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.
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.
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.