niches serving as cupboards or as stands for oil-lamps. The refectory is connected to a kitchen and storerooms.

When leaving the refectory, we see the entrances to another refectory, a cavity and a chapel with four columns.



(The Dark Church)


Karanlık Kilise once constituted the main part of a huge monastic complex grouped around a small courtyard which has now lost its western flank. On the south side, an elaborate two-storied structure can be seen. The ground floor consists of a narthex with a flat ceiling. The south wall is divided into three sections by two pilasters, each section having a door to the inner chambers. The eastern chamber is the reflectory with a table and bench cut out of the rock. The upper part of the south wall is ornamented with keyhole-shaped blind niches and with red Greek crosses surrounded by circles.

The upper floor has three rooms, the northern one with four sections covered with cupolas and barrel vaults. The church was painted in the mid 11th century.

This church, which contains the best-preserved frescoes in the whole of Cappadocia, was under restoration for a long time. Access to the church is given by a narrow entrance on the east wall of the courtyard leading to a stairway and then to the narthex which contains a burial chamber on the south side, The floor of the church is at a lower level than the entrance and the apses.

Karanlık Kilise is one of the three churches known as the Column group. It has an inscribed-cross naos with three apses, and four columns, a narthex and a tomb chamber. The central space, the eastern cross-arm and the four corner bays are domed. Low benches run along the walls.

lt has one small window opening onto the outside world, making it very difficult to see one’s way around inside, which explains why it is known as the Karanlık or Dark Church. The darkness, however, has preserved the colours of the frescoes in all their original freshness.

On the walls of the narthex can be seen the Ascension, Blessing and Mission of the Apostles. Inside the Church on the central dome, Christ Pantokrator is depicted surrounded by medallions with unidentifiable angels. The Christ figure is repeated on the dome of the eastern cross­-arm. The other domes are reserved for angels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel). The main apse concha contains a Deesis.

On the south vault the Betrayal by Judas can be seen, and on the south wall, an Anastasis, the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace, the Crucifixion, the Angel at the Tomb, Constantine and Helena.

On the north vault there are frescoes depicting the Adoration of the Magi and the Nativity, on the north wall the Nativity and Journey to Bethlehem, on the west vault, the Entry to Jerusalem, and on the west wall the Raising of Lazarus, the Transfiguration and the Baptism.

The Last Supper on the lunette of the southern apse is one of the finest in Cappadocia. You can almost hear Christ saying: “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.”

Between Karanlık and Çarıklı churches there stands a nameless church with a very lovely screen and an interesting cross made up of five circles. Some refer to it as the Church of St. Catherine or the Church of Medallions.



(The Church with the Sandal Imprint) 

This church, which shares the same rock-pillar with the Dark Church but stands on the opposite side, was originally part of a monastic complex with a two-storey façade which has partially collapsed. The façade of the lower level is decorated with keyhole-shaped blind niches with paintings of the Greek Cross. There are openings leading into the refectory where you can see a fresco of the Last Supper completing the narrative cycle of the church above, and side rooms. The upper storey has a rectangular niche with a rectangular door in the centre leading into the church.

The church, accessible today by a metal stairway, has a modified inscribed-cross plan with two columns and three apses containing altars and seats. The central space and eastern corners are covered by cupolas. The Church was built in the second half of the 11th century.

The paintings in the church are as follows: Christ Pantokrator in the main dome with the medallions of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel and Misrael, together with Christ Emmanuel (God with us); the four Evangelists on the pendentives of the main dome; Michael, Gabriel and Uriel on the subsidiary domes; a Deesis on the main apse conch and sis bishops on the main apse wall (from south to the north: Hypatius, Nicholas, John Crysostom, Basil, Gregory of Naziat Blaise); the Virgin Mary on the northern, Michael on the  southern apse; the Angel at the Tomb on the southern apse lunette; the Hospitality of Abraham on the northern apse lunette; the Way of the Cross and the Raising of Lazarus on the barrel vaults in front of the main apse; Anastasis on the southern wall; the Baptism and Crucifixion on the north wall; the Entry into Jerusalem the Betrayal by Judas and Ascension on the vaults of the main dome; the Transfiguration, the Adoration of Magi the Nativity and the three donors (one wearing a turban together with Simon of Cyrene in the west bay.

