Zelve Monastery


Location: 10 km (6 mi) Northeast of Nevsehir Map

Active: 9th- 13th century

Open: May- Oct: 8:30am- 7pm daily

Nov- Apr: 8:30am- 5:30pm daily

Zelve (also Eski Zelve) is a place consisting almost entirely of caves in the Turkish region of Cappadocia in the Nevşehir Province. The no longer inhabited place is now an open-air museum.


History of Zelve Monastery

Zelve was probably already populated in Roman times and over time also served as accommodation for Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, Greeks and Turks. In addition to various churches, there is also a mosque. It was only in 1953, after more and more of the caves collapsed due to earthquakes and erosion, that the last residents were relocated to a newly built village called Yeni Zelve (Neu-Zelve, today Aktepe) that was built with government help. In 1967 the site was declared a museum.



The area consists of three valleys, the walls of which are completely lined with caves that were carved into the soft tuff by the residents. These include apartments, utility rooms, churches and a large monastery complex. Almost all rooms are connected to each other by corridors and tunnels, some of which can be closed using the rolling stones typical of Cappadocian caves. Access is not easy; the external entrances sometimes involve steep stairs or just handles that are built into vertical walls. The inner connections are narrow passages, some of which go vertically through the rock and can only be climbed using steps and grips. The fairy chimneys and dovecotes with painted entrance holes that are typical of Cappadocia can also be found in Zelve. From the middle to the first (southern) valley, a tunnel over a hundred meters long, which is still accessible today, leads through the rock. A boulder between the first and second valleys, on which the Geyikli Kilise (Church with the Deer) was located, collapsed in 2002. Since then, parts of the site have been closed to visitors.



The churches are not as magnificently furnished as in Göreme, which is why they are dated to the time of the icon dispute or shortly before (8th to 9th centuries). They show simple paintings and relief jewelry carved out of the rock. A sculpted cross can often be seen in conjunction with archaic symbols. In the northern, third valley, there is a double church, consisting of the Balıklı Kilise (Church with the Fish) and the Üzümlü Kilise (Church with Grapes). The main room of the former has three apses, on the ceiling there is a relief cross and on the walls a cross medallion between two fishes. In addition to the eponymous grape decoration, the Üzümlü Kilise also contains remains of figurative representations, including a Madonna and child and the archangels Gabriel and Michael above the entrance. In the valley opposite is the badly damaged Direkli Kilise (pillared church).

There are blind niches on the walls of the Vaftızlı Kilise (baptismal church) in the middle valley, and two crosses on the back wall. The now collapsed Geyikli Kilise between the first and second valley had a sculpted ceiling cross and an alleged depiction of a deer, which in reality probably showed a lamb.

In the first valley, on the south side, about ten meters high, there is a monastery in the wall, whose small rooms with the narrow and winding connecting corridors form a complex labyrinth. On the opposite side of the valley there is a mosque with a barrel vault carved from the rock. The front facade and the associated small minaret are the only brick buildings on the entire site.