Continuing the series of looking in depth at the sights we saw on our van tour around Cappadocia. The main destination of the tour route we picked was Ihlara valley. It is a long winding gorge south-east of Goreme about an hour and our next stop after leaving Derinkuyu Underground City. The gorge is made of the same soft volcanic rock found throughout the region and is home to a number of early Christian churches carved into the walls.
Sticks and Stones
The valley sides are very rocky and yet the base was green in places, in contrast to much of the rest of the region we saw. Where the river bends sharply, the rock walls pointed up to the sky and very definitely reminded me of pictures I have seen of the American west. The rock is even reddish just like I imagine Utah to be.
Ok, those are not very green trees, but it was spring and those specific ones hadn’t starts budding yet. There were other sections with lushness.
This next photo is my favorite of the gorge. I mentioned before that I like fantasy novels. Travel has been a great inspiration for the fantasy part of my brain. Quite often the stories range through different harrowing landscapes that echo the character’s journey always with some foreshadowing of things to come. This picture just represents that in spades for me. The deep gorge with its river and steep sides and the dark peak in the background (ignore the manicured path for more harrow). Especially as I do not read Turkish, even the name, Ihlara, is fantasy-like to my native English ears.
A Gorge-ous Walk
All the signs called it Ihlara Valley, but really it is more of a canyon. The river ran at the bottom of a steep sided channel that meandered in the shape of that river. This whole thing was dug down into the landscape that was flat for miles around. Apparently this was due to volcanic movements in the area.
See I told you there was green about. At this point of the season, mainly just the low growing ferns, but given the number of trees around, I can well imagine this place being very lush in its season. More caves dotted the sides of the valley as well. This area was the home of many people in its history. Plentiful water along the river and protection in the cliffs made it an ideal home including early Christians.
The main sight to see at the beginning of the walk is a cave church called Ağaçaltı Church (Church under a tree). Due to the lack of light and some other factors I just don’t remember from our guide, the frescoes that had been painted on the walls of the cave had survived.
The space isn’t very big. The main room was only a few meters in diameter with a few side caves, though in the form of a cross. Standing in the middle of the cave church and staring up into the round rock roof to see paintings of Jesus and angels that are a thousand years old was amazing. The motifs remind me of similar things in the Hagia Sophia.
Here is a movable view to see the entire church.
The path is not very smooth and definitely not handicap friendly. In places we were stepping over tree roots and ducking under or around rocks. As with the other sites associated with the van tour, entrance to the park which encompasses the valley was a part of the tour.
We didn’t walk the entire thing. The Ihlara Valley is pretty long as seen from the map. We walked a stretch in the middle between the marks, so from Agacalti to Belisirma. The walk took about an hour once we finished going through the church and included a stop half way. The half way stop was a ring of trees and a few outhouse style bathrooms. There was a guy selling snacks and water at fairly reasonable prices considering it is really the middle of nowhere.
As we were looking at the various companies comparing tours (before we decided that they are pretty much identical) we noticed different tours mentioned different lengths of walk in the valley. As far as we saw on the day of the tour though, there really were only two entrance/exit points along the stretch, so unless you are coming back out the way you came in at one point, you are walking that whole 3.7Kilometers. Not a big deal, but we expected it to be a 1Km walk and it felt a bit like we were marching into nowhere.
Lunch was at the other end of our walk at a restaurant on the river. The covered porch was nicely breezy after the hot walk. Yet again we were together with the rest of the tour vans of the day. This is their normal lunch spot.
The menu choices were limited to only a few (chicken, vegetarian and maybe fish, though I don’t really remember). They served plenty of nice fluffy bread with several dipping options. I picked chicken and was pretty happy with it. Considering the meal was included as part of the tour and this place obviously makes it all en masse, the meal was pretty tasty. Really similar to an Iskender doner in that it was meat in tomato sauce and rice all cooked together.
Look I was being a good blogger and took pictures of my food before starting in on it.
Onward from the Ihlara Valley
After lunch, we piled back into our van to head to Selime Monastery. Selime village is actually at the end of the valley and we could potentially have walked, but the van was nice after a filling lunch. The other nice part was getting to stop at the random meeting of two roads. We got a few minutes to click pictures of the snowcapped peaks across the yet unplanted fields.
I’ve been hunting the names of these since the trip. The best i can come up with is Mount Hasan and Mount Melendiz as nearby volcanoes. Whatever they are called, I really liked the way the clouds moved around them. As much as the van tour was pretty convenient, this is where I wish we had our own transport to go explore the little villages like that.