Zelve Open Air Museum - History and Facts | History Hit

Zelve Open Air Museum

Aktepe, Central Anatolia Region, Turkey

Spread out over three monastic valleys, Zelve, around 10km from Göreme on the Avanos road is a visually stunning town of homes and churches carved into the rocks and it was continually inhabited from the ninth century until as recently as 1952.

Antara Bate

21 Jul 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Zelve Open Air Museum

Zelve Open Air Museum in the Cappadocia region is one of the most visually stunning historical sites in Turkey. Originally a Byzantine-era (9th century) monastery, it is reputed to be both one of the earliest settled and last-abandoned monasteries in the entire region. The ‘museum’ houses the oldest known examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings.

Zelve Open Air Museum history

The honeycomb-esque spaces include religious and secular chambers and pointed fairy chimneys and in the 400 years between the 9th and 13th centuries, four churches were built whose remains stand to this day despite nature’s best efforts at erosion.

The earliest built was the Direkli Church, famous for its standing columns and iconoclastic-doctrine high relief crosses and there followed the Balikli Church dedicated to fish, the Uzümlü Church (grapes) and the – now collapsed beyond recognition – Geyikli Church (deer). You can still see feint paintings on the remaining stone church walls as well as minaret that has survived the tests of time.

Over the centuries that followed, Christians and Muslims (during the Ottoman rule) lived perfectly happily side by side and after almost a millennium of continuous occupation, the government deemed the town too fragile to live in due to erosion. In 1952 the last inhabitants were relocated 2km away in the town of Aktepe which was affectionately renamed ‘Yeni Zelve’ or New Zelve.

Zelve Open Air Museum today

Tours of the Zelve Open Air Museum take around two hours and thanks to the beauty of the location there are lots of open-air festivals and concerts as well as gift stalls and traditional Turkish restaurants serving famous local delicacies such as gözleme and ayran – stuffed flatbreads and a typically Turkish yoghurt drink.

Getting to Zelve Open Air Museum

The Zelve Open Air Museum is located 5 kilometres south of Avanos. Visitors can drive straight up to the entrance gate which has a small gift shop and several cafés.

There is also the Ürgüp–Avanos dolmuş minibus which stops at Zelve.