Sitting in the renowned region of Cappadocia, Turkey, the town of Goreme has been a tourist attraction for decades due to its incredible natural rock formations known as the “fairy chimneys”. Believed to have been carved into the volcanic rock, Goreme is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Goreme National Park, which features a one-of-a-kind landscape.
The park and the Goreme valley is a strong reflection of Byzantine art, which flourished during the Iconoclastic period. Here, you can find not only the famous chimney rock formations by also the ruins of traditional habitats that were built such as underground towns, residences, and troglodyte villages, dating as far back as the 4th century. Goreme is fairly small and can easily be navigated on foot. If you don’t want to walk, you can also rent bicycles, scooters and motorcycles to get to specific locations. The nearby underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymakli as well as the larger towns of Avanos and Urgup can easily be reached from Goreme through public transport, particularly bus and mini buses.
When you reach Goreme, you can easily arrange a tour from one of the several travel agencies that offer day trips to the underground cities and the ancient churches. Most excursions also include a visit to a quaint shop that sells local products like pottery and carpet. But the main site to explore in this area is the Goreme Open Air museum, which happens to be only a 15-minute walk from the town center. This fascinating museum features a marvelous series of fairy chimneys and caves, which were turned into monasteries and churches. By paying the admission fee, you will gain access to all individual sites in the complex including the church in a cave, situated outside the museum entrance and across the highway.
Walking through the museum gives you the opportunity to learn more about and admire closely the geological formations, and how men in the early times, used them to be places of worship and sanctuary. Some of the churches still maintain their original frescoes and geometric motifs. There are eleven refectories in the museum complex that are equipped with their own church as well as rock-cut chairs and tables. Such churches are believed to have been built during the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.
One of the more important sites in the Goreme Open Air Museum is the Nunnery. This rock mass goes as high as 6-7 stories. Make sure to visit the first and second floor of the Nunnery that contains the dining hall and the chapel, respectively. You can access the third story of the building, where the church resides, through a tunnel. Of all the churches in the complex, the Dark Church or Karanlik Kilise seems to attract visitors the most, even though there is an extra charge for people who wish to enter this church.
The Dark Church is popular because of its amazing layout, which resembles a cross, as well as, its diagonal vaults, beautiful frescoes that depict important biblical scenes like the Journey to Bethlehem, Baptism, The Last Supper, Betrayl of Judas, and the Crucifixion. Other churches to explore include St. Barbara, Apple (Elmali) Church and Snake (Yilanli) Church. If you happen to travel to Gerome during summer, it is recommended that you explore the museum early in the morning or late afternoon, as mid-day can be very hot and humid.