The most famous sight in Turkey’s Cappadocia region is the Göreme Open-Air Museum in the Göreme Valley only a 20-minute walk (1.5 km, 1 mile) from Göreme Town and a short ride (6.5 km, 4 miles) from Ürgüp(map).
The Göreme Valley holds the region’s best collection of painted cave-churches. Medieval orthodox Christian monks (1000-1200 AD) carved the caves from the soft volcanic stone and decorated them with elaborate Byzantine frescoes.
The valley, and other troglodyte (“cave-dweller”) habitations in Cappadocia, may have been inhabited since Hittite times, but Göreme is known for its thousand-year-old churches.
In summer, it’s best to visit early in the morning if possible because the heat is intense at midday. Also, tour groups fill the small churches by mid-morning and it’s more difficult to enjoy them.
For one thing, groups may block the entrance, which cuts off the natural light, which is the only source of light in most of the churches (unless you bring a flashlight/electric torch).
Most of the frescoes in the churches have been damaged—many of them badly damaged—by wind, water, weather, earthquake, and shepherd boys who sought refuge in the caves and used the faces of the figures as targets for pebble attacks, having been taught that images were sinful. But the beauty of the churches and their decoration is still apparent.
The best-preserved frescoes are in the Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church), which is subject to an additional admission fee (TL12). These paintings were restored at great expense, and I am all in favor of the additional fee: it helps pay for the restoration, and it keeps out most other visitors. Only those who are truly interested in the art will pay the additional fee, so the church is usually not crowded.
The Tokalı Kilise (Buckle Church) is outside of the main valley enclosure, down the hill toward the town of Göreme a few steps, on the right-hand side. Don’t miss it! The paintings are fine, and it’s already included in your admission ticket to the Göreme Open-Air Museum.
—by Tom Brosnahan