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Göreme Tours Travel Guide Turkey

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The Christian Anchorites and monks settled in the area of Cappadocia, occupying the Göreme valley. It was probably these people who first realized the possibilities offered by the soft rock; they were trying to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible in their religious zeal. It was a matter of life and death at the hands of the Romans and, later, the Byzantines. The ancient name of Göıeme is Korama, and it was here that Saint Hieronymus, a Christian vine grower, found refuge during a chase in a cave that had been dug out of rock. His pursuers, however, found the unfor­tunate fellow, dragged him out, and he was thus martyred. The monastic tradition that quickly grew up around this area is due to the influence of the Bishop of Caesarea, or Turkish Kayseri. This was Saint Basil, who lived during the 4th century and travelled throughout Greece and Egypt. His travels led him to believe that the life of a monk, many of which he had spoken with, especially in the deserts of Egypt, was the holiest of all ways of life. The Göreme region of Cappadocia was the closest thing he could find near his own area to a desert, so he started bringing hermits into the valley. The hermitages of Göreme became monasteries over the years, and during the period from the 7th to the 1.3th century, many of the churches seen in Göreme were made. These were painted with religious scenes that have come to reveal an important aspect of religious arl of this period. The best preserved wall paint­ings date from the 9th century and later because before this time many of them were destroyed and mutilated by invading Arabs and Asian peoples. During the Turkish periods, the monastic life in the region decreased in numbers of adherents, but monks still were living there until 1922.


The churches found in Göreme that have been carved out of the volcanic tuff rock formations and decorated with vivid frescoes should be your first priority in visiting Cappadocia. The main ones include the Apple Church, the Dark, Çarıklı and Tokalı Churches. The columned churches are constructed on a classical Byzantine inscribed cross plan with a cupola in the central position which is supported by four columns. They were designed with a nave preceded by a narthex out of which were often cut tombs for the faithful. The frescoes depict for the most part scenes from the life of Christ corresponding to the great religious feasts such as the Nativity, the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Elmalı Kilise : The Apple Church or Elmalı Kilise as it is called in Turkish is the latest made and smallest of those in Göreme.

The wall paintings that remain are mostly from the period of By­zantine iconoclasm. The lightness of style makes them some of the most attractive of this group. The paintings in the Apple Chruch depict the Journey to Bethlehem, the Nativity, the Baptism, the Transfiguration, the resurection of Lazarus, the entering into Jeru­salem, the Last Supper, the betrayal, the road leading to the cross,


the Crucifixion, the preparation of the dead, women at the giave, Christ in Purgatory, the ascent into heaven, the hospitality of Abraham, three youths in the furnace, and prophets and a deisis.

Karanlik Kilise : The Dark Church or Karanhk Kilise is perhaps the most interesting cave church in Goreme because it was part of an important monastery which included several rooms and a refectory. A long table and benches were carved out of the rock here. It has fan-like vaults and a ruined iconostasis. In this one the frescoes, which are among the best-preserved in the region, do not follow a chronological order, unlike most of the other churches. The paintings are from the 13th century and are more realistic than those done earlier. The lack of windows of the Dark Church is the main reason that the frescoes have been so well preserved. Both the dipiction of the Ascension in the narthex of this church and the Nativity in the nave are exceptional.

Çarıklı Kilise: The Çarıklı Kilise or the Church with Sandals is so named because of the imprint of two footprints carved under


the Ascension. These were copied from the footprints of Christ that were venerated in Jerusalem. Part of this church was destroyed when a luige boulder fell. It has two columns and a groin vault. The frescoes found here are similar to those in the Elmalı and Karanlık Churches, and it is thought that the three were constructed around the same time.

Barbara Kilisesi: The Church of Saint Barbara or Barbara Ki­lisesi is, again, typical of those dating from the Age of Iconoclasin. This began in the 8th century with the reign of Byzantine Emperor Leo III in 717 A.D. This period of instability in the Christian re­ligion started with lite lowering of Christ's picture from the main portal of the emperor's palace by Leo III. The period reached its peak during the middle of the 8th century when Cons tan tine V Copronymus mel with the synod and created a movement to supress the ieonodules. In 7S7 the Seventh Council was held in Iznik (Nicaea) which resulted in the lifting of the prohibition on icons by Empress Irene. Leo V abolished the council in Iznik, and the troubles began anew. The period was finally brought to a close by Empress Theodora in 842. In the Church of Saint Barbara, half of a deisis and a figure to the left of the entrance in the double section were probably done right after the Iconoclasm. The colors of the frescoes in the remainder of the church are comparatively dull, and were rather unskillfully managed. The figure of Saint Barbara and those of Saints George and Theodore were added later by another artist. The animal paintings are interesting in that they all carry various connotations and meanings.