“Çarıklı Kilise” means in Turkish “the church with the sandals”, referring to the two depressions on the floor opposite the entrance, and the visitors are told that the church is originally named after these “holy footprints”. Since “the holy footprint” is a feature of the Islamic tradition, obviously the church was named by the local Muslim population during the post-Byzantine period.



Leaving the Museum keep to the road going down from the parking lot for about 40 m. and you will reach the door of the Tokalı Church. It is called Tokalı (means “with buckle” in Turkish) probably because of a buckle on the ceiling of the inner room. This is the largest church hollowed into the rock and the richest in frescoes in the whole of Cappadocia.

The Tokalı Church consists of four main chambers: the arched entrance or vaulted narthex known as the Old  Church; the columned three-apsidal recess known as the New Church, the Parecclesion or side chapel and the Lower Church. The Old Church is believed to have been built about 910/920, whereas the New Church was built at the beginning of the second half of the 10th century. The painting was complete by 963/4. Both of them have been recently restored.

The New Church was dug out to the east of the Old Church, removing the Old Church apse. The New Church has a transverse nave with barrel vaults of the Mesopotamian type. The eastern wall of the nave has an arcade with five openings into a passage, leaving room on the other side for three apses with niches in between. The other walls of the nave are decorated with blind arcades. The Parecclesion consists of a single-apsed chapel, while the Lower Church is a three-aisled church with three apses and a burial space, known as krypto.

The Old Church has a “film strip” of the complete version of the Archaic Cycle with three pairs of bands of visual narration on either side of the medallions of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Tokalı Church in the best place to follow this “film strip”.

The cycle begins with the Annunciation on the corner of the topmost band on the right upon entering the Old Church, continues to the door (west end of the nave) then crosses to the other side of the row of medallions.

After the Annunciation comes the Visitation, where Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant, with St. John the Baptist. The two women are portrayed in a warm embrace. Then comes the Proof of the Virgin or the Trial by Water with the high priest, identified as Zacchariah / the Journey to Bethlehem, the Virgin on a she-ass pleading “take me down from the ass” / the Nativity, with the Child Christ in a cradle staring at the ox and the ass with a huge star above his head, Mary reclining on an embroidered mattress, the bathing of the Infant by two women, Salome and the midwife, on the far left, Joseph in meditation (the three shepherds representing the three ages of man, which are found in the Nativity scenes, are missing here).

On the other side of the row, starting with the scene close to the door, the Adoration of the Magi, with the Virgin Mary sitting on a throne with Child Christ in her lap, Joseph standing behind her and the Magi, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar, representing the ages of man, presenting their gifts / the Massacre of the Innocents, with Herod presiding, a soldier holding a child upside down and “Rachel weeping for her children”/ the Flight into Egypt, with the Virgin on the ass, the Infant Jesus in her lap, James, the son of Joseph from an earlier marriage, leading the ass and Joseph following them, with a motif symbolizing a city gate and a lady with a torch to illuminate the darkness representing Egypt / the Murder of Zacchariah, who refuses to tell where his new born son is, in front of the temple.

In the second row at the right corner, close to the New church, the Pursuit of Elizabeth or Flight of Elizabeth, hiding from the pursuers in a cave / the Calling of John / the Preaching of John / Christ and John / the Baptism, with St. John the Baptist, Christ covering his nudity with both hands, an angel bowing respectfully / the Miracle at Cana.

Starting with the scene on the second row, on the right, close to the door, the Miracle of Wine / the Calling of the Apostles / the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes/ the Healing of the Blind Man / the Raising of Lazarus covered with bandages.

Coming back to the third row at the bottom of the right close to the New Church, the Entry to Jerusalem with Christ mounted on an ass, met by a crowd of “the children of Israel” / the Last Supper, Christ sitting on the left side of a round table with the Apostles, saying that one of them will betray him, Judas asks “Master, is it I”, he replies “thou hast said” / the Betrayal of Judas / Jesus Before Pilate.

Returning to the third row on the left starting with the scene close to the door, the Crucifixion, with Jesus Christ still alive, the Virgin on the left and St. John on the right, Longinus piercing Christ’s side, the sun and the moon above the parallel bar of the Cross (the two thieves are missing) / the Descent from the Cross with Joseph carrying Christ’s body while Nicodemus removes the nails from his toes / the Deposition in the Tomb or Entombment / the Women at the Tomb, Mary Magdalena and the other Mary bringing spices, an angel sitting on the stone lid of the empty tomb / the Anastasis or Descent into Limbo, Christ grasping Adam by the arm, with Eve standing behind him and Satan in chains underfoot, with David and Solomon on the left / the Transfiguration, on the western tympanum / the Ascension, on the eastern tympanum.

