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.
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 which pay testament to Ihlara’s history. The frescoes are 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.
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 breathtaking moment.
As well, as the historic attractions, the natural scenery is spectacular as well; wild olive trees, and poplars are found in the fertile valley, next to the clear green, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, Melendez river. Taking up residence among the vineyards, poplars and pistachio trees are a number of lizards, frogs, and the occasional eagle.
In all, the valley contains a great many of these ancient churches – most of which date to the Byzantine era – with frescoes depicting a whole host of biblical scenes. 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.
Contributed by Chris Reid
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