Yılanlı Kilise : The Yılanlı Kilise or Church of Snakes is another found in the Göreme Valley. It is so named because of its fascinating painting to the damned represented by coiled serpents, The interior of the church is painted to give the effect of stone blocks. The walls were painted with red ochre, and frescoes added on top of this. Near the entrance, Christ is represented wiLh the Holy Book in His hand. The domes are painted with two mounted men doing battle with a dragon; these are Prokopios and Theodoras. Helen and Constantine, naked Onophrios with a small plant in front of him, the disciple Thomas, and the Emperor giving benediction to the church is comprised of two rooms stretching lengthwise; the front room is a barrel vault and the back one has a flat ceiling. These above mentioned rock-churches are the main sites of interest in the Göreme area. Also to be found there are the various service facilities such as a bakery, work and storage rooms and houses.


Tokalı Kilise : The Tokalı Kilise or Church with a Buckle is located on the road to Avcılar. This is the largest and most in­terestingly decorated of those in the Göreme group. The lovely wall paintings, dating to the 15th century are beautifully preserved. The narthex is arranged with scenes from the Bible in the order of their occurence in Biblical history, from the Annunciation to the Ascen­sion. The life of Saint Basil is also depicted on the walls of the Tokalı Kilise. The entrance leads to a barrel-vaulted hall, adjoined by a long nave. Four columns support the roof and arches. Behind this is an elevated corridor, The whole interior, including the arches and columns is decorated with frescoes in shades of red and green.

Other churches and chapels found in this immediate area are those of Theotokos and Saint Eustachius. The latter is especially interesting for its bright, well-preserved paintings. A guide is a must to get a full apprecation of the outlying r-hurches, which include El Nazar or the Eye of Fate, the Kılıçlar Kilise, the Church of Swords, and Hidden Church or Saklı Kilise.


The symbolism of the frescoes in these churches dates to the earliest beginnings of Christianity and earlier. The fish symbol is the oldest and among the most important. It was early interpreted to symbolize the true believers; Christ was the Fisherman pulling the believers out of the Sea of the Damned. This also relates to the Christian tradition of baptism, The rooster symbol, found on gravestones and church towers is used to frighten away the devil, while the rabbit symbol is associated with evil. Rabbit meat was long eaten as an aphrodisiac and for other erotic purposes. It has taken on a aspect of fertility as well, and is very much a part of Christian Easter celebrations which include the egg-distributing Easter Bunny. Rabbit meat was banned by the church in the 7th century.

Other early Christian symbols include the palm tree, the peacock, the bull, the pine, and the dove. The palm tree is the symbol of eternal life and paradise. A single branch of the tree is seen in many of the churches in Göreme. Palm branches were spread before Christ when He entered Jerusalem.

 The peacock-symbol represented reincarnation because of the ancient belief that the meat of this bird would never deteriorate. It was used as a cult bird in Rome and Athens. The bull is among the sacred animals and has been since prehistoric times. The bull was considered sacred by the Hittites when their empire flourished during the second mil­lennium B.C. The pine, like the rabbit, is connected with the notion of fertility. The branches of the tree are supposedly curative and were used as an aid to growth. It was also used to frighten off evil spirits. And the dove, likewise, was associated with fertility. It has long been a symbol of peace, chastity and love of family. In the Christian religion, the pigeon or the dove symbol personifies the peaceful spirits of its martyrs and saints. The Bible gives a variety of meanings to the symbol including truth, good-nature, innocence, and redemption. The dove was also considered the bride of Christ or the congregation of the church. It is found in many of the chur­ches of Göreme that were formed during the Iconoclastic Period.


Avcılar is what used to be the See of Matyane; it is now a picturesque troglodyte village with family dwellings built right into the rock formations. The village is famous for its onyx and possesses five churches, some of which are inhabited by the villagers. The village of Çavuşin is on the road from Avcılar to Avanos. It is located behind a high rock face that is honeycombed with grottos. Above the face of the rock is the colonnade of the Church of Saint John the Baptist. Nearby this is the Church of Nicephorus Phocas, which is called the Pigeon House of Çavuşin. Two areas that are dotted with hermitages are found to the south-east of Çavuşin. These date to the pre-Iconoclastic period. In the Valley of Roses or Güllü Dere, several churches are to be seen. The second region is called the Red Ravine or Kızd Çukur, ar,d here the decorations of the church are exquisite.