Figures of standing saints decorate the lower part of the wall: on the north wall (west to east): Agape, Anastasia, Marina, Dometianos, Kattidios, Panteleemon, Theodoros, Constantine and Helena, Catherine. The saints of the south wall are lost, except for fragments of halos at the east end.

The New Church is decorated with an extensive programme of Infancy, Ministry and Passion cycles. The paintings on north bay of the vault and north lunette: Annunciation, Visitation, Joseph’s Reproaches, Proof of the Virgin, Journey to Bethlehem, Dream of Joseph, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi.

West wall: Flight into Egypt, Presentation North wall Christ in the Temple, Calling of John the Baptist, Christ and John the Baptist, Baptism, Temptation, Calling of Metthew, Calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John, Miracle at Cana.

East wall: Healing the Blind, Healing the Lepers, Widow’s Mite, Healing the Withered Hand, Healing the Possessed. Main apse: On the arch Jeremiah and Ezekiel, on the wall Entombment, Deposition, Anastasis, on the conch Crucifixion (Christ with two thieves).

The decoration in the south apse is lost. In the north apse, on the arch Nikandros, Alypios, Euthymios, Blaissos, on the walls Angel and Demon, Zasimos and Mary the Egyptian, Hospitality of Abraham, Antonios, Symeon the Stlife, Timotheos, Epiphanios, Arsenios, on the conch Jesus Christ in Prophetic Vision.

The important and big scenes are in the centre and south bays of barrel vault: Blessing and Mission of the Apostles, Ascension, Pantecost, the First Deacons.



As you enter the Göreme Open-air Museum, you will notice a tall cliff dotted with caves on the left known as the Nunnery or Girls’ Monastery or Kızlar Kalesi (Girls’ Tower). This is generally left to the end of the tour which follows the counter-clockwise route.

The monastery which has six storeys with a capacity to house at least 300 nuns, displays the characteristic features of a highly organized convent, with its corridors, tunnels, staircases, airshafts and windows. On the third floor there is a cruciform church (Kızlar Kilisesi) with four columns and three apses, painted in monochrome red. On the same floor there is a chamber with hooks for icons. The church contains a very lovely chancel screen and one can also see some graffiti dating from 1055, quite definitely one of the oldest in Cappadocia, a terminus ante quem for the architecture.

In the basement there is a spacious refectory with a stone table and bench hewn out of rock with an adjoining kitchen and pantry.

It is said that there used to be a tunnel between the Nunnery and the Monks’ Convent, probably the result of the same flight of fancy that conjures up imaginary tunnels built between the girls’ and mens’ dorms in modern colleges.


Other Churches in the Vicinity


There are many interesting churches in the vicinity of the Göreme Open-Air Museum, but these are rather for ardent followers of off-the-beaten-tracks, and devotees of Byzantine painting.

Saklı Kilise (The Hidden Church or the Church of St. John): To find Saklı Kilise, take the road down to Göreme Village on leaving the Göreme Open-Air Museum, turn  left at the yellow sign and follow the path steeply upward until you arrive at natural steps descending for a meter and half. Since it is very difficult to find this Church (discovered only in 1957) it was called the Hidden Church. Built about 1070, this church was first introduced to the world by two distinguished Turkish scholars, Sabahattin Eyüboğlu and Prof. Mazhar İpşiroğlu.

The church is divided into two chambers, the west chamber having a flat ceiling and the east a transverse barrel-vault in the style of the Mesopotamian type of church. The east originally had 3 apses, but the central and the left-hand apses became one large chamber after the collapse of the dividing wall between them.

The main scenes depicted are: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, the Calling of John, the Baptism, the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion and the Dormition (Koimesis). The style is markedly different from the others. Fairy chimneys, trees and animals are combined with decorative figures. The Crucifixion is quite unique with its anatomical abstraction showing Christ carrying a cross on his abdomen. Note also “St. John the Baptist in the Desert.” The most unusual scene depicts Veronica wiping the sweat from Christ’s face on his way to Calvary. Her veil is kept in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

St. Theotokos Church: It is accessible from the high plateau behind Tokalı Church. It has a single nave with badly damaged frescoes, dating back to the end of the l0th century It is also known as Theotokos, John the Baptist, and George Chapel.

