Explore South Central Anatolia
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.