22 May 2012

Cave Churches: Monastery Valley

Nestled in the quaint mountain village of Güzelyurt, is Monastery Valley on the far western edge of Cappadocia.  Filled with cave churches and with it’s own underground city that runs under the main street, this is a place where “the lifestyle is still very traditional and timeless,” according to the Karbella Hotel guest information.

Monastery Valley is in the heart of Güzelyurt, and walking distance from the Karbella Hotel. Hike at your own pace along the 4.5 kilometer long valley strewn with about 50 rock churches and monasteries from the Byzantine period. The Greek cave houses are a typical example of Cappadocian architecture from the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of the valley, you can climb up towards the village of Sivrihisar and from there, walk onto to Red Church set in impressive surroundings.

Monastery of Analepsis (Ascension)
Just outside the city, perched on a rocky outcrop over the village lake, the The High Church and the Monastery of Analepsis (Ascension), Yüksek Kilise, dates from the 19th century. This site is also thought to have been an important Neolithic site from the 4th or 3rd millennium B. C. because of the great amount of prehistoric tolls and obsidian found at the foot of the monastery. There is superb view of the village, the lake and Hasan Volcano which is 3268 meters high (10,721 feet.)

Costs - 5 TL Entrance Fee
Getting There - About 3.5 hours from Incirlik. Outdoor Rec rents GPS and has trips to this area.
Physical Difficulty - VARIES. Varies from cobblestone walks, to climbing hilly and rocky terrain.
Bring a flash light.

The Red Church
The “Red” Church:
The Church of St. Panteleimon
This is one of the oldest built churches (as opposed to rock churches). The crossed shaped church and it’s octagonal dome are built of large blocks of dark red stone. It stands on it’s own in a field against the backdrop of the Meledniz Mountains. It is said that it was here that St. Gregory of Naziansus spent the latter part of his life and that the church was built on the site where he was buried. For those who don’t want to hike the entire Monastery Valley, you can drive the six kilometers from Güzelyurt. Take the road that leads out of the village towards Sivihasar and Nigde and drive along a winding mountain pass.

St. Anargiros Church (Sivilsi Kilise)
The Saint Anargiros Church is carved out of rock and has a dome and 4 columns. You can still see the frescoes in the dome that date from 1877. The Anargyres were doctors revered in all of the Near East. The rooms carved around the church were used to receive patients and pilgrims that came format he Saint Anargiros festivities. Make sure you climb the stairs that lead above the church; you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view over the village and the St. Gregory Church.

Photos Courtesy of the Karballa Hotel
Saint Gregory of the Naziansus Church (Cami Kilise)
Saint Gregory of the Naziansus church was built in the 4th century by the emperor Theodosius. It has the same architectural design as Saint Sophia in Istanbul but smaller. The church has been restored several times by the Greek community and after they left in 1924, it was converted into a mosque. The greeks took with them the icons and hold objects from the church. The original mount and clapper of the churches golden bell still remain in the church, but the bell itself is now in Afyon Museum. A brink minaret replaced the bell tower. Inside the church, one can just see traces of frescoes that are covered with whitewash. The sculpted wood decorations, the iconostasis and the throne were a gift from Tsar Nicolas the 1st in the 18th century. The four big icons that were in the iconostasis, the Christ, the Virgin, the three Church Fathers (St. Gregory of Naziance, St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Basil of Nyssa) and St. John the Baptist are now in the church in the village of Neo Karvali in northern Greece. 

Entrance to the Underground City
The ottomans granted the Church the right to mint coins that were used not only within the community but also between the Greeks and Turks. The coins were minted in the rooms adjacent to the church. In the courtyard, there’s a staircase with 36 steps leading down to what is still believed to be a sacred spring.

Güzelyurt became famous with the spread of Christianity in Anatolia, especially during the time of Gregory of Naziance the Theologian (4th century) distinguished scholar and Church Father who played an important role in the development of eastern monastery life. He was born in 328 close of the village of Güzelyurt which has been identified as ancient Karbala. 

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