Goreme National Park & Open-air Museum - cave churches with frescoes
Erosion shaped the incredible landscape of the Goreme valley, but thousands of years ago humans took a cue from Mother Nature and began carving an incredible chamber and tunnel complex into the soft rock. Beginning in the fourth century A.D., an urbanized—but underground—cultural landscape was created here.
Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of metres thick. Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet (40 metres) into the sky.
But human hands performed equally incredible works here. The rocky wonderland is honeycombed with a network of human-created caves; living quarters, places of worship, stables, and storehouses were all dug into the soft stone. In fact, tunnel complexes formed entire towns with as many as eight different storeys hidden underground.
The Goreme Open Air Museum has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.
Goreme was inhabited as early as the Hittite era, circa 1800 to 1200 B.C. and later sat uncomfortably on the boundary between rival empires; first the Greeks and Persians and later the Byzantine Greeks and a host of rivals. This precarious political position meant that residents needed hiding places—and found them by tunnelling into the rock itself.
The site became a religious refuge during the early days of Christianity. By the fourth century Christians fleeing Rome’s persecution had arrived in some numbers and established monastic communities here. The monks excavated extensive dwellings and monasteries and created Byzantine frescoed paintings in cave chapels beginning in the seventh century, which endure in well-preserved isolation to this day.
Goreme is rich with history, but not all of Cappadocia’s troglodyte dwellings are museums. Some still serve as homes and others as hotels, which offer a truly unique hospitality experience.
The primary threats to this World Heritage site come from the forces that created it in the first place. Erosion is returning some human endeavours to a more natural state, and extensive preservation efforts are meant to ensure that the wonders of Goreme survive for another millennium. With increased tourist trade, however, humans have brought modern development and damage and even destruction to some of the ancient sites they once created.
CHURCHES AROUND GOREME
The Apple (Elmali) Church
This is one of the smallest and the most recent churches of the area. It was built in the 11th century. It is cross shaped in the ground plan. The church was carved into the rock with a dome ceiling and pillars. Four columns support this dome. There are some frescoes remained to current times. These wall paintings represent the raising of the Lazarus, the last supper, the crucifixion, angels and some other holly figures.
The convent was located across the monastery. The first floor was used as a cellar, kitchen and living area. The church was on the third floor. The rest of the convent was used as refuge. It was known to be carved into the rock, during the 11th century.
The Dark (Karanlik) Church
This was built in the 11th century in the form of a monastery. It is accepted as one of the best examples of Byzantine art of that century. The art of the church was commissioned to a professional artist by four benefactors who were portrayed in the frescoes. The small opening looking out on the narthex is the only source of light into the church. This helped to keep the frescoes in good shape throughout the ages. It is considered to be the best preserved environment in the area reflecting the 11th century Byzantine art. The frescoes reflect scenes from the New Testament. The most spectacular ones are: Christ Almighty on the main dome, the baptism, the last supper, the crucifixion, the Christ's betrayal and some Saints and Evangelists.
The Snake (Yilanli) Church
It was built into the rocks in the 11th century. It has a low ceiling and long nave. As you enter you see a picture of Christ and the founder of the church. There are frescoes on the other walls, showing St. Basil, St. Thomas and St. Onouphrios. On the other wall St. Theodore is shown struggling with a snake. The pictures of Emperor Constantine and his mother are also shown supporting the cross with their hands.
The Church of St. Barbara
This 11th century church has two columns supporting the ceiling and it is carved into the rock. Its frescoes show St. George and St. Theodore.
The Church with a Shield
This 11th century church is the biggest carved-rock church in Cappadocia. It is on the main road to Avcilar, to the right. It is accessed after a long vestibule to the west. There used to be a shield hanging on the ceiling long time ago. This does not exist anymore but the place where it was connected to the ceiling is still visible. At the eastern end of the nave which is connected to the vestibule there are four arched columns supporting the structure. There is an elevated corridor behind this nave. The church with a shield is one of the most noticeable churches in the region with its size and spectacular frescoes.
REGIONS AND SITES OF CAPPADOCIA
♦ Underground City of Derinkuyu - the largest & deepest excavated subterranean city, which could house up to 20.000 people
♦ Underground City of Kaymakli - the next largest excavated subterranean city, which could house up to 5.000 people
♦ Göreme National Park & Open-air Museum - cave churches with frescoes
♦ Zelve Valley & Open-air Museum - an empty cave town with churches
♦ Paşabağ (Monk Valley) - mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys
♦ Ihlara Valley - the deepest gorge of Anatolia
♦ Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley) - animal-shaped fairy chimneys
♦ Uchisar Castle - A rock-cut castle. You’ll see it driving back and forth
♦ Ortahisar Castle - Troglodyte village with rock-cut castle
♦ Sobessos - The only late-Roman/early-Byzantine settlement found in Cappadocia, mosaic pavements, Roman baths
♦ Avanos Town - Town of pottery & craftsmanship
♦ Hacibektaş Town - Centre of Bektasi sect of Islam
♦ Gülşehir Town - First settlements in Cappadocia
♦ Caravanserais - Inns, «caravan palaces» on camel trains through Asia Minor