Deep wall quite water

Early Christians have constructed their rock houses and temples by carving the tufes in the valley of Ihlara through the valley runs the Melendiz riverlet. The waters of the riverlet named Ihlara as Peristrema meaning "The people of circulating waters".

To search the source of the water in Ihlara is infact trying to reveal the meaning of life. The waters coming from a spring called 40 Goz penetrate Ihlara town from this dark point, then making love with Melendiz riverlet, it is distributed to the fountains. Stiff and immortal rocks, softly flowing mysterious waters flutterly surging into Tuz lake. While reaching the valley from the south, you'll come across Ihlara town which lies within the boundries of Aksaray, Guzelyurt. It is also accessible from north encountering the village of Selime. We will do both ways and get down to the heart of the 14 km Long canyon.

We first choose the southern entrance to explore the nature. Our route passes through Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities and totals to 82 kilometers. Along this line Gore is the first settlement attracting attentions. Dwellings perched on a rock like a mouth lost most of its teeth and on the hills old houses deserted by the Anatolian Greek inhahitants during the population exchange. New Gore is at breakfast table with hrick red roofs and pastel colour wash painted houses. We descend towards underground city, Kaymakll where everything is flat, nothing vertical you can see around. And a few kilometers to Aksaray, we say the first hello to 3268 m. high Mt. Hasan standing in front of us with its icy cream on the top. Ihlara must he Iying at its foot like a slave whose captivity is over yet cannot give up obeying him. It's covered with the molten rock thrown out at the time of eruption, mostly andisit and basalt.

While the lava was cooling cracks appeared and much of the surface collapsed, creating canyons later enlarged hy natural erosion. And then the wind and the rain together with Melendiz riverlet running through the valley had facilitated a faster erosion by carving the layers and embroidering the heart of the canyon. The waters of Melendiz meet the squirting spring of 40 Goz and runs from the fountains of the village. We pass by a poplar grove and then embracing sheer rocks reach a cave. Deep down on hlack walls and through emerald moss, bleeds out the crystal clear waters.

The old people living around here obviously had got the benefits from the medical school practices established between Belisirma and Yaprakhisar. It is said that even mummification was practiced there. The school was later moved to Aksaray by King Kilicarslan II upon his taking of the city. Then we arrive at the omcial and touristic entry point to the valley. Down the valley a combination of nature, history and culture is expecting us to pay a visit. Let's have a short look at the history of Ihlara valley!

Ihlara with its administrative links to Aksaray has always heen a inherent part of the historical and cultural developments in Cappadocia. Hittites who established themselves a sovereign people started to setup underground cities and rock dwellings. Then Frig occupation of Anatolia follows Hittite sovereignty. Some time after Aksaray was rebuilt by King Archelaos. Then Kingdom of Cappadocia which had maintained a good relationship with Romans, became a province under the control of Tiherius. It was from this point that the effects of Roman culture was felt. After the acceptance of Christianity as religion, the churches which had heen carved from the volcanic rock for defensive purposes began to show themselves. After then it hecame an important religious center. According to written sources rock houses have heen occupied since 11th cc until 1950's.

According to Prof.Dr. Semavi Eyice, an art historian, the first person who has made a detailed study on rock churches of Cappadocia was a missionary priest Guillaume de Jerphanion who was sent Tokat for the purpose of converting Armenians to Catholicism. He released his studies hetween the years 1909-1910 upon a warning of a monk for the subject of churches. At those times spreading Christianity was hindered by inability to read written work, low literacy level and existence of national groupings. This proved that the spread of faith was no easy task which led to stress being placed on more visual methods. As such the churches were adorned with scenes from the life of Christ, Biblical subjects and important religious figures and these were given Fiority in terms of their position in the churches. After the defeat of Iconoclasm in AD 843 the churches began to be covered with works of Byzantine art and a trend which continued until the 13th c.c. in Ihlara Valley. 12 of the important churches open for a visit are Agacalti, Purenliseki, Kokar, Egritas, Karanlikkale, Yilanli, Sumbullu and Karagedik churches which are close to the offlcial entrance. Others, KlrWamalh, Bahattin's strawrick, Direkli and Ala churches are situated around Belisirma village. At a 10 meters distance to the ground of the valley where the depth reaches 110 meters at some points, we visit the first church, Agacalti. It is known that the church had 3 levels however, a series of collapses have resulted in only one level being accessible. Prior to the building of the stairs, people wishing to enter the church used to climb down the tree which stood over the church. Because of this local people dubbed the church ''Agacalti'' we watch a series of painting in the church: Ascension of Christ and Mary's death.

Then get down to the shores of the 14 km long valley. Take off your sun glasses to wander among the greenery of tree made shadows on the water. Then we reach Yilanli church crossing a fabulous wooden bridge and ascending concrete stairs of 89 steps leading to the church. On the west wall you find 4 female sinners covered with snakes. The first woman is being bitten by 8 snakes, the second woman is again being attacked, 2 snakes fixed to her nipples. According to what the professor of architecture history Spiro Kostof wrote in his book "Caves of God" the second woman is being punished for refusing to breastfeed her young. The third woman is being punished for her slander and the 4th for failing to heed advice, both are punished with the bites of snakes. Then passing under the wooden bridge laying under the stairs, we come across Sumbullu Church which has 2 levels, the first of which wa.s a place of worship and the other living quarters. Around the church are hundreds of hyancinths and these give the church its name. Our last stop is Direkli church dating back to 11th cc. The church has a central dome and altars. It is cross-shaped and is supported by 6 pillars which give the church its name. It is the inscriptions in the church that indicate it was built in 11th cc. The frescoes of the building have been extensively damaged and only in the church section there remain pictures which were scraped by the enemies of culture. To the left of the small viewing holes you find a picture of St. George shown fighting a 3-headed dragon.

Then we will reach Ihlara by the way of Northern route, over Acigol and through Selime village we pass by Tepesidelik inn and 6 kilometers later have a rest in Agzikara inn which is a trace of Seljuks. Its construction had started in 1231 during Alaaddin Keykubat's ruling and also named as Hoca Mesut caravansary. At the end point of canyon on the top of a hill rising between Selime and Yaprakhisar villages, you may take photographs of "masa" mount which has a flat summit.

Yaprakhisar, sheltering 180 houses had taken its name from the mountain just behind the village. The caves turned into houses by bonding stones at the open front side are protected and their demolishing is forbidden. We set out for Belisirma and proceed through lengthy poplars, stonewalls, gross and flowing waters. We have 8 kilometers to the lively waters of Ihlara where the stream twists 25 or 30 times. We are following a route against the flowing direction of Melendiz to reach Belisirma after 3 kilometers. Steep slopes hold churches and monastries, monk chamhers, cellars and multistorey cave houses. The entrances of some of the caves are so tightly blocked with stones that even the slimest existence can't seep in. As soon as we arrive Belisirma crossing a wooden bridge reach a village restaurant and appease our hunger. Then we visit Kirkdamalti Church which was built in 13th cc. during Seljuk sovereignty. The most interesting scene in the church is Tamara's painting who built the church and dedicated to St. George.

Source: ATLAS Travel Magazine
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Melih Özbek