Goreme Open Air Museum, Cappadocia
Cappadocia's most famous attraction, for good reason, is the Goreme Open Air Museum, a complex of several painted cave-churches carved out by Orthodox monks between 900 and 1200 AD.
The Open Air Museum is located in Turkey's Goreme Valley, a 15-minute walk (1.5 km/1 mile) from Goreme and a short ride (6.5 km, 4 miles) from Urgup.
What to See
There are at least 10 churches and chapels in the museum area, each one named for a prominent attribute by the local villagers who were exploring these caves long before there was an entrance fee. The best way to approach the site is to begin in a counterclockwise direction towards a clearly marked path.
The paintings and decoration represent a flowering of a uniquely Cappadocian artistic style. During the Iconoclastic period, many of the frescoes and paintings were damaged, while the eyes of the images were scratched out by the local Turkish population superstitious of the "evil eye."
The Byzantine architectural features of the churches, such as arches, columns, and capitals, are interesting in that none of them is structurally necessary.
Past a small rock tower or Monks' Convent is the Church of St. Basil, whose entrance is hollowed out with niches for small graves. This is a common feature of Cappadocian churches and it's still not uncommon to reach down and come up with a knuckle bone every now and again in the more remote valleys. Another recurring theme in Cappadocian churches is the image of St. George slaying the dragon. St. George was considered a local hero, as local lore equated the dragon with a monster on the summit of Mount Erciyes. The church is decorated with scenes of Christ, with St. Basil and St. Theodore depicted on the north wall.
The Apple Church (Elmali Kilise) is one of the smaller churches in the area, carved in the sign of a Greek cross with four irregular pillars supporting a central dome. The church was restored in 1991, but the frescoes continue to chip off, revealing a layer of earlier paintings underneath. Paintings depict scenes of the saints, bishops, and martyrs, and to the right of the altar, a Last Supper with the symbolic fish (the letters of the word fish in Greek stand for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Savior"). The name of the church is believed to refer to a reddish orb in the left hand of the Archangel Michael in the dome of the main apse, although there's also speculation that there used to be an apple tree at the entrance to the church.
Santa Barbara was an Egyptian saint imprisoned by her father to protect her from the influences of Christianity. When she nevertheless found a way to practice her faith, her father tortured and killed her. The Church of Santa Barbara, probably built as a tribute, is a cross-domed church with three apses, with mostly crudely painted geometrical patterns in red ochre believed to be symbolic in nature. The wall with the large locust probably represents evil, warded off by the protection of two adjacent crosses. The repetitive line of bricks above the rooster in the upper right-hand corner, symbolically warding off the evil influences of the devil, represents the Church.
The Snake Church is a simple barrel-vaulted church with a low ceiling and long nave. One fresco represents Saints Theodore and George slaying the dragon (looking suspiciously like a snake), with Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena depicted holding the "True Cross." Legend has it that she discovered the cross upon which Jesus was crucified after seeing it in a dream, and that a piece of the cross is still buried in the foundations of the Ayasofya in Istanbul. Other sections of the cross are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and in St. Peter's in Rome. Another interesting portrait is the one of St. Onuphrius on the upper wall to the right of the entrance. The saint, a popular subject in medieval art, lived the life of a hermit in the Egyptian desert near Thebes and is usually depicted with a long gray beard and a fig leaf over his privates.