Cascoly Travel -- Turkey: Christian Art - Ihlara Valley
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Cascoly Travel
Turkey: Christian Art - Ihlara Valley

With plentiful water and hiding places, various waves of Christian emigrants and monks lived in Cappadocia, eluding various persecutors from the 6th to 14th centuries. The Ihlara valley is a 15 km gash in the high desert and is a popular day hike in Cappadocia. The Melendiz river flows through the valley, carving the gorge from the basalt and andesite remains of an ancient volcano, Mt. Hasandag. The whole canyon is honeycombed with rock-cut underground dwellings and churches from the Byzantine period. There are trails on both sides of the creek, but not particularly well marked. We ended up on the wrong side at one point, and I us just waded across the rather slow stream. The others found a local farmer with his donkey who ferried them across the stream, asking an exorbitant 3 million lira each [about $3]. Can't say much for my companions bargaining skills, as we later found a pair of hikers who had paid 500,000 lira for both of them!

The best known churches include Ağaçaltı Church (Church Under Trees), Sümbüllü (Hyacinth) Church, Pürenliseki Church, a terraced church on several levels, Kokar Church (Can be translated as either 'Fragrant' or 'Odorous'), Yilanli Church, Karagedik Church, Kirkdamatli (St. George) Church, Direkli Church, Ala Church, Kemerli Church and Egritas Church. Conditions vary, some are extremely dilapidated, others in surprisingly good condition. As with all frescoes in the area, many of the faces are disfigured, especially the eyes; the result of iconoclasts over the ages.

On a day hike you can easily visit many of these churches. Each is located above the talus slopes, carved into the main valley walls.

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    Shortly after the St. George Church, a road cuts across the valley where the cliffs are less steep and kebab shops there make an excellent lunchtime stopping point. After lunch in Beliserme, continue up the valley to Selime

    Nearby the Soganli Valley is another short hike with remains of Christian rock-cut churches. You hike up the Soganli valley road, cross over and hike the other side. It's a moderately popular hike, but the last time we did it, there was no one else in the area, so we had the road up and back to ourselves. This gave us plenty of time to explore the old churches and frescoes – Church of Black Hats, Church with Snakes, Domed Church, Hidden Church. Then we hiked back down to the quiet village itself.

    Many of the cave dwellings have pigeon holes, outlined with whitewash, giving an eerie effect.

    When we reutrned to the village, nothing was happening , just some bare tables, and a few women sitting around, talking, sewing. In an instant, all the tables have piles of dolls on them, and a dozen ladies behind them all trying to hawk near-identical small dolls (each pointing out her doll also has its own ‘bebe’)

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