During the early times of the spread of Christianity, the people who needed to hide from the Arab raids carved out these tough rocks thus constructing churches and built underground cities to defend themselves against the raids.
The settlements in Cappadocia had come into existence, mostly in the valleys of Goreme, Ihlara, and Soganli. The people who had settled here worshipped in the churches that they carved out of the rocks, and they dealt with agriculture to meet their own needs. The water sources in the valleys made this region productive. The most intensive settlement was in the vicinity of the township of Goreme. It is possible to see many churches together today in the locality made into an open-air museum.
Churches in Goreme
Let us begin discussing the churches in Cappadocia, by describing the churches in this open-air museum. In Goreme, at a distance of 7 km (4.3 miles) from Urgup, the first ancient structure that appears in front of us is the Maidens Monastery. The monastery, belonging to the first half of the 11th century and is an interesting building of six stores. The Chapel of St. Basil is situated on the opposite side of the promenade road in the museum. The Church with Apple, one of the most important churches in Goreme, appears in sight thereafter. The church, planned in the shape of a closed Greek cross, ends with three abscissas. The church belongs to the 12th century and the frescos in it display the scenes based on the contents of the Bible and also inspired by the Pentateuch. The Church of St. Barbara is situated beyond the Church with Apple. In this church which belongs to the first half of the 11th century and the descriptions of Pontacrator Christ, Georgios, Theodoros, and Saint Barbara are worthy of attention.
The Church with Snake, situated here, also belongs to the 11th century, and the scene of Deisis is displayed on its long wall. Descriptions of Saint Onesimus Georgios, Theodoros, Constantine, and Helena are seen here. On the rocky mass that heightens from the south of the open-air museum towards the west of it, there are monasteries grouped together and 8 churches, 7 dining halls, grave chambers, and wine factories. The church which is situated here has two stores and the frescos inside have been recently restored and fortified. The events included in the contents of the Bible and the Pentateuch are described in vivid colors in the frescos.
The Church with Sandals is situated at the extreme north of the valley. The Church with Sandals belongs to the 12th century, has a dining hall under it, and their descriptions of the scenes from Christ’s life and from the Pentateuch inside the church.
The Church with Buckle is located on the road to Goreme, is the largest church in Goreme. It consists of four sites namely: The Old Church, The New Great Church, The adjoining chapel, and the church underneath.
The Old Church forms the entrance of the New Church today, and it is decorated with descriptions that are dated to the 10th century and concern Christ’s life. The New Church which has a rectangular plan is decorated with descriptive scenes from Christ’s childhood adolescence and showing the sorrows of his life. This church is dated to the end of the 10th century. The annexed chapel and the church underneath, belong to the following period. At a distance of 300 m from the zone of the museum, there is the Church of Virgin Mary; and the Church of El Nazar, belonging to the 10th century, and the Hidden Church is situated at the left-hand side on the way to the township of Goreme.
In addition to the Valley of Goreme, there are churches of importance in the Valley of Soganli too. Churches such as Karabas, Yilanli, Kubbeli, and Gok Kilise are situated in this valley which is at a distance of 30 km (18 miles) to Urgup.
The missile-shaped fairy Chimneys within the Zemi Deresi near these churches, create very interesting scenery. There are many churches in the township of Goreme, such as Yusuf Koc, Durmus Kadir. While traveling in Goreme, the fortresses of Uchisar and Ortahisar suddenly appear in front of you as a magnificent sight. Here, the Valley of Guvercinlik is so beautiful that one doesn’t get tired of watching it.
Aktepe and the Valleys of Uchisar, Kiliclar, Uzundere are places that display very interesting sights. The Pink Valley, placed between Avanos and Urgup arouses interest by reason of its natural scenery. The Church of Cavusin, situated on the road of Avanos at a distance of 2 km to Goreme, is decorated with frescos belonging to the 11th century. One can walk from Cavusin to the Valleys of Gulludere and Kizilcukur. The 12 churches in this region can also be visited during this walk that will be a pleasant thing for you to remember. We come across interesting scenery in Bagli Deresi which extends towards Killik or Kaya Harmani in the north of Avanos-Goreme road and towards Uchisar in the south of it.
The locality called Cinnes on the road to Zelve past Cavusin and the locality named Pasabagi or Kesisler Vadisi (Valley of Monks) are also worth seeing. Zelve is a region that extends towards the interiors of a hill called Aktepe where there are about 15 churches.
Underground Cities at Cappadocia
There are many underground cities in Cappadocia too. Within these soft rocks carved out as a means of defense against the enemy, interesting underground cities were formed, and all kinds of needs could be met in them.
The most important ones among them are the cities of Kaymakli, Derinkuyu, and Ozkonak and there are underground cities in many other places too.
In the Valley of Ihlara which is arrived at by diverging from the Aksaray-Nevsehir road, there are 36 churches each one of which is more interesting than the other. When one descends the steps and reaches the valley at the end of the road, the Churches of Agacalti, Sumbullu, Kokar, and Yilanli can be seen in the Open Air Museum of Ihlara. The other churches of importance such as those of Egritas, Purenliseki, Karagedik, Kirkdamalti, Bahattin Samanligi, and Ala Kilise are also situated in this valley. The Church of Gumusler belonging to the 11th century and are located at a distance of 7 km (4.3 miles) to Nigde, is a church of interesting appearance. The Churches called Yuksek Kilise and Kizil Kilise which are located in Guzelyurt, are made of stone.