In Central Anatolia, within a hypothetical triangle encompassing the towns of Nevşehir, Ürgüp and Gülsehir, lies the famous Valley of Göreme, known as “Korama” in ancient times, one of the geological and archeological marvels of the world. Three hundred square miles of fantastic “moonscape”, proliferated with stone pyramids, weird cones, many of them topped with “hats”, sweeping spires and obelisks, created by nature, then shaped into strange cave colonies by a remote race. Laboring for centuries, the early Christian settlers enlarged and decorated them with primitive designs and frescos.

Approaching the town of Nevşehir the visitor is surely overwhelmed by the vast ranks of rock-cut dwellings and “fairy chimneys” which, despite the first impression of being artificial, had not been created by artists, but by the caprice of nature. As far as the eye can see, caves and curious rock formations dominate the land. Short and tall, slender or thick, rising from the bottom of ravines, jutting from hillsides, standing singly or in clusters, they display a wide range of colors from pinkish through ochre to light blue.

The visitor cannot help wondering how this bizarre land­scape could ever come into existence?

Probably during the Tertiary period of the Cenozoic, thirty to sixty million years ago, the Göreme region had been the scene of fierce volcanic activity. At least three major volcanos, the Erciyes, Hassan and Melendiz were rocking the surface for tens of thousands of years, belching smoke and lava, tossing boulders and ash far and wide. Consequently the present province became situated on a plateau 1200 – 1600 meters above the sea level, formed by the gradual accumulation of volcanic residues. With the passing of millennias this plateau became eroded by the river Kizilirmak and its tributaries. Strong winds, rainfalls, frost and subsequent quakes contributed to the process of erosion and the weird “moonscape” of Göreme was born.

It is truly a land of the fantastic and this impression is so strong that arriving for the first time, the visitor may even fancy himself to being on another planet. Conglomerations of abstract shapes proliferate the hills and ravines, some resembling animals, mushrooms, caricatures of noted personalities—all carved by nature, sometimes at incredibile places.

Rock-cut temples, cave colonies, stairways occupy jutting precipices and perpendicular cliffs, hollowed-out and connected by galleries and tunnels, the estimated total lenght of which is over five hundred kilometers.

Every boulder is a memento of the past. Every crevice is a one-time dwelling, a tomb, or a sanctuary. The majority of the “houses” are almost inaccessible, or so they seem, because their builders had been masters of camouflage and deception. Tunnels and shafts were designed to confuse and lure the hostile intruder into deadly traps. The ancient “engineers” were experts in applying the principles of light and shadow to create optical illusions. The apparently blind gallery had cleverly concealed exits, while a seemingly easy passage conveyed the intruder into a mortal trap.

The Valley of Göreme preserves the finest surviving examples of early Christian churches and chapels, the style and other characteristics of which reveal a wide range of artistic influences: Mesopotamian, Syrian, Palestinian, primitive Christian, Byzantine, Armenian. Some of the churches are well preserved; standing in clusters, or superimposed in ravines, upon cliffs or hidden deep underground.

Unfortunately, the majority of them are severely damaged through natural calamities or human ignorance.

So are the frescos, the characters of which, and especially their faces, are battered beyond recognition, peeled off or scratched all over by vandals of the past. The culprits were illiterate villagers, mostly children and unscrupulous treasure hunters of the bygone centuries. During the last fifty years, irresponsible “tourists” damaged scores of frescos by hacking off bits of souvenirs.

The earliest murals represent primitive art. Their painters were monks inspired by their religious devotion. Artistic con­siderations were of no importance to them and they ignored the realities of anatomy, proportion and perspective.

The most ancient iconographs discovered so far show Syr­ian-Palestinian influence. Later works disclose Byzantine trends. It is impossibile to determine the exact age of a church, but a few dated murals do exist. The epoch when Göreme was an im­portant religious center began in the latter part of the 9th cen­tury and persisted until about A.D. 1250. Naturally the Valley of Göreme was inhabited long before its recorded history. Some natural caves were occupied by troglodytes as early as 3000 B.C.

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