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Ihlara Valley

 

 
 
 
 
Important Churches
from Ihlara Village to Belisırma Village

 

 

Ihlara Valley, near Mount Hasan (one of the three volcanoes of Cappadocia) is a canyon with a depth of approximately 100m and was formed by the Melendiz River thousands of years ago. It begins at Ihlara village and ends at the village of Selime after making 26 bends along 14 kilometers.

It is believed that the valley housed more than four thousand dwellings and a hundred churches. It is estimated that around eighty thousand people once lived here.

It is very pleasant to walk through the Ihlara valley by the vineyards, poplars and pistachio trees to the soothing sound if the rushing water and surrounded by a rich wildlife of lizards, frogs, butterflies, birds and sometimes eagles and other mammals like lambs and sheep.

In the middle of the Ihlara valley in Belisırma village there are good restaurants to be found.

The churches in the Valley can be divided into two groups: the Ihlara group, including the Ağaçaltı, Pürenli Seki, Kokar, Eğritaş and Yılanlı churches that reflect Oriental influences, and the Belisırma group, comprising Sümbüllü Church and others with Byzantine characteristics.

The churches of the Ihlara group display scenes dissimilar to the scenes depicted in other Cappadocian churches. In fact, they are reminiscent of the early churches of Syria and the Coptic churches of Egypt. The texts in Ihlara group churches are unusually long. In this group special emphasis was laid upon Satan, and women as the source of evil.

There are many churches in the valley. However, relying on the yet undisputed information given in Mme. and M. Thierry’s book, we have chosen 11 of them for you to visit. 

 

Pürenli Seki Kilisesi (Church with the Terrace)

If you follow the path in the direction of Ağaçaltı, at about 150m after the fallen rocks you will see the church located nearly 25 m above the level of the river. It is composed of an entrance, a burial chamber and a double naos, separated by pillared arcades, each having an apse. The church is covered by frescoes classified as "archaic" but characterised by exquisite details, a strong sense of design and amazing freedom of expression.

Sümbüllü Kilise (The Hyacinth Church)

On arriving at the bottom of the stairs follow the path along the river but in the opposite direction. After walking for about 30 m you will find a flight of concrete steps leading up to the church. It is easily recognised by its distinctive facade. It is located just under the restaurant terrace, but belongs to the

Egritas Kilisesi (The Church with a Crooked Stone)

Coming back down to the river level you continue along the path until you reach an old bridge. Crossing the bridge turn right and walk for about 500 m to reach the church, leaving the Kokar Church a little behind you on the other side. Before Eğritaş Kilisesi you pass another church on the left named Karanlıkkale Kilisesi (the Church of the Dark Tower).

Eğritaş Church is one of the most important churches in the Valley with several rare frescoes of distinctive style. The Church consist of a vaulted chapel with an apse and burial chapels down below. The ceiling of the Church is covered by a large Cross similar to the one found in Kokar Church, with three rows of frescoes on either side. The frescoes, some of them badly damaged, depict the Washing of Feet, the Denial by Peter, the Virgin at the Well, and the Agony in the Garden.

Eğritaş Church, generally regarded as the oldest church in Ihlara Valley, displays features strongly reminiscent of the pre-Iconoclastic art of the Christian east.

Kırk Damaltı Kilisesi (The Church of St. George)

This church is situated 3 km from Ihlara entrance and 50 m above the west bank of the river. It has a very irregular shape. This church deserves special attention for a fresco depicting the donor. Many church frescoes include portraits of donors to the church or monastery, founders of the church or those who undertook to pay for their decoration. The majority of these portraits have either not survived at all or in a much deteriorated condition. The most interesting example is the fresco and inscription in Kırkdamaltı Church in Belisırma. This important document throws light on such question as the function of donor portraits, what types of donations were made, as well as the cultural and political situation of the time. The donors portrayed here are the Georgian princess Thamar and her husband Amirarzes Basileious, who are shown presenting a model of the church to Hagios Georgios, the saint to whom it is dedicated. Thamar donated a vineyard to the church, as explained in the inscription, which reads:

I the humble Lady Thamar donated the soil of a hillside vineyard for this temple which I made, I donated the vineyard purchased from Siara Phantenes.

