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Cappadocian Churches

In general the churches of the Cappadocia Region display five different types of architectural plan:

1. Lengthways Single Nave Plan: it was used for the barrel vaulted churches with circular apses. Some have flat roofs standardised for Cappadocia. For example: Tokalı I, Karanlık churches in Göreme; Eğritaş, Kokar, and Sümbüllü churches in Ihlara; Karşı Church in Gülşehir; Kömürlü Church in Güzelyurt; and Nikephoros Phokas Church in Çavuşin, the largest example in the region.

2. Widthways Rectangular Nave Plan: churches peculiar to Cappadocia with barrel vaults and two or three apses, a rare example with four apses is Kubbeli II Church in Soğanlı, can be seen in the lower floor. Examples are Saklı, Tokalı II, and Yılanlı churches in Göreme.

3. Double Nave Plan: Naves are covered by barrel vaults and end with an apsis. For example: Pürenli Seki, Kokar(western chapel) churches in Ihlara; Ballı Church in Belisırma; Ioannes Church in Güllüdere.

4. Basilical Plan: Lengthways rectangular plan is divided into three or more naves. The middle nave is longer and wider with parallel colonnades. This plan was used for Episcopal Churches and the main churches for important monastries. The largest example in the region is Ioannes Prodromos Church in Çavuşin.

5. Cruciform Plan : At the intersection of the arms of the cross stands the central dome. Identified examples mostly have the form of a three-armed-cross; the fourth arm constitutes the apsis. Examples are El Nazar Church in Göreme; Ağaçaltı, Daniel and Yılanlı churches in Ihlara.

The floor of this authentic plan of medieval Byzantium is a square. In the middle, the dome carried by four columns extend in four directions as vaults reaching the naos walls and thereby forming the arms of a cross, which constitutes the plan of the upper floor. This plan had its authentic decoration plan as well. Although it was not successful in the carved churches due to poor lighting, it was tried in some churches because of its strong symbolism. An example is Direkli Church in Belisırma.

The churches in the Göreme Valley are, in general, small structures. Most of them can accommodate ten to fifteen people at the most. There are also a few large churches the size of the Tokalı and Karanlık churches that could be used as cathedrals.

The churches in Göreme and its environs were constructed by carving them out of the tufa rock that constitutes Cappadocia’s natural composition. The widespread singl-nave, barrel-vaulted layout was the most appropriate style of architecture for those living in the region and the religious communities, as well as those who had chosen to live in seclusion.

After the carving of the tufa rock had been completed, the walls of these churches, that is to say their rock faces, were plastered with a mixture of straw, tufa and lime. A high proportion of volcanic ash used in the mixture in place of sand gave the walls the appearance of dried clay. The surface of this layer of plaster which was 2-4 mm thick was subsequently colored with different techniques.

Two very different painting techniques can be obseved in the Göreme Valley churches. In the first technique, red ochre paint was applied directly to the surface without using plaster or surface coating. In this technique the primary rock surface served as the background. In this type of painting seen in churches and chapels of the early Byzantine era, Maltese crosses and geometric and vegetal motifs took a prominent place. However, in later times this type of painting was covered with a plaster mixture and painted with themes appropriate to Christian belief. The Tokalı, St. Basileios, Elmalı and St. Barbara churches in Göreme, the Zelve Valley Balikli Church and the Ortahisar Fırkatan Church are among the most beautiful examples of this technique.

In the second technique the painting was done on a plaster surface. Two different methods were used. Either the fresco technique was used on wet plaster, or the tempera, or so-called secco technique, was used after the plaster had dried. After the painting was completed, the surface of the fresco was covered with a type of glue derived from plants that gave the paintings a living quality.

The topics used for the church and chapel frescoes were scenes from the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments. First and foremost, the life of Jesus and the saints were depicted, but important figures in the religious life of Cappadocia often were to be seen completing other compositions. In general, the immortals were portrayed on the domes, while mortals were depicted on the walls; scenes known as the Deisis, which depicted the trio of Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist, occupied the apse.

Apart from the churches adorned with mosaics that were constructed in the name of the Emperor in the Byzantine era, the walls and vaults were generally decorated with frescoes, which were less costly to produce and easier in terms of workmanship. Not all of the wall paintings in the Cappadocia churches were painted by artists. A large number of the incomparably beautiful frescoes were produced by monks.
The topics of the frescoes in the Cappadocia churches were generally arrayed in chronological order: events before and after the birth of Jesus (the Journey to Bethlehem ,the Birth of Jesus or Nativity, theThree Wise Kings, the Flight into Egypt…), the miracles performed by Jesus (Healing of the Sick, Raising of Lazarus from the Dead…), and the Passion of Christ (the Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Judas’s Betrayal, the Crucifixion, the Ascension…)

Emperor Leon III realized that the influence and power of the monks over the populace was increasing dangerously, and in 726 he forbade the worship of idols; this period of iconoclasm continued until 842. During this era the worship of icons was banned, the frescoes and icons in the churches were destroyed and representation of the human figure was prohibited. Cappadocia was also affected by these prohibitions. Based on the prohibitions era, the art of Cappadocia can be divided into three era known as pre-Iconolastic, Iconolastic, and post-Iconoclastic.

In the Pre-Iconolastic Era a more linear style of paiting prevails. During the Iconolastic Era, as portrayal of the human figure was forbidden, red ochre paint was used to depict early Christian symbols like crosses, fish and palms. Vaults and ceiling were generally decorated with the cross, a form much revered by the Cappadocians. While the most beautiful examples of Cappadocian painting appeared in the post-Iconolastic Era, it is a pity that it was impossible to prevent the heavy damage they experienced later. Knowingly or not, many churches were used as dovecotes. With the widening of the Windows, wind and rain were able to enlarge the cracks that nature itself had created. As pieces of the frescoes fell, their integrity was compromised . The egg-white that was used in frescoes as a fixative lost its strength over time and the paint layer began to turn to dust; the straw in the stucco disintegrated and it was impossible to prevent blistering and chipping. And to make matters worse, graffiti by shepherds and, particularly, by irresponsible past visitors caused irreparable damage to the frescoes.

In some of the churches one can find hollowed cavities in the form of the familiar tombs that are known to have been used for burial. It was believed that burial inside the church was a guaranteed means to reach heaven. In fact, the carved sarcophagi found in most of these structures were the burial places of the fathers who had helped that particular church and church benefactors.

- Churches of the Goreme Open Air Museum
- Various Eras in The Elmali Kilise - Appele Church
- Azize Barbara Kilisesi - Church of Saint Barbara
- Yilanli Kilise - Serpent Church, with its fascinating architecture
- Karalik Kilise - Dark Church
- Tokali Kilis - Buckle Church, largest in the region
- Carikli Kilise - Church of the Sandal a structure on the heights
- At the valley’s entrance, Agacalti Kilisesi
- Direkli Kilise (Church of Columns) and its six columns
- Kale Manastiri Kilisesi (Fortress Monastery Church) in Selime Village