The large village of GÖREME is of central importance to Cappadocian tourism, partly because of its open-air museum, located a couple of kilometres away on the Ürgüp road, but mostly because it is the most famous of the few remaining Cappadocian settlements whose rock-cut houses and fairy chimneys are still inhabited. Still an institution on the Turkish backpacker circuit, its accommodation in the past few years has shifted towards well-heeled visitors while its main street is given over almost entirely to servicing tourists – there are carpet shops, pansiyons, tour companies and restaurants everywhere, and you don’t even need to wander out of your cave room to connect to the wireless internet.
Whilst the influx of visitors has enabled the local economy to boom, the fragile environment is being put under increasing pressure. Already scarce water resources are dwindling and illegal building is rarely controlled by the local authorities. Yet despite the commercialization, the place has managed to hold onto a degree of authentic charm, and a short stroll off the main street or into the nearby valleys will still take you up into tuff landscapes, vineyards that the locals cultivate for the production of pekmez (grape molasses), and the occasional rock-cut church, unknown to the hordes who frequent the nearby museum.
The village’s long history and the variety of its cultures are clear from the fact that Göreme is the fourth known name bestowed upon it. The Byzantines called it Matiana, the Armenian Christians Macan, and the Turks originally called it Avcılar, only giving it the name Göreme (“unseen”) much later, in honour of its valley of churches of the same name.Read More
Göreme Open-Air Museum
Göreme Open-Air Museum
The Göreme Open-Air Museum – easily reached by walking the 1.5km from the village along the road to Ürgüp – is the best known and most visited of all the monastic settlements in the Cappadocia region. It’s also the largest of the religious complexes, and its churches, of which there are over thirty, contain some of the most fascinating of all the frescoes in Cappadocia. Virtually all date from the period after the Iconoclastic controversy, and mainly from the second half of the ninth to the end of the eleventh century.
The best known of the churches in the main complex of Göreme are the three columned churches: the Elmalı Kilise (“Church of the Apple”), the Karanlık Kilise (“Dark Church”) and the Çarıklı Kilise (“Church of the Sandals”). These eleventh-century churches were heavily influenced by Byzantine forms: constructed to an inscribed cross plan, the central dome, supported on columns, contains the Pantocrator above head-and-shoulders depictions of the archangels and seraphim. The painting of the churches, particularly of Elmalı Kilise, is notable for the skill with which the form and movement of the figures correspond to the surfaces they cover. They are clad in drapery, which closely follows the contours of their bodies, and their features are smoothly modelled, with carefully outlined eyes. The facade of the Karanlık Kilise is intricately carved to give more of an impression of a freestanding building than elsewhere in Göreme. The expensive blue colour obtained from the mineral azurite is everywhere in the church, whereas in the Elmalı Kilise grey is the predominant tone.
A number of other late eleventh-century single-aisle churches in the museum are covered in much cruder geometric patterns and linear pictures, painted straight onto the rock. In this style is the Barbara Kilise (Church of St Barbara), named after a depiction of the saint on the north wall. Christ is represented on a throne in the apse. The strange insect-figure for which the church is also known must have had a symbolic or magical significance that is now lost. The Yılanlı Kilise (“Church of the Snake”), also in this group, is most famous for the depiction of St Onophrius on the west wall of the nave. St Onophrius was a hermit who lived in the Egyptian desert in the fourth and fifth centuries, eating only dates, with a foliage loincloth for cover. Opposite St Onophrius, Constantine the Great and his mother St Helena are depicted holding the True Cross. Between the Yılanlı and the Karanlık churches is a refectory with a rock-cut table designed to take about fifty diners.
There are a couple of churches worth visiting on the road back to Göreme village from the open-air museum. The best preserved and most fascinating is the Tokalı Kilise (“Church with the Buckle”; keep ticket from main site), located away from the others on the opposite side of the road, about 50m before the ticket office. The church is different in plan to others in the area, having a transverse nave and an atrium hewn out of an earlier church, known as the “Old Church”. The frescoes here, dating from the second decade of the tenth century, are classic examples of the archaic period of Cappadocian painting: the style is linear, but like the mosaics of Aya Sofya in İstanbul, the faces are modelled by the use of different intensities of colour and by the depiction of shadow. The paintings in the New Church are some of the finest examples of tenth-century Byzantine art. The semicircular wall is used for the four scenes of the Passion and Resurrection: the Descent from the Cross, the Entombment, the Holy Women at the Sepulchre and the Resurrection.
The El Nazar Kilisesi or “Evil Eye Church”, carved from a tuff pinnacle (follow signs from the road between the village and the Open-Air Museum), has been over-restored but contains some fine frescoes. The Saklı Kilise (“Hidden Church”), about halfway between the museum and the village, uses Cappadocian landscapes complete with fairy chimneys as a background for biblical scenes. It lives up to its name, and you’re advised to ask the church’s keyholder (who’s also the proprietor of the shop Hikmet’s Place, which is where you’ll find him) to show you the way.
Christianity in Cappadocia
Christianity in Cappadocia
Today, the number of churches in the Cappadocia region is estimated at more than 1000, dating from the earliest days of Christianity to the thirteenth century. For many centuries the religious authority of the capital of Cappadocia, Caesarea (present-day Kayseri) extended over the whole of southeast Anatolia, and it was where Gregory the Illuminator, the evangelizer of Armenia, was raised. The region also produced some of the greatest early ecclesiastical writers. These included the fourth-century Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa.
By the beginning of the eighth century the political power of Cappadocia’s monks, whose numbers had increased considerably during the seventh century, began to cause concern. This led to the closure of monasteries and confiscation of their property. The worst period of repressive activity occurred during the reign of Constantine V, marked by the Iconoclastic Council of 754. All sacred images, except the cross, were forbidden, a ruling which had a profound affect on the creative life of the region’s churches.
After the restoration of the cult of images in 843, there was a renewed vigour in the religious activity of Cappadocia. During this period, the wealth of the Church increased to such an extent that in 964 monastery building was prohibited, an edict only withdrawn in 1003. Meanwhile, the religious communities were brought to heel, controlled to a greater extent by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even though Cappadocia continued to be a centre of religious activity well into the Ottoman period, it had lost the artistic momentum that had produced the most extraordinary works of earlier centuries.