Goreme Open Air Museum

Goreme , Central Anatolia Region , Turkey

About Goreme Open Air Museum

The Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia includes a collection of around 30 ancient churches, and feels about as far from a traditional museum as it’s possible to get.

Easily accessible to visitors, the Goreme valley was the first historical site to be discovered in Cappadocia. The roughly cut rock churches are quite breath-taking; an unsuspecting visitor to the area would find it difficult, on first sight, to ascertain their purpose. It’s a stunning, almost haunting, landscape. The church interiors, particularly those of the Dark Church and the Buckle Church, contain some of the most beautiful and well preserved frescoes of the region.

By the end of the 2nd century AD, the Goreme valley had been transformed into a hub of Christian activity – converts to the new religion had been drawn to the valley’s natural defences as they fled persecution. During the 3rd century, Christianity began to take on a more organised form in the region as priests ‘of good character’ began to transform the area. Indeed, by the 4th century Cappadocia became to be known as the ‘Land of the Three Saints.’ These saints comprised St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Kayseri; his brother, St Gregory of Nyssa; and St George of Nazianzus. St Basil initiated worship within the community, and it was in Goreme that this practice was begun.

The name ‘Goreme’ is actually the fourth name by which it has been known throughout history. The Byzantines named the valley Matiana, and the Armenian Christians named it Macan. The valley was then named Avcilar by the Turks, who then bestowed upon it the name Goreme, meaning ‘unseen’, in honour of the churches of the same name which marked the valley.

Perhaps best described as a collection of monastic complexes, each monastery in the Goreme Open Air Museum contains its own church and there are some notable highlights among the list including the Dark Church, the Snake Church and the Apple Church. The Tokah Church, or ‘Church with the Buckle’ is one of the best preserved of the valley. This church contains an atrium, which was formerly a church itself, and is notable for the striking blue paint that is used in the frescoes that depict various scenes from the life of Christ.

Finally the Dark Church contains some of the most beautiful frescoes in the valley. Recently restored, the frescoes are a mixture of ochre, red and navy blue, which combine to fantastic effect. They portray the life of Christ, as well as the four evangelists.

Probably the most accessible way to view these ancient rock-cut churches, the Goreme Open Air Museum is also therefore quite a bit busier than other similar sights. A virtual tour can be explored here.

Contributed by Chris Reid

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