The landscape in Cappadocia is out of this world. Today, the remains of 700 and some odd churches, 40 underground cities, and many more rock cut dwellings are scattered throughout Cappadocia. In the middle of all this is the town of Göreme, catering to tourists, where we spent the better part of a week.
These rock dwellings, churches, underground cities, and monasteries remained in use right up until 1922 where Greece and Turkey had a population exchange, and the last of the Christian Greeks were removed from the area.
The Open Air Museum
The Open Air Museum is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a monastery site full of churches from the 10th to 12th centuries. This is “the” thing to do in Cappadocia, and tonnes of buses arrived at the open air museum daily. We spent the better part of an afternoon walking through it for 15 Lira ($7.50 CAD) each. Not included in the ticket price is admission to the Dark Church which costs an additional 8 Lira ($4 CAD). We didn’t see it. Mostly because of the additional charge, but also because we had already seen so many rock cut churches by the time we got there…
We took the unusual move of purchasing the audio tour at the gate for 10 Lira ($5 CAD). That was a mistake. While the tour went into great detail on what was depicted on the frescoes found in each of the churches, something that I’m sure would be of great interest to a religious practitioner or scholar, it frankly was not interesting to me. I had hoped for more information on the method used to carve the churches, when they were occupied, a description of what daily life would have entailed, etc. Unfortunately none of this information was included. What’s worse, most of the information provided in the audio tour was written on the placards which could be read for free.
The churches themselves were quite something to see. A lot of the artwork is still intact. We snuck a few photos, but not many. Photography was prohibited in pretty much all of the churches that had something to take a photo of. There was also a viewing time limit on many of the churches. I’m sure this is to facilitate the continuous flow of tour buses arriving. Naturally each bus formed into a tour group of 50 or so people, large enough to completely fill any of enclosed church spaces. As individuals, we had to be on our toes to manoeuvre between all of the guided tour groups to get in and see something.
All in all, it’s worth seeing. Especially if you are into religious art history.
Walking Around On Your Own
This was more my kind of thing. Surrounding Göreme are several valleys each loaded with their own unique sets of rock formations and rock carved spaces. They are free, and small enough that you can start and finish the day of walking at your hotel. No need to hire transportation. Surprisingly, for all the tourists that go to the Open Air Museum, almost nobody walks around in the free parts. We spent a few days hiking through Rose Valley and Love Valley, and can count the number of other tourists we encountered without having to take off our socks.
There are trail maps available for the nearby valleys, and the trails are marked. However, in our experience, the markings are deliberately falsified to ensure you walk past the coffee shops and miss the trails you are actually looking for. In some places, where the signs have not been filled with false information, or turned to point the wrong way, markers were simply missing, or partly destroyed like this one.
The best thing to do is leave yourself plenty of time to get in and plenty to get out. You’ll get lost, but the area is small enough that you’ll also find your way back out again before too long. Just don’t rely on the maps or way-markers. Don’t worry about bringing emergency trail rations either. There are plenty of places to buy nuts and figs from the many vendors who setup shop along the trails.