The Göreme Open-Air Museum 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 fascinating frescoes. 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 three columned churches
The best-known churches in the main complex of Göreme are the three eleventh-century columned churches: the Elmalı Kilise (“Church of the Apple”), the Karanlık Kilise (“Dark Church”; separate entrance fee of TL8) and the Çarıklı Kilise (“Church of the Sandals”). All 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, and their features are smoothly modelled. The intricately carved facade of the restored Karanlık Kilise is painted an expensive blue colour, obtained from the mineral azurite.
The open-air museum holds various late eleventh-century single-aisle churches that are covered in crude geometric patterns and linear pictures, painted straight onto the rock. The Barbara Kilise (“Church of St Barbara”) in this style is 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”) 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, eating only dates, with a foliage loincloth for cover. Opposite him, 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.