The Ihlara Valley of Cappadocia – the highlight of the south – is a deep, 100m canyon formed thousands of years
The Ihlara Valley of Cappadocia – the highlight of the south – is a deep, 100m canyon formed thousands of years ago. This fertile gorge cut by a deep green river between red cliffs is one of the best places to go trekking, as here you will see not only the cave churches, but also the unique flora and fauna of Cappadocia alongside the sounds of rushing water from the Melendiz River.
Prepare yourself for an astonishingly beautiful natural landscape, as well as some of the most attractive and interesting churches and rock-carved villages in Cappadocia.
Three villages offer ticketed entry points to the valley: Selime, Belisirma and Ihlara Village. Most visitors, however, come on day-trips from Goreme or Urgup.
The 6km walk from Selime to Belisirma takes around three hours. If you want to complete the 10km walk to Ihlara Village, you’ll need to add three more hours to that! You can stop at Belisirma for food as well as take a dip in one or two river-pools to cool down.
Selime: The beautiful troglodyte village is the jumping off point to the squat fairy chimneys that dot the valley, many containing churches. There’s even a rock-cut cathedral, divided by irregular pillars into three aisles.
Belisirma: Three hours’ walk in between Selime or Ihlara Village is this troglodyte settlement blending into the tawny rock face. Its tranquil riverside location provides the opportunity to enjoy a meal at one of the tree-shaded restaurants on the west bank.
- See the 11th century Direkli Kilise, or Church with the Columns – which holds fine Byzantine frescoes including a long-fingered Madonna and Child and St George fighting a three-headed dragon.
- Church of St George: 50m up the cliff-side, 500m south of Belisirma and 3km off the stairs at the main entrance, dedicated to the saint by a 13th-century Christian Amir. It bears an inscription expressing Christian gratitude for the religious tolerance of the Selcuk Turks.
Ihlara Village: At the valley’s southernmost point, this village offers two separate entrance points. One is in the village itself, and the other at the Ihlara Valley Visitor Centre, halfway along the main road between Ihlara and Belisirma. This entrance provides direct access to the area containing most of the valley’s churches, via a precipitous but doable descent of several hundred steps descending 130m to the valley floor.
Ihlara Valley Churches
Peristrema was the monastic occupation of the Ihlara Valley, continuously practiced from early medieval times to the 14th century. Find the most interesting churches with paintings that show both Eastern and Western influences:
- Find your first church near the small wooden bridge at the bottom of the steps from the visitor centre. A plan down here shows all the accessible churches, most easy to find.
- Agacalti Kilise (Church under the Tree): To the right of the bridge, on the same side as the steps; this cross-shaped church with a central dome originally had three levels, but two have collapsed along with the entrance hall. Magnificent frescoes inside depict the Magi presenting gifts at the Nativity, Daniel with the lions and the Ascension in the central dome.
- Purenli Seki Kilise: 500m beyond, 30m up the cliffside on the south bank, and clearly seen from the river below; the badly damaged frescoes of this church mainly depict scenes from the life of Christ
- Kokar Kilise: Another 50m towards Ihlara, this church showcases the Annunciation, the Nativity, Flight into Egypt and Last Supper in the main hall. In the centre of the dome, a picture of a hand represents the Trinity and the sanctification.
- Yilanli Kilise (Church of the Snakes): The valley’s most fascinating church located across the wooden footbridge, 100m from the entrance. It contains unusual depictions of sinners suffering in hell; four women being bitten by snakes, and one of them on the nipples as a punishment for not breast-feeding her young! Another is covered in eight snakes; at the center is a three-headed snake behind a rare Cappadocian depiction of Satan, with each mouth holding a soul destined for hell.
How to get there: Ihlara Valley is approximately a 1.5 hour drive from central Cappadocia. You can get there via a private car or taxi, or by joining a tour (Try: Cappadocia Ihlara Valley & Göreme (Green Tour) – Full Day). If you’re driving, start from the city center and follow the road through Nevşehir to Aksaray, then to the village of Ihlara. The main entrance is about a mile from the village.
Open daily from 9 am until 1hr before sunset
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