Friday, April 12, 2013

Churches, Castles and Pigeons

Day 13, (April 12, 2013) of our OAT's Turkey's Sacred lands and Ancient Civilizations Tour. We visit Göreme Open Air Museum to see stone churches, hike in Pidgeon Valley and visit the "Valley of Love" (another post called "Valley of love")

Göreme Open-Air Museum

The Göreme Open Air Museum has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. Because of the crowds and to preserve the wall painting and frescoes, photography inside the churches and buildings is not allowed. 

Info and photos from church interiors are from 

There was much to see here and the crowds were manageable as it was early in the tourist season. You can view this area from a hot-air balloon--we knew this but were surprised and shocked to see how close you could get to the site.

This balloon continued up the valley to the left

The museum contains fine rock-cut churches, with beautiful frescoes (wall paintings) whose colors still retain all their original freshness. It also presents unique examples of rock hewn architecture and fresco technique. 

Most of the churches in Goreme Open Air Museum belong to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries

St. Barbara Church

Motifs were painted in red directly onto the rock and include geometrical patterns, mythological animals and military symbols. 

Apple (Elmali) Church

This is one of the most prominent buildings in the area with its vivid colors. It has beautiful frescoes dating to the 11th and 12th centuries narrating scenes from the Bible and the life of Christ.  The building derives its name from an apple orchard once in front of the church.

Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise)

The entrance to this church is through a winding tunnel which opens into a narthex. You have to pay an extra admission fee (8 TL per person) but it is worth it. The frescoes on the wall look like they were painted a few years ago. the ones above easy reach are in excellent condition--ones below have been defaced.

Buckle (Tokali) Church

Even though Tokali church is located down the museum around 50 meters, you can visit the church with the same ticket that you used for Goreme Open Air Museum.  Among the rock churches in Cappadocia, Tokali has the best paintings narrating the life of Christ in the most detail. 


Uchisar is situated at the highest point in Cappadocia, just 5 K from Goreme. The top of the Uchisar Castle provides a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area with Mount Erciyes in the distance. 

Many rooms hollowed out into the rock are connected to each other with stairs, tunnels and passages. Due to the erosion in places of this multi-leveled castle, it is unfortunately not possible to reach all the rooms. 

After our photo "stop and shop" a small group of OAT travelers hiked from Uchisar to Goreme (see below)


View from the top is magnificent

hollowed out rooms

luxury condo

Most of the rooms, located on the north side of the castle are in use as pigeon houses (dovecuts) today. Farmers used these cave pigeon houses to collect the droppings of pigeons which is an excellent natural fertilizer for the orchards and vineyards. 

There are also many other pigeon houses in Pigeon Valley (Guvercinlik Vadisi in Turkish) which connects Uchisar to Goreme. Most of these cave dwellings have been painted white to attract the birds and their valuable droppings. 

Pigeon Valley Hike from Uchisar to Goreme

This is a moderate walk in a green valley with many different rock formations and hundreds of pigeon houses carved into fairy-chimneys. We went in the late afternoon and enjoyed the lengthening shadows and cool temperatures.

Starting from Uchisar, we dropped into Pigeon Valley, climbed up a ridge and dropped into Goreme Valley.
looking down into the valley before our hike

valley floor

We followed a stream that cut through the rocks
channel cut by flash flooding

The red wall painting attracts pigeons which enter through the small squares. Once inside the pigeons nest in small alcoves and leave behind their beneficial droppings.

Climbing up we have a good vantage point to look down and out at surreal views

Mount Erciye

Tea Break--This is how to hike!

We stopped to see if local character Hasan still had his coffee and tea house open. it is located half-way up the valley at a confluence of hiking trails--in other words, off the beaten path (but on the hiking path!)

Hasan was all smiles and warm banter. He remarked jokingly that since we were his last customers he would only charge us 4x the going rate for tea

After serving us, he gave us a quiz about the area. If you knew the answer you got a trinket! We joined Hasan in hooping and hollering with each success and clapping our hands in delight. The questions were ridiculously easy so we all scored prizes! (Example, "What is your name?")

tea and cookies and a comfy cushion

Hasa gave me his business card with his "recent" photo

Hasan's "hat" tree

The end of the trail was at a modern and pleasing art installation-- pigeons sitting on nests atop tall poles.

Then back to the hotel--Cappadyka Lykia Hotel--which evokes the stone houses, but with luxury! 

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