29 May 2012

Cave Churches: Ihlara Valley

“Ihlara Valley, is a 14 kilometer long canyon with a depth of approximately 100 meters is strewn with about one hundred churches and believed to have once been home to about eighty thousand people. There are 4 entrances to Ihlara valley. The first one is at the start of the valley in Ihlara Village. The second one opens to the 4th kilometer of the valley and it is the most popular entrance. It has more than 300 steps down to the valley. The third entrance is Belisirma village which allows you to enter the valley by driving. It is located at the 7th kilometer, and has restaurants by Melendiz River to have lunch. Most of the guided tours end their walking here after lunch. The last entrance is the end of the valley at the Selime Monastery. The best part of the valley is the first 7 kilometers from Ihlara Village until Belisirma Village where you can see most of the churches and natural beauty. 

Costs - 5 TL Entrance Fee
Getting There - About 3.5 hours from Incirlik. Part of the Western Cappadocia Cave Hike trip.
Physical Difficulty - MEDIUM.
You can begin near the village of Ihlara and walk all the way down to Yaprakhisar (Selime) (5 Hours of walking)or you can exit the valley half way to the little village of Belisirma (2.5 hours of walking.) 

Quoted from the website, www.goreme.com/ihlara-valley.php Photos used by permission.

It is very pleasant to walk through the Ihlara valley by the vineyards, poplars and pistachio trees to the soothing sound of the rushing water surrounded by a rich wildlife of lizards, frogs, butterflies, birds and sometimes eagles and other mammals like lambs and sheep.

Most of the many cave churches in Ihlara Valley display scenes dissimilar to the scenes depicted in other Cappadocian churches. In fact, they are reminiscent of the early churches of Syria and the Coptic churches of Egypt. Some of the most important churches in the Ihlara Valley are: 

Kokar Kilise (The Smelly Church) 
The Kokar Kilise (The Smelly Church) is located in the first quarter of the valley between Ihlara Village and the main entrance. There are many frescoes covering the walls. On the left side, you can see the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Proof of the Virgin, the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi scenes. On the right, you will see the Last Supper, the Betrayal, Jesus being Led Away, Jesus before Annas and Caiaphos, the Crucifixion and the Entombment. On the door facing the entrance there is a Deesis above, with scenes of the Flight to Egypt. The Last Supper below was badly damaged when openings were made at a much later date for windows and a door. On the ceiling you can see the Ascension and the Pentecost together with a large Greek cross with the hand of God giving benediction in the center. On each side of the lower parts of the vaulting there are frescoes depicting the apostles standing and seated. 

Purenli Seki Kilisesi (Church with the Terrace) 
Also located in the first quarter of the valley, this church is around 100 meters from Kokar Kilise. You have to climb about 25 meters above the level of the river. The church is covered by frescoes classified as “archaic” but characterized by exquisite details, a strong sense of design and amazing freedom of expression. 

Agacalti Kilise (Church under the Tree) 
Turn right at the bottom of the stairs from the main entrance and you will find yourself 10 meters from the church. This church is quite different from the other churches of the Byzantine world of the 10th and 11th century Cappadocia, with its harmoniously contrasted colors of red, green and yellow, the subjects of its paintings and its decoration of flowers, rosettes and checkerboard patterns, all betraying strong eastern influence. The church, also known as the Church of Daniel or the Church of Pantassa, has a free cross architectural plan. On the wall opposite the entrance there is a fresco of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The left cross-arm contains the Annuciation, the Visitation, the Nativity and the Magi. The right cross-arm contains the Flight into Egypt, the Baptism and the Dormition. The Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis) is unique as far as Cappadocia is concerned. It is composed of two scenes. In the first scene, Mary is lying on a bed, with Christ accompanied by St. John sitting on one side of the bed to recover her soul. In the upper scene Christ is shown holding his Mother’s soul, with an Angel behind him. 

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