After visiting the underground city on Thursday morning, we continued southwest to the Ihlara Valley. As we drove along, we almost felt like we were in Colorado, approaching the Rockies.
But once we got to the Ihlara Valley, it seemed more like we were in Utah or Arizona, back in the canyon lands.
There was a welcome center, of sorts, at the top and 360 steps down to the river at the bottom. At the base of the stairs you can easily get to 3 or 4 cliff face churches built during the time of the Byzantine Empire, sometime between the 7th and 9th centuries A.D.
We decided to do the longer hike, first following the river on the west bank, then returning along the east bank. The walk through the valley was very pleasant.
As we walked along the river bank we could see a number of cave openings high up the rock face.
Although I’ve read different explanations about how there came to be so many early Christian churches carved into the rock in the Ihlara Valley, the one that seems the most reasonable is that early Greek-speaking monks settled in the valley during the Byzantine era, primarily for its isolation: partly because of their introverted, contemplative lifestyle; and partly to escape the Roman tax collectors.
Whatever the reason, the early monks built a number of churches in the cliff face and about ten are still accessible today. We visited four: Sümbüllü Church; Kirkdamatli Church; Yilanli Church; and, Ağaçaltı Church.
Here’s the first one on the west bank, Sümbüllü Church (Hyacinth Church).
Next, Kirkdamatli Church (St. George Church), a little ways up the cliff, where there were a number of opened graves.
A little further along, somewhere around the 3 mile mark, we crossed a walking bridge over the river to the east bank. On our way back, the first church we came to was Yilanli Church (Serpent Church).
Nearing the staircase on the opposite bank, we crossed back over the river and then visited what must be the most popular church in the Valley because of its intact frescoes, the Ağaçaltı Church.
But the highlight of our time in the Ihlara Valley occurred after we hiked back up the steps to our car and started to drive back to Göreme. It was time to bring the cows home for the night.
We first encountered this pair, trotting along like they owned the road.
But they were soon followed by the rest of the herd…
…all kept in line by an authentic Turkish cowgirl.
This isn’t anything we’d see in South Florida and now there was no doubt we weren’t in the American Southwest, either. Holy cow!