Cappadocia, Turkey: Göreme Open Air Museum
Be honest: Do you think “Göreme Open Air Museum” is a bit of a bland name for an archaeologically significant piece of history on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Yes, it is actually an open-air museum, but it’s also more than that. The Göreme Açıkhava Müzesi (the museum’s Turkish name) was a new city built after Christians could come of hiding from the underground caves. Residents of this new city had come out of hiding, but their new habitat was still camouflaged – in a crafty, artistic way!
Not to sound morose, but because bodies of the deceased were buried in chapels, it was normal to find skeletal remains here before the area was officially opened to the public. Imagine what you might have found in the enclosed spaces after the city’s inhabitants began to move away.
Whether buried or living here, locals resided in a refuge with a view. Look closer at the cliffs – the view was functional too. A visual inspection of the mountainside reveals countless man-made caverns.
The structures carved out of this craggy complex, such as the tower to the left, were dedicated to the use of monks and nuns; and the religious influence in the interior decor is undeniable. Bible frescoes, painted by commissioned European artists, doubled as both art and educational materials. This essentially gave the several chapels and churches around the premises a secondary function as school buildings. Alas, due to conservation efforts, photography is prohibited in the frescoed chapels…. You really should see the art, however; so, thanks to Google, here’s a sample of what you might see.
There are numerous places of worship within this small, isolated corner of Cappadocia. (It was, after all, primarily used by monks and nuns, remember?) There’s the Rock Chapel, pictured above. There’s also the Apple Church, Sandals Church, Old Church, New Church, and several others. Here’s the Snake Church, with an infamously peculiar depiction.
Sadly, many biblical figures in the paintings have had their eyes scratched out by vandals since the rock city was abandoned. Other paintings have been destroyed by erosion or water dripping through and down the rock walls. One church that still has remarkably preserved art is the Dark Church, Karanlık Kilise. It requires a second entrance ticket, but it’s worth it. (It’s just like investing in second ticket for The Harem in Istanbul‘s Topkapı Palace, except at a bargain.) It’s much quieter in here, where you’ll find greater insight into what this religious haven might have looked like at its peak. Here’s a sample:
Now, back to the photos we are allowed to take: the outdoors. This is where I’ll leave you to roam the grounds. Take in the landscape and the feeling of freedom – a drastic change from constrictive underground cities like Kaymaklı.
May your travels (and your personal journeys) be filled with wide, open spaces.