Ihlara Valley - History and Facts | History Hit

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara, Central Anatolia Region, Turkey

The Ihlara Valley is famous for a number of rock-carved ancient churches known for their ornate frescoes depicting biblical events.

Peta Stamper

27 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Ihlara Valley

The Ihlara Valley near the historic heart of Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is famous for both its natural beauty and for a number of rock-carved ancient churches and dwellings known for their ornate frescoes depicting biblical events.

Ihlara Valley history

The valley was probably first inhabited in the 4th century AD, initially by hermits and priests as a place of solitude; but the natural defences of the gorge attracted new converts to Christianity, some fleeing persecution by the Romans.

At its peak Ihlara Valley was host to up to 80,000 inhabitants, with a huge number of dwellings cut into the rock walls and churches decorated by frescoes. These frescoes are particularly interesting as they document the spread of Christianity; as the religion spread amongst diverse populations, the message of Christianity was spread using imagery. Therefore the frescoes which adorn the valley’s churches portray the life of Jesus and other themes found in the Bible.

Ihlara Valley today

The main entrance to Ihlara Valley is by Ihlara village, at the southern end of the valley, where the churches dating from the 6th century display a Persian and Syrian influence. As one travels further down the valley, one finds a large number of Byzantine churches and domestic dwellings.

At the northern end of the valley stands the majestic Selime monastery. Cut out of the rock walls of the valley, the Selime monastery is quite a sight to behold, not looking at all like the European preconceived image of a monastery, but nevertheless, gazing upon this monument, which was commandeered as a fortress by the Byzantine and Seljuk armies between the 10th and 12th centuries, is a truly breath-taking moment.

As well as the historic attractions, the natural scenery of Ihlara Valley is spectacular and boasts wild olive trees next to the clear, green Melendez river. Taking up residence among the vineyards, poplars and pistachio trees are a number of lizards, frogs, and the occasional eagle.

Most people visit with an organised tour and, though they mostly cover the same sites, tours will differ as to exactly which churches and dwellings they will visit.

Getting to Ihlara Valley

It is an hour and a half drive from central Cappadocia to the Ihlara Valley. From central Cappadocia, follow the road through Nevsehir to Aksaray and then to the village of Ihlara. The traditional hike begins at the main entrance about 1 mile outside the village. You can also hike up and out to the main road and catch a rare dolmus (bus) back to the main entrance.