In fact, the princess and her consort did not found the church itself as implied by the presentation of the model in the fresco and by the wording of the inscription, but paid for the frescoes, a task regarded as equivalent to creating the church. The model of the church only symbolised the giving of a donation. The inscription goes on to make this clear:

This temple founded in the name of the honourable great martyr Hagious Georgious has been splendidly decorated ... with the donations of Amirarzes Basileios, the wife of ... and the lady Thamar depicted opposite.

Further on the inscription mentions both the Seljuk Sultan Mesut II and the Byzantine emperor Andronicos II together. Dating from between 1283 and 1295 this inscription proves that the fresco work was carried out after the Seljuk conquest of Cappadocia:

... under the rule of the great Sultan Mesut, sublimest of the sublime, noblest of the noble, while our lord Andronicos was ruling over the Romans...

The model being presented by Thamar to Hagios Georgious in the fresco is depicted in the form of a church built of hewn stone, but clearly this only represents the rock carved Kırkdamaltı Church. Amirarzes Basileios is shown wearing a Seljuk kaftan and turban. The title of Amirarzes suggests that Basileios was presented with a fief, in return for which he would have provided a trained contingent of warriors when necessary, and that he was a Christian general (emir) in the service of the Seljuk sultan.

On the western wall there is a painting of St. George: the female donor is wearing Byzantine costume while her husband is dressed in Seljuk style with an inscription saying:

This most venerable church dedicated to the holy and great martyr St. George was magnificently decorated through the assistance, the high wish and care of the lady Thamar, here pictured, and of her Emir Basil Giagoupes , under his Majesty the most noble and Great Sultan Masud at the time when Sire Andronikos reigned over the Romans.

The historical facts give the date of the church as 1283-1295. which makes it one of the latest in the region.

The husband of the donor was probably in the service of the Seljuk Sultan, but the panel itself is the expression of Christian gratitude for the tolerance of the Seljuks.

Bahattin Samanlıgı Kilisesi (Bahattin's Granary Church)

Oddly enough, this church is named after a man who used it to store his hay. He could never have imagined that his name would be recorded in history.

It is located nearly 300m from Kırk Damaltı Kilisesi. It has a very simple plan: a barrel – vaulted naos with an apse adorned with niches. The church, which dates back to the first half of the 11th century, is located with twenty three scenes from the life of Christ.

Kokar Kilise (The Church of Sweet Smells)

It can be reached by following the same path in the direction of Pürenli Seki. The church can be entered through a ruined apse , as in the case of Ağaçaltı. The original entrance has been blocked by a landslide.

On the left hand side as you can see the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Proof of the Virgin, the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi. On the right we see the Last Supper, the Betrayal. Jesus being Led Away. Jesus before Annas and Caiaphos, the Crucifixion and the Entombment. On the door facing the entrance there is a Deesis above, with scenes of the Flight to Egypt and The Last Supper below scene was badly damaged when openings were made at a much later date for windows and a door leading into the burial chamber. On the ceiling we see the Ascension and the Pentecost together with a large Greek cross with the hand of God giving benediction in the center. On each side of the lower parts of the vaulting there are frescoes depicting the apostles standing and seated.

Beside the door, there is the scene of the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace, but inscribed with their Babylonian names (Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego) instead of the Hebrew ones in the Greek form (Ananias, Misael and Azarias). This is quite unique in Byzantine iconography.

Agaçaltı Kilisesi (Church Under the Tree)

Turn right at the bottom of the stairs from the Ihlara entrance and you will find yourself 10 m from the church. Prepare yourself for a surprise when you enter the church through the ruined arch and find yourself confronted by a totally different style of architecture. This church is quite different from the other churches of the Byzantine world of the 10th and 11th century Cappadocia, with its harmoniously contrasted colours of red, green and yellow, the subjects of its paintings and its decoration of flowers, lozengers, rosettes and chequer-board patterns, all betraying strong eastern influence. The Church, also known as the Church of Daniel or the Church of Pantassa, has a free cross architectural plan.

