The people who adopted to live a lonely life of seclusion as hermits, formed an important social group despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the churches and monasteries. These people didn’t even work to meet their basic needs; they received the basic necessities from the people and the monasteries that respected them.
By the end of the 2nd century a large Christian community had formed in Cappadocia. It is known that there were two bishoprics at that time; one in Kayseri, which, for a long time, continued to be a Christian center in the region and the other in Malatya.
In the 3rd century, priests with good character changed the region into a lively centre of Christian activity. In the 4th century Cappadocia became known as the land of the three saints; The Great St. Basil (329-379), Bishop of Kayseri; his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa,(335-394) and St. George of Nazianus (329-394). These three saints are the main reasons for Cappadocia to be a Christian Center after 4th century.
The one nave barrel vaulted plan common for Goreme Open Air Museum’s churches was the most convenient architectural style for the religious communities and those living in seclusion in the area. These buildings were also seen as very suitable areas for graves and there are many graves next to or inside the churches in the museum.
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Nunnery and Monastery
The nunnery and monastery sections are one the left and right hand-sides of the museum. The nuns and monks living in Goreme Open Air Museum were staying in these sections. Just like the underground cities, the nunnery and monastery sections have dining halls, kitchens, living and sleeping rooms, storage parts and churches for the nuns and monks.
Saint Basil Chapel
Saint Basil Chapel is located right next to the nunnery and the first church that you can visit in Goreme Open Air Museum. The chapel is dating back to 11th century and has some graves inside the church. The church is quite simple compared to the other churches inside the museum.
On the main apse is a portrait of Jesus, and next to this is a portrait of The Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. On the north wall is picture of St. Theodore, while St. George fighting with the dragon are featured on the south wall. The paintings of St Basil and two famale saints can also be seen in this church.
Apple Church (Elmali Church)
Apple church, featuring four columns, nine domes and three apses, is of the closed cruciform type. The original decorations in this church consist of geometrical designs and crosses painted in red ochre directly onto the rock. The frescoes that are seen on the church now has been dated back to the mid 11th century and the beginning of the 12th century.
There is a figure of Jesus Pantokrator in the central dome. There are lots of frescoes from the life of Jesus and from the Bible as: Deesis, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Baptism, Raising of Lazarus, Transfiguration, Entry into Jerusalem, Last Supper, Betrayal of Judas, Way of the Cross, Crucifixion, Entombment, Anastasis, Women at the Tomb, Ascension, the Hospitality of Abraham and Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace.
Saint Barbara Chapel
Saint Barbara Chapel is probably the most attractive church in the Goreme Open Air Museum. This church always surprises the visitors with all the different varieties of religious and absurd figures. The dome which is situated over the two oriental coloumns and the cruciform plan of the church shows the traditional style of the 11th century.
The hard to understand composition of the church is beyond the simplicity of its architecture. It is more like the absurd style of the iconoclassic period. It is thought that the cross figures on the sides of the small niches, which are surrounded by decorated triangles, represent Jesus and the holy bible.
The 3 figures of triangular shaped trees and the heads of the lances are very hard to explain. It is still not known whether they are described in the “Deesis” (Jesus situated between the virgin Mary and John the Baptist ) or ” Transfiguration” (Jesus situated between Moses and Elijah ).
Snake Church (Saint Onuphrius Church)
The entrance to Snake church is from the north and portraits of the respected saints of Cappadocia are on either side of the vault. The church dates back to the 11th century.
Opposite the entrance is a portrait of Jesus holding the Bible in his left hand. The donor of the church is pictured beside Jesus. On the east side of the vault are St.Onesimus, St. George fighting with the Dragon, St. Theodore, and Helena holding the True Cross with her son Constantine the Great. On the west of the vault is the long haired, naked St. Onuphrius behind a palm tree, with St. Thomas in a sanctifying position beside him, and St. Basil holding a book.
Dark Church is the best protected church in Cappadocia region. It is called as the Dark Church because it gets very little light from the window in the narthex, and for this reason the colours are still very bright. This church is dating back to the end of the l2th and the beginning of the l3th centuries. There are many frescoes from The Bible such as: Deesis, Annunciation, Journey to Bethlehem, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Baptism, Raising of Lazarus, Transfiguration, Entry into Jerusalem, Last Supper, Betrayal of Judas, Crucifixion, Anastasis, Women at the Tomb, Ascension,the Hospitality of the Prophet Abraham, Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace and portraits of the saints.
Carikli Church (Sandals Church)
Carikli Church is built on two floors. At the bottom floor there is a refectory with a niche at the edge of it where the Last Supper was drawn into it.
At the main dome, the figure of Jesus the Pantocrator with the busts of angels in the insets are seen. Below this there are the four authors of the bible (Matthew, Luke, John and Mark) figures. Three of the angels (Michael, Gabriel and Uriel) figures are drawn in the other three domes. In the middle dome where the Angel Gabriel is seen, there are scenes of Jesus heading to Golgota and the raising of Lazarus. In the central apse, a well preserved figure of the Deesis is seen. The words ” I am the light of the world, who follows me will not be left in the dark” are seen in the figure of Jesus in which he is depicted holding an open book. Around the altar, the figures of Blaise, Gregory of Nazianus, Basil, Chrysostom and Hypatios are drawn. Even though the scenes are damaged intentionally, the physical appearance of them fits the iconography of the 12th and 13th century.
Tokali Church (Buckle Church)
Tokali Church is one of the oldest known rock-cut churches in Cappadocia region, and divides into four sections: The Old Church; the New Church; the Lower Church; and the Parecclesion.
The frescoes in the Old Church, painted in the 10th century, has the entire life of Jesus in chronological order. The life of Jesus is told on separate panels on the vault, running from left to right as: Annunciation, Visitation, Proof of the Virgin, Journey to Bethlehem and Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Massacre of the Innocents, Flight into Egypt, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Killing of Zacharias, Pursuit of Elizabeth, Calling of St. John the Baptist, Preaching of John, John meeting Jesus, Baptism, Marriage at Cana, Miracle of the Wine, Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Calling of the Apostles, Healing of the Blind Man, Raising o Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem, Last supper Betrayal, Jesus before Pilate, Way of the Cross, Crucifixion, Descent from the Cross, Entombment, Women at the Tomb Anastasis, Ascension. Most of the scientists are thinking that this section of the church was used as a school for the children.
The New Church is the only church in Cappadocia where you can see the dark blue color in frescoes which is coming from Lapis Lazuli stone. The Church is dating back to last decade of the 10th century and the first decade of the 11th century. Like in the old church, there are lots of frescoes from the life of Jesus in more modern way.