Ihlara Valley Offers An Evocative Visual Show For Visitors

Friday, March 2, 2007

   The Cappadocia region offers visitors a distinctly extraordinary landscape and stunning natural beauty stretching over an area of 15,000 square miles. The Ihlara Valley is one of those unique spots located in the region, luring a great deal of tourists from all over the world with its natural and historical legacy.

Aksaray Provincial Culture and Tourism director Hamza Zengin told the Anatolia news agency that the valley was one of the major tourist attractions in the region with its natural beauty, historical treasures and many churches.Noting that the valley was home to 105 churches as well as rock houses and temples constructed by early Christians, he said the valley was an ideal place for monks and priests for worship and seclusion at the time.

“The formation of the valley, underground cities with connecting tunnels and churches that date back to A.D. 400 are all very popular with tourists. The Ihlara Valley is beautiful throughout the year and remains among the most popular spots in the Cappadocia region,” said Zengin.The Ihlara Valley, formed after several eruptions of Mount Erciyes, is a 16-kilometer long canyon in the southern part of Cappadocia.

Cracking and collapsing, which occurred as a result of basalt and andesite lava from Mt. Hasandag’s eruption, created the Ihlara Gorge and running through they valley is the Melendiz River. 

What is unique about this valley is the ancient history of its inhabitants. The whole canyon is honeycombed with underground dwellings cut into the rock, churches from the Byzantine period and graves built into the valley’s walls, some of which are connected by tunnels and corridors. The valley proved to be an ideal place for the seclusion and worship of monks along with a hideaway and secure area for people during invasion.

The decoration of some churches can be dated back to the 6th and13th centuries and can be classified in to two groups. Churches close to the Ihlara Canyon have frescoes with oriental influence and those nearer to Belisirma possess Byzantine style decorations. Very few Byzantine inscriptions in this area can be read but a 13th century fresco in the church of St. George (Kırkdamaltı), the names of Seljuk Sultan Mesud and the Byzantine Emperor Andronicos are inscribed. The construction of new churches slows down after the Seljuk Turks’ conquered the area, however, church life continued until the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.Some of the best-preserved frescoes in the Ihlara Valley can be found at the Agacaltı, Purenliseki, Kokar, Yilanli and St. George churches.