The site most famous for its troglodytes is that of Zelve. The road from Çavuşin leads to this spot which is a fascinating valley of rock pinnacles or fairy chimneys, as they are called. These spires have evolved through the erosion of vertical cracks with a harder rock stratum forming caps to protect the pinnacles from lateral erosion. In Zelve we find many red cone dwellings and chapels from various periods. Continuing down the road to Avanos, on the banks of the ancient River Halys or the Kızılırmak River of today, there is more of interest for the visitor. Between this town and Özkonak a huge underground city has been discovered. Avanos itself is famous for carpets, potteryware and onyx.


The spectacular subterranean city of Kaymaklı is a must for the visitor to Cappadoeia. This is located a short distance to the south of Nevşehir and was cut out of the volcanic tuff during the period from the 6th to the 10th centuries A.D. Dwellings such as this are known to have existed in this region as early as the 5th century B.C. The ancient writer Xenophon referred to them in his Anabasis. The underground city at Kaymaklı was made to accommodate several thousand people. Today the visitor is able to descend through seven floor levels of the city by means of a labyrinth of tunnels. Rooms, kitchens, wine cellars, storage areas and churches are all connected together by the intricate system of passageways. An im­mense chimney ventilates the whole affair, and today electric light­ing and modern supporting braces allow the visitor to explore the city at leisure. The underground city was dug out to serve as a refuge for the Christians from the Arab invasions that occurred during the period from the 7th to the 9th centuries and also from the persecution during the Age of Iconoclasm. When attack looked imminent the whole subterranean complex would be sealed off by rolling huge circular stones in front of the entrance tunnels.

Another underground city, not far from Kaymaklı, is found at Derinkuyu. This one goes down to eight different living levels, with tunnels extending for several kilometers. This city could accommo­date more dwellers than that at Kaymaklı, possibly as many as fifty thousand. It is better laid out than the former one and was made at a later date. The temperature tends to be cool, even in the sum­mer, so visitors are well advised to take sweaters along and to stay together while visiting the underground city. Throughout the year the temperature varies little. Heating was not much of a considera­tion, and cooking was done in communal kitchens to centralize the smoke from the fires.


Nevşehir is the principal town of the area, and it is rather typical of the others with its houses of the local stone. An attraction here is the Seljuk castle that was reinforced during the period of the Ottomans. The Kaya Mosque and the Kurşunlu Mosque are of interest. The later was built by the Grand Vizier Damat Ibrahim Paşa in 1726. The complex includes a medrese, a hostel and a library. Ürgüp is further down the road from Nevşehir, and it is a good central place from which to explore the sights of the region. It is laid out at the foot of a high cliff that is full of dwellings connected by tunnels cut out of the rock. At Açıksaray, about fifteen kilometers out of Nevşehir, churches have been hollowed out of the face of the rock. Continuing on this road to Gülşehir, we find interesting colors in the rock formations. Here also are found the double sanctuaries of Karşı Kilise. Furthur on, the road leads to Hacıbektaş and the seminary of the Bektaşi order of dervishes. Also found here is the burial place and medrese of the founder of this mystic religious order, Hacı Bektaş Veli, an Islamic mystic of the 13th century. Several caravanserais are seen on this road that continues to Aksaray. The most interesting and by far the best - preserved is the Ağzıkara Han. This dates to the 13th century and is located at a distance of 15 kilometers from the city of Aksaray. The entrance to the caravanserai is especially noteworthly because of its size and decoration using stalagtites and geometrical motifs in the Turkish tradition.


The Valley of Belisirma, formerly Peristrema, is reached by turning left off the main road. Here we find a great many of the rock-churches so familiar in Göreme. A large monastic complex is located near by the village of Selime, at the entrance to the valley. Churches of special significance, and the best-preserved, are around the villages of Belisirma and İhlara. Here the churches have been cut out of the face of a canyon that was worn down by the Melendiz River. They are decorated on the interiors with frescoes from the pre-Iconoclastic period, running up until the 13th century. The valley holds some twenty or so churches, and the visitor might make the trip more worthwhile by employing a guide. The most important churches in this area include the Direkli Kilise or the Columned Church, the Sümbüllü Kilise or the Church of the Hy­acinths. This one has especially fine interior frescoes. Others are the Yılanlı Kilise or the Church with Snakes, the Purenli Seki Kilisesi or the Terraced Chruch, the Kokar Kilise or the Church with an Odor, and ihe Eğri Taş Kilisesi or the Church with the Crooked Stone. The region of Cappadocia is famous for its wine, and wine cellars may he visited in Ürgüp, Ortahisar and Uçhisar. A hotel in the area even has a tap, besides die two for hot and cold water, for wine. The best lime for visiting the region is during the spring and autumn. The high altitude maintains a freshness in the air even during the hot summer months, however. Tlve area is dry and always sunny and pleasant.