St. Eustachios Church: This church, located about 40 m to the north-east of St. Theotokos Church, can be reached by an iron staircase. The key can be obtained from the Entrance to the Museum. It has a barrel-vaulted nave carved at the end of the l0th century with a parecclesion added later. The paintings are limited to the Childhood in vivid red and green colours. The scene of the Pursuit of Elisabeth on the left is very interesting. The enemies are depicted with bows and arrows wearing characteristic Seljuk headgear. There is a graffito of 1148/49 near the robe of the angel.

Meryem Ana Kilisesi (The Church of Virgin Mary): The Virgin is highly respected by the Moslems of Anatolia, even more so than Christ himself. This may be due to some sort of survival of the ancient cult of the Mother Goddess, which is very deeply rooted in these regions. Meryem Ana means “Mother Mary” in Turkish. The Church is situated about 80-90 north of St. Eusttachios Church. The religious scenes are confined to the major events of Mary’s life. From the entrance to the Virgin Mary Church there is a magnificent view of the Valley of Kılıçlar. The apse of the Church contains a Christ Pantokrator. The religious scenes are rendered very realistically The Crucifixion scene is of exceptional interest.

The Church of Daniel: This single-naved church built on a rectangular plan with a burial chamber on the northern side is located behind the Tokalı Church and named after the prophet Daniel. Geometrical paintings, large Maltese crosses and frescoes of Christ, the Virgin and the saints date from the 11th century

Aynalı Kilise (The Church with Mirrors): This monastic complex, composed of chapels, dormitories, living quarters and store-rooms, all arranged on two floors, is located on the left side as you enter Göreme Open-Air road from the junction 5 km from Ürgüp on the Nevşehir-Ürgüp road. The walls are decorated with primitive red ornaments, triangles, and crosses. The lavatory, which has survived to the present day, is a good example of the monastic way of life.

El Nazar Church: To reach this church, keep to the main road to Göreme when you leave the Open-Air Museum, turn left before crossing the brook, keep to the track, walk about 800 m in the stream bed and climb up through the vineyards. Nazar means “evil eye” in Turkish.

The church, which dates from the end of the l0th century, is hewn out of an isolated rock pillar. It has a central dome resting on pendentives and containing the scene of the Ascension. A large part of the floor and the lower part of the apse concha have collapsed.

The main paintings are: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, the Presentation in the Temple, the Pursuit of Elisabeth, the Baptism, the Raising of Lazarus, the Transfiguration, the Entry into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, the Anastasis and the Ascension.

The fantastic landscape around the church is very suitable for trekking.



Zelve, which once housed one of the largest communities in the region is an amazing cave town, honeycombed with dwellings, religious and secular chambers. Here, the Christians and Moslems lived together in perfect harmony, until 1924. Then Christians had to leave the Valley because of the exchange of minorities between Greece and Turkey, and the Moslems were forced to evacuate the Valley in the 50’s when life because dangerous due to risk of erosion. They left the site to set up a modern village, a little further on, to which they gave the name Yeni Zelve (New Zelve). Now old Zelve is a ghost town and the erosion still continues.

The three valleys in the Zelve region are a paradise for the rock climbers. It takes at least two hours for a good trekker to walk through these valleys, which also house the oldest examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings.

Start your excursion by visiting the first valley on the right taking the steps in the second valley, then turning right. While walking along the path, you will see on the right some paintings on the surface of the rock. These paintings are what remain from the now totally collapsed Geyikli Kilise (The Church with the Deer) and afford examples of the oldest paintings displaying the principal religious symbols of Christianity, like the Cross, the deer and the fish.

On entering the first valley you will see a rock-cut mosque on the left, with a lovely minaret obviously influenced by the bell-towers of the monasteries, (Byzantine ciboria) which consists of a baldachin of four collonettes supporting a pinnacle. You will then notice a monastery complex on the right resembling an upside down bowl cut out of rock. Immediately opposite, there is a rock-cut complex accessible by a metal ladder and connected to the second valley by a tunnel, but safety considerations make any attempt to go through it inadvisable. On leaving the first valley you can enter the second valley by following the path in front of the Mosque.

Before leaving this open-air museum, be sure to pay special attention to the rocks at the entrance of the third valley. Here you will find a rock-cut mill with a grindstone which remained in use until the 50’s. Recently, its entrance has collapsed. Then follow the path to the Uzümlü Kilise (The Church with Grapes) named after the bunches of grapes, a symbol representing Christ himself, in a country famous for its Dionysiac rituals. Just next to Üzümlü Kilise is the Balıklı Kilise (The Church with Fishes). On the apse above you will be able to discern paintings of fish in a very faded red.



