Trekking Cappadocia: Ihlara Valley, Magical Monasteries & Underground Cities
One of the first places we visited in Cappadocia was the Ihlara Valley. Set between Mount Hasan and Mount Melendiz, the Ihlara Valley is a stunning gorge of some 14 km dug by the Melendiz River in the span of thousands of years. During our trekking tour, we soaked in nature and explored much of the local historical sites.
Ihlara Valley Hike in Cappadocia
- What to see in the Ihlara Valley
- Places to visit near the Ihlara Valley
- How to reach the Ihlara Valley
- Where to stay near the Ihlara Valley
What to see in the Ihlara Valley
The Ihlara Valley, as our guide explained to us, stems from the lovely collaboration of volcanic activities and tectonic movements that together have created the natural wonders we can gape at today. When the basalt and andesite lava from Hasandagi cooled down, cracks, subsidence and structural failure gave space to water streams. Among these was the Melendiz creek, ancient Potamus Kapadokus, that has eroded the bottom of the valley creating what we see now.
1. Trek in nature
One of the main reasons travellers book their hike in the Ihlara Valley is to discover and admire the local nature. We reached the rocky greenish route of the Ihlara gorge going down a ladder, and there our adventure started. The hike is not very difficult, but it can be tiring at times.
You can take breaks to rest, but whether you are going with a guided tour or by yourself, you don’t want to stay in the gorge until dark that you can’t properly see the paths. Even though you are not going to hike for the whole 14 kilometres, the tour does last quite a few hours. So if you feel you are out of training, do enquire with the tour leader before embarking on the journey.
2. See Ihlara Valley’s churches and monasteries
For 14 km nonetheless, the Ihlara Valley hosts hundreds, if not thousands, of churches and monasteries, including beautiful Selime, situated at its very edge, where we ended our tour. All along our walk, starting with the 400-something steps to go down the valley, we were confronted by natural beauty and man-made buildings.
On the 100-150-meter-high rock formations, you will have the chance to see countless churches embellished by beautiful frescoes ruined only by the iconoclast wave and Muslim invasions. Along the valley are also graves and holy places of the Christians inhabiting the region and hiding there to escape the several invasions that hit Cappadocia in the centuries.
The churches in the Ihlara Valley are all early-Christian style, early Byzantine, the Eastern Roman Empire that started around the end of the fourth century when it separated itself from the Western Roman Empire that had Rome as capital.
A central nave, simple columns, arches, vaults and domes form these primordial Christian worship places. We visited some of them, and the most remarkable within the gorge of the Ihlara Valley was Sümbüllü (Jacinth) Church, a monastery where we could see both the sacred area and where bishop and monks lived.
3. Belisirma village
Located on the banks of the Melendiz river, Belisirma is a small village built on the slopes of the Ihlara Valley. It’s part of most trekking routes and very likely you are going to stop here for lunch if you book a tour to the Ihlara Valley.
4. Visit Selime monastery
Leaving the valley, we stopped at Selime monastery, entirely carved out of tuff hills, with different areas being employed for different purposes, so apart from the main church, we also visited students’ rooms and refectories.
What to see near the Ihlara Valley
The very first settlements in this area of Central Anatolia appear to be from the Assyrian civilization, becoming next the centre of Hittite control in the region, followed by the Phrygians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuk and finally the Ottomans. Some other places to visit after your Ihlara Valley tour.
1. Derinkuyu underground city
Apart from hosting monks and related monasteries, Cappadocia was also a glorious stop of the Silk Road, the legendary trading route where cultures, philosophies and goods were exchanged by traders from the Far East on their way to Europe. Some people just went past, others settled, like the Christians who left Jerusalem in the second century and established their new life in Central Anatolia, around Derinkuyu, today a fascinating underground city.
While the Ihlara Valley, the lovely area of Belisirma and the big rock monastery complex of Selime had predominantly a religious function, scattered around the territory are subterranean dwellings. Our last stop before heading back to Göreme was precisely Derinkuyu, the biggest underground city of the area. At its very entrance, I had the impression of being motioning towards the Underworld. And to some extent, we were, an underworld where the region’s former inhabitants had built all needed comforts.
Deep holes were dug in order to ensure air would be channelled down, wells to provide dwellers with water, cisterns, rooms, kitchens, food storage, even wineries and the unmissable church were built. In a nutshell, the essentials to best reproduce a normal life, as possible as it could be twenty meters beneath the earth’s surface. The soft rock sure allowed an easier digging, but the efficient ventilation techniques, air movement channels, safety and security measures, wells and even garbage collection systems never fail to impress the visitors.
2. Goreme Open-Air Museum
A wide complex of monasteries and cave churches, Goreme Museum is a must if it’s your first time in Cappadocia.
3. Red Valley and Rose Valley
Some of the most impressive hikes you can do in Cappadocia for sure include the one along the Red Valley and Rose Valley. Having an up-close experience of the tuff chimneys is worth the fatigue of climbing up and down the typical rock formations.
How to reach the Ihlara Valley
The Ihlara Valley has several entrances. One is from Belisirma village and you can get there by car and one at its beginning at Ihlara village. The most popular is the one we took, going down the stairs. You can rent your own car or motorbike, but if you are not confident in those roads, your best option is to either hire a local driver or book a tour to the Ihlara Valley.
Where to stay near the Ihlara Valley
To easily reach the Ihlara Valley, the best towns to book your Cappadocia hotel are Goreme and Uchisar.
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