Cultural Corridors of South East Europe

Heritage by Country / Turkey

Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia

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Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia

About the site

Corridor: Diagonal Road
Country: Turkey, Cappadocia
Type: Christian religious centre
Epoch: Middle Ages
World Heritage: Cultural and Natural Heritage (mixed)
Middle AgesChristian religious centreCultural and Natural Heritage (mixed)

In a spectacular landscape, entirely sculpted by erosion, the Göreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period. Dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground towns – the remains of a traditional human habitat dating back to the 4th century – can also be seen there.


Cappadocia's most famous attraction, for good reason, is the Goreme Open Air Museum, a complex of several painted cave-churches carved out by Orthodox monks between 900 and 1200 AD.
The Open Air Museum is located in Turkey's Goreme Valley, a 15-minute walk (1.5 km/1 mile) from Goreme and a short ride (6.5 km, 4 miles) from Urgup.
There are at least 10 churches and chapels in the museum area.
The paintings and decoration represent a flowering of a uniquely Cappadocian artistic style. During the Iconoclastic period, many of the frescoes and paintings were damaged, while the eyes of the images were scratched out by the local Turkish population superstitious of the "evil eye."
The Byzantine architectural features of the churches, such as arches, columns, and capitals, are interesting in that none of them is structurally necessary.
Past a small rock tower or Monks' Convent is the Church of St. Basil, whose entrance is hollowed out with niches for small graves. This is a common feature of Cappadocian churches and it's still not uncommon to reach down and come up with a knuckle bone every now and again in the more remote valleys.
The Apple Church (Elmali Kilise) is one of the smaller churches in the area, carved in the sign of a Greek cross with four irregular pillars supporting a central dome. Paintings depict scenes of the saints, bishops, and martyrs, and to the right of the altar, a Last Supper with the symbolic fish (the letters of the word fish in Greek stand for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Savior"). The name of the church is believed to refer to a reddish orb in the left hand of the Archangel Michael in the dome of the main apse.
Santa Barbara was an Egyptian saint imprisoned by her father to protect her from the influences of Christianity. When she nevertheless found a way to practice her faith, her father tortured and killed her. The Church of Santa Barbara, probably built as a tribute, is a cross-domed church with three apses, with mostly crudely painted geometrical patterns in red ochre believed to be symbolic in nature.
The Snake Church is a simple barrel-vaulted church with a low ceiling and long nave. One fresco represents Saints Theodore and George slaying the dragon (looking suspiciously like a snake), with Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena depicted holding the "True Cross”.
Until the 1950s the Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise) was used as a pigeon house. After 14 years of scraping pigeon droppings off the walls, these newly restored frescoes, depicting scenes from the New Testament, are the best preserved in all of Cappadocia and a fine example of 11th-century Byzantine art. Because light is allowed in through only one small opening, the richness of the pigments has survived the test of time. There is sometimes an additional admission fee for entry into this church.
Cut into the same rock as the Dark Church and accessible via a metal walkway, the Church with Sandals (Carikli Kilise) takes its name from the two imprints on the floor inside the entrance. In the land of truth-stretching, these footprints have been given some weighty religious significance, but the fact is, they're just footprints and all of those stories are just more creative embellishment.
The last thing to see before exiting the museum is the Nunnery or Girls' Tower (Kizlar Kalesi), a six-story convent cut into the rock with a system of tunnels, stairways, and corridors. The convent housed up to 300 nuns, whose proximity spawned rumors of a tunnel connecting the tower and the Monks' Convent to the right of the museum entrance.
About 5m (17 ft.) outside the exit to the museum site on the right is The Buckle Church (Tokali Kilise), the largest rock-cut church and the one with the most sensational collection of frescoes in all of Cappadocia. Of all of the narrations of scenes from the Bible in the region, these are painted with the most detail and use the richest colors. The Buckle Church is a complex formed of four chambers: the Old Church, the New Church, the Paracclesion, and the Lower Church.

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