Avanos is a recently opened tourism centre, situated on Kızılırmak and famous for its carpet weaving and pottery ateliers. Kızılırmak (the Red River in Turkish and the ancient Halys of the Romans) is the longest river in Turkey (1355 km). It takes its name from the colour of its water, stained by the red soil of the district and very suitable for pottery making.

Avanos, its name being derived from the Latin Vanesa (Zu-Winasa during the Hittite period), was once the second most important city after Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia. It has a history dating back to the Bronze Age, based on the finds yielded by Topaklı Höyük (Mound) in the vicinity. According to the geographer and historian Strabon, Venessa (Avanos) had been the centre of the Zeus cult whose priests owned 3.000 servants. Avanos is also mentioned in the letters of St. Basil the Great, who sent a letter to Glycerious, a bishop of Avanos in 374, reprimanding him for having run off with some virgins “much to the distress of their parents.” According to Gregorios of Nyssa “the famous Helicon, the Isles of Happiness, the plains of Sission, Thessaly, all pale to insignificance besides St. Vanate” (Avanos).

The ancient cave-dwellings within the town are incorporated in the present houses. The facades of these stone houses were ornamented during the Ottoman period with the finest carving techniques inherited from the Seljuks. Reliefs were carved on the doors, windows, fire-places and cupboards. The present business-minded young men of Avanos are doing their best to preserve these houses, especially by turning them into family boarding houses. Avanos has become a French paradise in recent years. French is spoken everywhere. The names of the shops and workshops all begin with “chez”. A number of French girls fell in love first with Avanos and then with natives of Avanos, got married and stayed here.

Avanos is the centre of Cappadocian pottery manufacture. There are nearly 300 pottery ateliers using the same techniques as the Neolithic men of Anatolia, namely the ancient revolving potter’s wheel. As a matter of course, you can, if you wish, visit an atelier and follow the art and craft of the potter, or if you are ambitious enough, attend pottery courses for a week.

Avanos is also famous for its hand woven carpets, a fame it shares with Yahyalı, Taşpınar and Kayseri. The symbol of the town is both a potter and a weaver. You can spend a week here learning the arts of dyeing, weaving and knotting. The onyx workshops of Avanos are also well-known, since the quarries in the vicinity of Avanos yield high quality onyx.

The old monuments in the town, apart from the beautiful stone houses (do not miss the one just across the bridge when entering the old town, still waiting to be restored), consist of the Ulu Cami dating from the l8th century, and the Alaaddin Cami, probably built in the l3th century, but renovated in 1963. A Roman necropolis was unearthed in a field 5 km to the village center with lovely Roman sarcophagi. About 7 km to the southwest of the village center there stands Çeç Tümülüsü (Çeç Mound), probably dating from the 1stcentury B.C. Still to be excavated, the mound, which resembles the famous mound on Mt. Nemrut, looks like a burial place of an eminent king or a priest.

If you continue 14 km to the east along Avanos-Kayseri road, turn right after the little bridge over the Göynük Stream and continue for a further 11 km, you will come to the Bayram Hacı hot springs (kaplıca) with a large marble pool filled with water at a constant temperature of 35°C.

During the month of August, there are special festivities in Avanos, known as Binnik. These are held in the gardens or vineyards by the parents of engaged sons for their friends. These festivities are attended by the young people of Avanos, who enjoy themselves immensely.

If you spend a few nights in Avanos, try the vişne suyu (cherry juice), rose jam, and fish from Kızılırmak. Be sure to take a bath in the old Alaaddin Hamamı.

Every year in August an International Festival of Handicrafts and Tourism is held in Avanos, where a competition of potters takes place.

Avanos offers tourists the opportunity of attending car pet weaving or pottery making courses, taking up mule or horse riding (balade a cheval), chart tours or of meeting the local folk with their extraordinary hospitality.




Ürgüp, once the starting point of the tourism industry, now constitutes the heart of Cappadocia with its hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, discos and souvenir shops with their vast selection of precious stones such as lapis lazuli, jade and ivory, silver and gold as well as elaborate wood and metalwork, carpets and kilims.

