Exploring Cappadocia Part 2: Ihlara Valley and Nevşehir Province

View from the top of Ihlara Valley

During our stay in Göreme, we did a day trip to a number of nearby sights in Nevşehir province including the Selime Cathedral, the Ihlara Valley and the Derinkuyu underground city.

Our first destination was the Selime cathedral, located a little more than an hour outside Göreme. Over 1700 years old, it was a centre of early Christian worship in the region after leaving they escaped areas of Roman control. It later became a castle under the Seljuk Turks and held out against the Mongol invasion for a lengthy time. Later it was used by Greek Orthodox Christians until the entire community was forcibly repatriated to Greece in the Greece-Turkey population exchange of 1923.

The frescoes on the walls were still visible

The cathedral complex had an interesting juxtaposition happening with the other structures. Some of the main cathedral rooms had arches, frescoes and very detailed construction in contrast with the simple, carved-out aspects of the other rooms.

These rooms were much simpler in design

The place had a very organic feel to is as one room connected with another and most were large enough to easily move around. We could imagine a lot of people living there back when it was active.

More hoodoo formations in the distance

Very close to the cathedral was Ihlara Valley, our next stop. We made our way down into the valley via a stairway at the top.

Located in central Anatolia, the Ihlara valley is a 16 km (10 mi) long gorge that was formed by eruptions from nearby Mount Erciyes.

There are 105 ancient churches located within the valley, 16 of which are open to the public. The one below was the Ağaçaltı Kilise (Church Under the Trees) with a very basic exterior but beautifully preserved frescos inside. Originally the churches were built after Christians came to the valley escaping Roman soldiers and over time more and more people used the valley as their home leading to the large number of churches being built there.

From there we tool the trail winding along the stream that followed the ballet. For much of the trip the sheer walls on either side kept out the sun.

It translates to “Memory of Ihlara”
Some farm animals left to roam in the valley

Near the end of the trail there was a small set of huts built over a tributary of the main stream. They served simple foods and drinks at reasonable prices for people hiking through the valley. We stopped and sat in one of the huts where we enjoyed a drink and watched the ducks swim under us.

It was a very peaceful place, especially deeper into the valley where the crowds thinned out.

We saw more signs of the ancient settlements in the sides of the valley overlooking us. Many of these homes and churches were not open to the public.

The final stop was the Derinkuyu Underground City. This complex is the largest of several underground cities in the region, and most are open to tourists to visit.

Going to a depth of 60m (200 ft) underground, Derinkuyu once housed up to 20,000 people as well as livestock and stores of food. The rooms in the city were used to make oil and wine as well as stables, cellars, chapels and even small schools.

Heading down

Caves were dug out of the soft volcanic rock, possibly as far back as the Phrygian Era (around 800-700 BC). After the Phyrgians culture vanished the city was greatly expanded by Greek-speaking Christians. Later it was used as protection from Arabs in the 8th-10th centuries and Mongols in the 14th century. In the 20th century the Cappadocian Greeks used the city as a refuge against the Ottoman Empire.

Part of the ancient winery. You can just make out a stone spout for the wine to the left. The wine would pour go down into the spot where the grate is now
The was thought to be a religious school in one of the largest rooms in the underground city

Only about half of the underground city was accessible, but it was quite a place to explore. Because there are many directions to go it is almost maze-like and getting lost is a distinct possibility. It was good to get back above ground after being down there for awhile.

After that it was back to Göreme for our last night there. Cappadocia really was a unique combination of natural sights along with ancient examples of human ingenuity.

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