Cappadocia is an ancient land with a fascinating religious history. It is even mentioned in the Book of Acts in the Christian Bible. The earliest Christians were here almost 2000 years ago and by the 3rd and 4th centuries were using the caves for churches and monasteries. They lived here without pause until the 1920s when they were forced to move to Greece. Besides caves many Greek church buildings are still standing. Islam entered with the Seljuks after 1200, and they built mosques and madrasas as well as caravansarais in the region.
Many visitors to the area are unaware of this and miss out on all that is available. Of course, one can only see so many caves before they all meld together, but we will let you decide which caves to see before passing that line.
The most popular group of cave churches can be found at the Goreme Open Air Museum. This community of churches with their breathtaking paintings dates mostly from the 9th-11th centuries. But there are a number of other ancient cave churches close by. On the road to the museum take a right before the horse ranch and go up a ways to see the El Nazar Church. Right after the horses on the right you will find the Sakli Church. Then after the museum, further up the hill, you will find the Aynali and Firkatan Churches. Most of these require small entrance fees.
Move down the road a ways to Cavusin village and see the lower church behind Cavusin Seramic. Then head up the hill to the upper church which claims to be the oldest and biggest church in the region. There is not much left of this one and getting to it can be an adventure, but once inside you will see that it was a church in the distant past with its faded paintings.
Around the corner from Cavusin and past Pasabag you will find Zelve Open Air Museum and its churches and monasteries. This area was inhabited until the 1960s but is now a national park. You will not find ao many paintings here, but the space is larger and less crowded and the entrance fee is less than Goreme’s museum.
Next head past Avanos to Gulsehir where you will find the beautifully restored St. Jeans two-story cave church. On the other side of town is the old Greek area where you will find not a cave church but a real building. Ask the Muhtar for the key and look around. This building is not restored so you will find it rather barren. On the way back to Avanos take a detour through Ozkonak and view the unrestored Belha monastery as well as the underground city.
MUSTAFAPASA – SINASOS
If you go all the way past Urgup you will soon arrive at Mustafapasa which was formerly known as Sinasos when the Greeks inhabited it until 1924.
But before arriving don’t miss the cave churches up the hills to the right side of the road between Urgup and Mustafapasa. You could spend hours traipsing around these hills exploring the numerous caves.
In Mustafapasa you will find both cave churches and buildings, remnants of the Greek community that lived there for over 1000 years.
Besides these places you will find cave churches in Red/Rose Valley as well as Ihlara Valley. In addition, hike or drive around Cappadocia and do not be surprised to find countless cave churches off the road in every direction.
NIGDE & KAYSERI
While heading down towards Ihlara stop to see the churches within Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities. Keep going and find Monastery valley outside of Guzelyurt. Not far from there is the Red Church and the Upper Church (Yuksek Kilisesi). Then in the cities of Nigde and Kayseri (not common stops for most visitors to Cappadocia) you will find many more ancient church remains.
MOSQUES & MADRASAS
But as we mentioned earlier the Seljuk Muslims moved into the area after 1200 and left their mark with many mosques and madrasas. The Ottomans continued this architectural development and the Turks have followed on with similar zeal.
For the truly grand Islamic buildings Istanbul is the place to be, of course, but Cappadocia has its share of historic sites. Every town and village will have mosques which you can visit if you show the proper respect. But a few buildings standout which we will note here.
Nevsehir’s mosque, madrasa, and hamam complex was built by Nevsehirli Damat Ibrahimpasa when he was Grand Vizier in the early 1700s. Also, Kayseri has a beautiful Seljuk complex standing in the center of the city. Avanos’ Alaadin mosque purports to be 800 years old (at least there has been a mosque on that site for 800 years according to locals). And you may enjoy Cavusin villages cave mosque, one of the few cave mosques in the region. Besides these and many more you will also find ancient caravanserais built mainly by the Seljuks but used throughout Ottoman times. Most of them lie in ruins but a few have been restored and are available for tours.
Lastly, head northwest of Avanos to Haci Bektas for a unique experience. Turkish Alevis, a curious sect of Islam and minority group within Turkey, look to this town as their core and the mystic after whom it is named as their spiritual father. Here you will find a museum complex explaining the beliefs and practices of this man and his followers.
And with that you have taken the spiritual history tour of Cappadocia. Europe has its magnifient cathedrals and Istanbul its grand mosques, but Cappadocia is unique with its mix of evidence of the human search for connection with God both below and above ground throughout the last 2000 years.
Enjoy taking a bit of it in while you are here and let us know what you think.