Literally “Land of Beautiful Horses”, wherever you turn your gaze in Cappadocia you are confronted with overwhelming natural beauty. While we stayed in Göreme for the night, in the lovely Star Cave Hotel, we have also taken advantage of Turkey tourism organization in this region and gone on different tours, the Ilhara Valley first, then Göreme open-air museum, Uçhisar for its castle and a breathtaking view on Pigeon Valley, to finally hike the stunning Red Valley and Rose Valley.
Göreme open-air museum, a fifteen-minute walk from Göreme village, is a huge monastery complex where the austere monks’ and bishop’s dwellings were carved out of the famous fairy chimney, the region’s most pictured landscape elements. The spartan rooms and refectories where monks’ life took place were briefly interrupted only by simple churches, the interior of which was often embellished with beautiful frescoes.
Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, seen from its entrance Göreme Park and open-air museum makes for an amazing view, with its tuff peaks and chimneys properly cut to create churches, most of which date back to a time span between the 10th and the 12th century.
Right after the entrance, or at the exit, we found the “Nunnery”, a 6-storey rock where a kitchen, a dining hall and a couple of churches are connected through narrow tunnels and where only the first two levels can be visited.
Proceeding with your tour aruond the monastery complex, the first churches you will find are Saint Barbara Church and Apple (Elmali) Church, both adorned with beautiful frescoes reproducing moments from the Bible alternated only at times by the simple red signs belonging to the iconoclast period, when images of sacred entities were banned and the existent rubbed out, at least the ones within arm’s reach, the frescoes on the ceilings were mainly untouched.
The most beautiful frescoes are in Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise), which has an entrance fee of 8TL, rather annoyingly since you pay already 15TL to enter the open-air museum. Worth your time are also the other worship places, Buckle (Tokali) Church, Carikli (Sandals) Church and Snake (Yilanli) Church.
If you ask me, apart from frescoes, naves, carvings and paintings, what fascinated me the most was actually being in the refectories. I know, it’s weird, especially if you see them, as you probably won’t understand why I found them so interesting. I myself am not too sure, but I think it’s because they really brought me back to those days, to how simple their life was and somehow enabling me to compare it with what we have now or even to what kings and sultans had back then. The refectories were simply made by digging in the rock to create three long aligned stones, two thin to use as benches and one larger in the middle to serve as table. Not so comfy, I thought when I saw it, but then, it really is all we need when we sit to eat.
Wandering among the rocks, stones and those fairy chimneys that you see from afar arriving in Cappadocia does make you feel you are in a surreal land, another planet altogether.
It takes about an hour to visit the museum, paths are not very harsh, making it only a little starter for the tougher hike around the Red Valley and Rose Valley we had the following day.
After Göreme open-air museum, we headed to Uçhisar, to see its castle and the view from its top.
As I soon learned, Uçhisar doesn’t really meet my idea of a castle, especially after having seen royal residences and castles in Europe, China and Istanbul itself (the gorgeous and super luxurious Topkapi Palace!), and I genuinely doubt anybody has ever lived there, or else maybe monks again as it really looked more like the monasteries we had seen all the way both in Göreme open-air museum and in Ilhara Valley. However, if I have to spot the single most luxurious thing in this castle, it would by all means be the view, a spectacular panorama on the Pigeon Valley, fairy chimneys in different hues, from yellow to white to red to brown, as far as the eye can see. A daily treat for whoever has made there their home.
I leave you with two shots of the Pigeon Valley for now, a modest anticipation of what we saw during our hike up and down the peaks of the Red Valley and Rose Valley, places of incredible beauty that will be widely shown in my next post. Stay tuned!