An important commercial and administrative centre in the Ottoman period with a name derived from “ur-kup”, meaning “a lot of rocks”, Ürgüp is famous for its stone houses with their fine loggias and beautifully carved decoration. The Turkish style arched houses, most of them with two storeys, have a courtyard (hayat) with summer and winter quarters comprising the living rooms, guest rooms with fireplaces, summer and winter kitchens and stables, storerooms and barns.

The highest point of the town, known as the Kadıkalesi (Castle of the Kadı) or Kadınlar Kalesi (the women’s Fortress), collapsed in 1954. The Castle was built by the Seljuks in the l3th  century and served as a refuge for women and children in time of peril. It has an underground tunnel leading to the ravine nearby. The Altıkapı Türbesi (Tomb of the Six Gates), built to serve as a cemetery for the wives and children of the one-time commander-in-chief, is located in the garden of the Lycee.

The Karaosmanoğlu Mosque or Grand Mosque was built by the Seljuk Sultan Keyhüsrev. The Tomb of Sheikh-ül-İslam Hayri Efendi, the father of former prime minister Suat Hayri Ürgüplü, stands in the courtyard. On the Temenni Hill stands the Tomb of Nükrettin dedicated to the Seljuk leader Kılıçaslan (Lion with Sword). The locals usually visit the tomb to pray for their wishes to come true. The Museum of Ürgüp houses very fine Hittite, Roman and Byzantine works, together with ethnographical exhibits.

Ürgüp is a good base from which to explore the surrounding valleys and towns such as Sinassos, Cemil and Soğanlı.

If you follow the Kayseri road and turn right for Yeşilöz, after 17 km you will be able to visit one of the largest churches in the region. A short climb will take you to Tağar Church (The Church of St. Theodore) dating from the 11th century. In architectural terms, it is built on a triconch plan, having apses on three sides of a square central mass. The church is famous for the Deesis paintings on the eastern and northern conches. On the way you will pass by the village of Karain, many of whose inhabitants suffer from a deadly disease known as Karain agony which has been diagnosed as a type of cancer caused by xeolite, a mineral found in the pale yellow rock. The villagers in the area are strongly advised to leave the region.



The extraordinary region extending south of Ürgüp is unknown to many tourists visiting Cappadocia. Here, you may explore many lovely villages, ravines, valleys, monastic complexes and churches.

Mustafapaşa, or Sinassos as it was called by the Orthodox inhabitants of the region, will be the first town you come across 6 km outside Ürgüp. You will notice yellow signs on the right pointing to the Pancarlık churches, Ayvalı village, (to visit Orta Mahalle and Karaçalı churches) and the underground city of Mazı.

Sinassos, like the town of Gelveri, is an open-air museum consisting of l9th century stone houses with stone carved decoration of excellent workmanship on the façades, windows and balconies. Most of the houses still possess frescoes dating from the l9th century If you can persuade the local inhabitants to admit you into their houses, you will be astonished at the very lovely frescoes depicting scenes of everyday life, of Napoleon’s war in the East or a tour in London. Do not miss the large stone building on the left as you enter the town.

This lovely stone building, once inhabited by a rich Sinassosian and later used as a school, is being restored as a hotel. Inside, on the wall over the entrance you will notice a painting related to the Russian Japanese war.

There are many beautiful churches around Sinassos, the keys to which can be obtained from the caretaker’s office on the left past Hotel Sinassos. If you follow the tarmac road on the right for a kilometer, you will reach the Church of Aios Vasilios (St. Basil), a rock-cut church dating from the l3th century, entered through a new door, located in a quiet section of a pretty gorge, immediately opposite a multi-storied cement hotel. The church, which still contains a number of very striking frescoes, remained in use until 1924, when the Orthodox Christians of Sinassos left the town for Greece.

At the entrance to the town there stands a beautiful 14th century medrese but unfortunately it is now occupied by a car pet seller and has air-conditioning appliances installed on the windows. In the town center you can see the Church of Ayii Kontantinos-Eleni (St. Constantin and Helena) with lovely grape reliefs on the entrance door. Sinassos is a very lovely stop-over place from which to explore the other churches such as St. Stephen (Ayastefanos), St. Nikola or Sinassos (very close to the city center), Merdivenli (Stimos Stavros), Haçlı, Kara-Ala in Gömede, the Aghiasma of St. Luke and the ruined palace in Golgoli.

There are many mineral springs in the vicinity with healing proper ties. The local inhabitants visit them in cases of sickness and tie a piece of cloth to a tree nearby in the belief that their wishes will be granted.