On the wall opposite the entrance there is a fresco of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. The left cross-arm contains the Annuciation, the Visitation, the Nativity and the Magi. The Magi are wearing caps of Phrygian or Eastern mode. The right cross-arm contains the Flight into Egypt, the Baptism and the Dormition.

The Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis) is unique as far as Cappadocia is concerned. It is composed of two scenes. In the first scene, Mary is lying on a bed, with Christ accompanied by St. John sitting on one side of the bed to recover her soul. In the upper scene Christ is shown holding his Mother’s soul, with an Angel behind him.

Yılanlı Kilise (Church with the Snake

Turn left after crossing the wooden bridge, and after walking for about 100 m you will arrive at the steps leading up to the church. Yılanlı Kilise consist of a flat-roofed cruciform naos with an apse, a barrel-vaulted narthex on the west and a burial chamber with an apse adjacent to it.

As you enter the vestibule of the church you will see some remaining parts of a fresco depicting the Entombment of Mary the Egyptian, with St. Zosimus and the Lion. This painting, quite unique in Cappadocia, is unfortunately very badly damaged. From here you enter a narthex opening into the church to the right. On the flat roof of the church itself can be seen a cross in low relief. The main apse contains an Ascencion, the eastern vaults an Annunciation and Visitation, with a Koimesis and a fresco depicting Constantine and Helena on the right and the Last Supper and Crucification on the left.

At the top the western wall of the narthex there is a fresco showing Christ sitting in judgement with the Twenty Four Elders of the Apocalypse on either side of him, each holding one letter of the Greek alphabet. Below them there are the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (modern Sivas). Beneath the Christ in judgement one can see St. Michael weighing the souls according to their sins and good deeds in the presence of Satan. A monster with three heads is devouring the damned. In the middle we see the wicked in the Rivers of Tar and Tartarus. On the right, there are four naked women being bitten by serpents. The first woman is being bitten by eight snakes, probably because of the sin of adultery. In the case of the second woman, snakes are biting her nipples because of her refusal to feed her children, the third woman is being bitten on the mouth for having committed the sin of calumny, while the fourth one is being bitten on the ear as a punishment for the sin of disobedience. The paintings, which are clear evidence of the hostile attitude of monks towards women as source of impurity, are obviously a subject of great interest to feminists.

Notice Christ in the west vault sitting cross-legged in the Islamic way.

Direkli Kilise (The Pillared Church)

This church is located about 70 m from Bahattin’s Granary Church on a rock opposite Belisırma.

As you enter the church through a horse-shoe shaped door you get the impression that you are in a basilica with three naves and three apses. The church has a central dome and six pillars, from which it derives its name. Inscriptions indicate that the church dates from the first quarter of the 11th century. The best paintings are the figures of saints on the pillars. The conch of the main apse contains a Deesis with St. Peter and St. Paul in medallions.

Ala Kilise (The Mottled Church)

This church is located to the north of Belisırma village to the right of Güzelyurt road. It is built on a cruciform plan with a central dome and four irregular cupolas. It has a very impressive facade cut into the rock. The frescoes of the church are very badly damaged as a result of the intensive use of the church by the villagers. However, we can still see fragments of some scenes from the Three Young Israelites in the Fiery Furnace ,the Nativity ,the Story of St. Mary the Egyptian, the Visitation and some vestiges of paintings depicting saints (The Five Martyrs of Armenia, the Two Martyrs of Edesa, the Martyrs of Sebaste and four of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.)

Karagedik Kilisesi (The Church with the Black Collar

This church is located on the right hand side of the river 1 km from Belisırma, previously known to local Christians as St. Ermolaos. It is not a rock-cut church, but a cross-domed church built of stone and brick. Only a few fragments of the paintings have survived

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