Ihlara Valley


Location: Aksaray Province, Central Anatolia Map


Description of Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley is a beautiful area situated in Aksaray Province, Central Anatolia of Turkey. You can get here from Aksaray 40 mi (25 km) away. The closest settlement to this natural reserve is a town of Güzelyurt. Ihlara Valley is 16 km (10 mi) long. It formed after several eruptions of nearby volcano Mount Erciyes. This whole area of Ihlara Valley is famous for numerous ancient underground Ancient Roman and Byzantine Christian churches and monks' cells. Many of the ancient dwellings still keep its original colorful paintings. First Christians escaped to Ihlara Valley from the persecutions of the Ancient Roman empire. Good hiding space and good source of water and food allowed thousands of people to live here and hide from the authorities and numerous persecussions. Most famous religious buildings include Ağaçaltı Church, Sümbüllü Church, Pürenliseki Church, Kokar Church, Yilanli Church, Karagedik Church, Kirkdamatli Church, Direkli Church, Ala Church, Kemerli Church and Egritas Church.


Origin and location

The gorge was dug by Melendiz Çayı in prehistoric times. It lies between the towns of Ihlara in the southeast and Selime in the northwest. At the northern end of Ihlara, a staircase with almost 400 steps leads over 100 m deep into the gorge. The valley had been a settlement area for Byzantine monks since the 7th century, who dug their homes and churches into the tuff rock created by the eruptions of Hasan Dağı. The former Greek name Peristrema (“winding around”) of the town of Belisirma, which lies about halfway from Ihlara to Selime, gave the valley its name.



The churches in the Peristrema Valley can be divided into two groups. The first are the churches around the town of Ihlara, which are decorated with paintings of a local Cappadocian style that has eastern influences from Persia and Syria. Most of them were created in the pre-iconoclastic period, but were later decorated with new paintings. The other group, located around the town of Belisarma, is decorated primarily in the Byzantine style of the 10th and 11th centuries.

The first group includes, among others
the Ağaçaltı Kilisesi (“Church under the Tree”), a cross-shaped church carved into the rock, probably from the 7th century, in whose dome an Ascension scene can be seen. This pre-iconoclastic depiction has survived the era of the image dispute.
the Yılanlı Kilise (“Snake Church”), also a cross-domed church with a noticeably long apse. In the narthex there are scenes from hell that date back to the 9th century, including four unclothed sinners who are surrounded by snake-like monsters. The name of the church comes from this image.
the Sümbüllü Kilise (“Hyacinth Church”), probably from the 10th century. The church with a T-shaped floor plan shows the transition to the Byzantine style. Her wall paintings show, among other things, Emperor Constantine with his wife Helena. The structured, magnificent external facade, on the other hand, shows oriental influence.

Belong to the second group
the Direkli Kilise (“Pillar Church”). The three-aisled cross-domed church was built in the 10th century. The vault is supported by four tall columns decorated with portraits of saints. One of the few inscriptions found in the valley records the foundation of the church during the time of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who reigned 976–1025.
the Karagedik Kilisesi (“Church with the Black Breach”), a cross-domed church with four pillars built from bricks and trachyte blocks from the 11th century, which is, however, badly damaged and only has a few faded remains of paintings.
the Kırkdamaltı Kilisesi (“Church under 40 Roofs” or “St. George's Church”), which can be dated to between 1283 and 1295 based on an inscription. This makes it the last known evidence of Christian architecture in the Ihlara Valley until church construction began again by Greeks living here in the 19th century. In addition to depictions of Saint George, one of her paintings shows the Byzantine consul Basileos Giagupes, who was also emir, in Seljuk costume with a turban and his wife Thamar, a Georgian princess. The associated inscription mentions both the Seljuk Sultan Masoud II and the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II, which is seen as evidence that peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims was possible in Cappadocia at this time.
The Niğde Archaeological Museum shows the mummies of a woman and four children, which, according to the inscription there, were found in the Ihlara Valley and date back to the 10th century. The Aksaray Museum also shows mummies from the Ihlara Valley.