At the valley’s southernmost point, the Ihlara village offers two separate entrance points to the valley. One is in the village itself, and the other at the Ihlara Valley Visitor Centre, a car park and information point around halfway along the main road between Ihlara and Belisırma. This latter entrance provides direct access to the area that holds most of the valley’s churches, via a precipitous but manageable descent of several hundred steps that plummet 150m to the valley floor. Walking from either village to this point offers a tremendous sense of solitude; easy trails run in both directions, each taking about one and a half hours.

The monastic occupation of the Ihlara valley, or Peristrema as it was originally known, seems to have been continuous from early medieval times until the fourteenth century. It would seem from the decoration of the churches, whose development can be traced through pre- and post-Iconoclastic periods, that the valley was little affected by the religious disputes of the period; the paintings show both Eastern and Western influence.

The most interesting of the churches are located near the small wooden bridge at the bottom of the steps from the visitor centre. A plan down here shows all the accessible churches, most of which are easy to find. To the right of the bridge, on the same side as the steps, is the Ağaçaltı Kilise (“Church under the Tree”). Cross-shaped with a central dome, the church originally had three levels, but two have collapsed, as has the entrance hall. The magnificent frescoes inside depict the Magi presenting gifts at the Nativity, Daniel with the lions (opposite the entrance in the west arm) and, in the central dome, the Ascension.

The Pürenli Seki Kilise – 500m beyond, 30m up the cliffside, also on the south bank – can be seen clearly from the river below, although its frescoes, mainly depicting scenes from the life of Christ, are badly damaged. Another 50m towards Ihlara, the Kokar Kilise is relatively easy to reach and showcases the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt and the Last Supper in the main hall. In the centre of the dome, a picture of a hand represents the Trinity and the sanctification.

Perhaps the valley’s most fascinating church is located across the wooden footbridge, 100m from the entrance. The Yılanlı Kilise (“Church of the Snakes”) contains unusual depictions of sinners suffering in hell. Four women are being bitten by snakes, one of them on the nipples as a punishment for not breast-feeding her young. Another is covered in eight snakes, while the other two are being punished for slander and not heeding advice. At the centre of the scene, a three-headed snake is positioned behind one of the few Cappadocian depictions of Satan; each of its mouths holds a soul destined for hell.

Another church worth exploring is Sümbüllü Kilise (“Church of the Hyacinths”), just 200m from the entrance steps. Its attractive facade is decorated with horseshoe niches, while its badly damaged frescoes show Greek influence.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Turkey features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
19 places to get utterly lost

19 places to get utterly lost

One of the great joys of travelling is stumbling across unexpected places, wandering without a single destination in mind and embracing the journey. These place…

12 Sep 2017 • Keith Drew camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook