Goreme Valley of Cappadocia is a perfect location for seclusion. Located 17 km. from Nevsehir and 6 km. from Urgup, its altitude is 1,100 m. above sea level. Although the meaning of the name “Goreme” is obscure, it is thought that it may originate as a corruption of the name Korama, given by the early Christians who fled from the Arabs and found shelter there. Goreme was the birthplace of the martyred St. Hieron.
You can see the earliest examples of Byzantine churches in this valley, which would be used as a location for missionaries’ education. Goreme Valley has around 200 churches, and it is an open-air museum best place for Cappadocia tours. The increase in the number of churches occurred when St Paul (10-67) decided to use this area for the education of missionaries. You can see many churches in the museum, such as; the Monastery of Monks and Nuns, St Basileios Chapel, Apple Church, Church of St Barbara, Serpent Church, Dark Church, Sandal Church, Buckle Church, etc.
Ascetic monks lived in isolation in the Göreme area of Cappadocia in the second century AD. They were a significant social community apart from monasteries and churches. The presence of charismatic clergy helped make Cappadocia the center of religious thought and life in the third century.
The area became famous as the birthplace of three important clergy figures in the following century. Basileios, Bishop of Kaisareia; Gregorios, his brother and Bishop of Nyssagia; and Gregorios, Bishop of Nazianus Basileios, also known as “the Great,” went back to his hometown of Kaisareia, the capital city of the Cappadocia region, to live as a monk there. He was also influential in widely disseminating monastic ideals.
Between the 4th century and the 13th century, monastic life flourished in Göreme. Nearly every outcropping of rock has been transformed into a place of worship, a chapel, a cafe, or a place to sit. The original site of this instructional model is in the same location as the modern-day Göreme Open Air Museum. There were two distinct styles used to decorate the churches. Painting on rock is one style, while fresco-secco (tempera) is another. The teachings of the church are based on the Bible and the example of Jesus Christ. The Girls’ and Boys’ Monastery, St. Basil’s Church, Elmali Church, Saint Barbara Church, Serpent Church, Malta Crusader Church, Dark Church, Saint Catherine Church, Carikli Church, and Tokali Church are just some of the structures that make up the Göreme Open Air Museum. In 1967, the dig was declared open to the public.
The Church of the Buckle, also known as Tokali Church, is the largest in Göreme. It was in the 1980s that restoration work on the church was finally finished. The Church of Mar Yakub in the Tur Abdin region, close to modern-day Mardin, is the only surviving example of its original architecture.
In the ninth century, artists created “provincial” frescoes for the church’s main nave; in the eleventh century, three apses were decorated with “metropolitan” frescoes. Inside the church, some frescoes show scenes from the lives of the twelve apostles, other saints, and Jesus himself. A crypt can be found beneath the nave of the church.
The four sections of Tokali Church are the Old Church, the New Church (which is much larger), the Parekklesion (which is a smaller chapel), and the Lower Church. In the 10th century, construction began on what is now known as the Old Church. Originally, it was a simple barrel-vaulted church with a single nave. When the New Church was built at the end of the 10th or beginning of the 11th century, its apse was demolished. There is no access to the new church through the old. Pale hues of red and green painted in strips decorate the old church to represent scenes from the New Testament and depictions of some saints.
Scenes from the New Testament, Christ’s miracles, the first deacons, episodes from the life of St. Basil (one of the Cappadocian Fathers), depictions of Leades (one of the Forty Martyrs), and St. Menas dominate the New Church’s panels of rich indigo painted with pigments from Badakshan Lapis Lazuli stone. It would have cost a hefty sum. To put the value of the lapis lazuli in perspective, it is estimated that just that material is worth about 31.5 lbs. of gold. Scholars have made educated guesses as to the donors’ identities, with many pointing to the Phokades, a wealthy Cappadocian family. This, however, is not supported by any evidence that can be considered conclusive.
Arches and arcades in an Eastern style were used to decorate the New Church, which was carved out of the Old Church’s eastern wall. The Paracclesion is a small chapel with a barrel vault and a single apse, located off to the left of the main body of the New Church. There are three aisles in the lower church, and one of them leads to a crypt.
Elmali Church, also known as the Apple Church, is a modest cave structure of religious significance. The building, which dates to around 1050, features a Greek cross carved into each of the four asymmetrical pillars that hold up its central dome. Even though the church was restored in 1991, the frescos keep chipping away, revealing the paintings underneath. Saints, bishops, and martyrs are depicted in the church’s murals. …and to the right of the altar, a depiction of the Last Supper, complete with a fish (in Greek, the letters Y represent “Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Savior”). Named after either the apple tree that once stood nearby or the red orb held by Archangel Michael atop the dome of the main apse, this church is widely believed to take its name from one of these two sources.
Azize Barbara Church
The Church of Saint Barbara (also known as the Azize Barbara Church) is dedicated to Barbara, a Greek martyr whose father locked her up so she wouldn’t be exposed to Christianity. Even so, Barbara was able to practice her faith, and as a result, her father tortured and eventually killed her.
The church, erected in the 1100s, may have been a memorial to the martyred saint. similar to the Carikli Church in design. There is a central apse, two lateral apses, and two columns supporting the church’s cross-dome. Christ seated on a throne is depicted within the dome, which features geometrical patterns painted in red ochre directly on the rock and is taken to be symbolic. Another fresco depicts a large locust, which may represent evil, being repelled by two crosses. Against the dragon and the snake, Sts. George and Theodore, mounted on their respective horses, are depicted in a fresco on the north wall of the church. To make it look like cut stones were used in the building, the monks drew lines on the rocks with red ochre.
The Yilanli Church, also known as the Snake Church, is an unpretentious structure with a long, low nave and a vaulted barrel ceiling. Saints Theodore and George slaying the dragon in a fresco inspired the building’s moniker (or snake, as depicted in the fresco). Also, there’s a fresco of Constantine and Helena, the emperor’s mother, holding the True Cross, which can be found in the church. Some say she had a dream in which she saw the cross upon which Jesus was crucified and that a fragment of that cross is still buried beneath the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Pieces of the cross can also be found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Saint Onuphrius, whose likeness adorns the wall above and to the right of the entrance, is another intriguing portrait. As a hermit in the Egyptian desert near Thebes, Egypt, the saint is usually shown with a long gray beard and only a fig leaf on his head.
The Karanlik Church, also known as the Dark Church, was a monastery complex established in the 11th century. A single main apse, two side apses, and four columns characterize this dome-topped church. Christ the King, the birth of Jesus, the worship of the Magi, the anointing of Jesus at the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas, the crucifixion, and the resurrection were all depicted there.
Until the 1950s, it served as a pigeon house after the Turkish invasion. These New Testament scene frescoes are the best preserved in all of Cappadocia and a fine example of Byzantine art from the 11th century, after 14 years of scraping pigeon droppings off the walls. However, the church’s narthex, or vestibule, caved in, exposing the church’s ceiling. The fresco depicting Christ’s Ascension and the Benediction of the Saints was severely damaged, while other scenes were only partially preserved. It’s possible that the church got its name from the tiny oculus in the narthex that lets in barely any natural light. This quality is responsible for the longevity of the pigments and their richness throughout the years.
The church is known as Carikli (Church with Sandals) because of the two footprints depicted at the base of the Ascension fresco in its foyer (this fresco is said to be an exact copy of the one contained at the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem). Church and Karanlik Kilise share the same rock, from which they were hewn. Many legends about the footprints themselves cannot be verified. The church has a cross-shaped layout, with vaults that cross each other. Frescos from the 11th century depict scenes from the New Testament, including the four evangelists, the Nativity and Crucifixion, the Baptism, and the Adoration of the Magi.