Cappadocia’s most important archaeological site

sah2Old name: Soveşe

Şahinefendi is a remote village in southern Cappadocia which most tourists whisk through en route to Soğanlı, pausing only to admire the dramatic desert-like scenery to the right of the road.

There is one very good reason to stop though and that it is to visit the ruins of Roman Sobesos, accessible via a turn-off to the left immediately after the start of the village. Hidden away amid the fairy chimney on the other side of the main road is the fine frescoed Church of the Forty Martyrs.

The heart of old Şahinefendi is also to the left if you press on up hill to the main road junction. There's a mosque, a small shop, a post office, a tea-house - and that's about it.

As for the large new houses that line the main road they are evidence of a wealth that has come to Şahinefendi largely as the result of the cold storage facilities for potatoes and other produce - look out for the doors leading into these rock-cut facilities beside the road as you head on towards Soğanlı.


In 2002 treasure-hunters working the fields around Şahinefendi uncovered the first signs of what turned out to be the Roman city of Sobesos. Today you can see the excavated remains of a fourth-century Roman bathhouse with much of its hypocaust (in-floor heating system) still in place; a mosaic depicting a pair of sandals was uncovered in one of the entrances.

A corrugated-iron roof protects a series of mosaic pavements with geometric patterns on top of which the Byzantines built a small basilican church in the sixth century. 

Ongoing excavations are expected to turn up a great deal more of what must once have been a sizeable settlement.

sah1Church of the Forty Martyrs

Amid the rocks to the right of the main road lurks a rock-cut frescoed church commemorating the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia (Sivas) who were supposedly left to freeze to death naked on a lake in winter. It is believed to date back to 1216.

In 2012 the magnificent frescoes were comprehensively restored by Italians so that in theory the church is ready for viewing again. In 2014 it was still something of a struggle to get it opened for an independent visitor and when it was no photography was permitted.

The church is quite small and consists of two aisles, each with an apsidal end to it. The columns that must have separated the aisles have been lost and replaced in concrete. Later use of the building means that the frescoes have been cut through in a few places although in general they're in an excellent state of repair. The main body of the church is now accessed up a few internal stairs.sah4

The most impressive images are of the forty martyrs lined up on the lake in nothing but loincloths painted on the barrel vault of the north aisle; each has been given individual features and a distinctive hairstyle. On the wall at the western end of the north aisle we can see the one man who recanted his faith to save his life as well as the guard who took his place on the lake pulling his fine garments over his head. 

The Crucifuxion scene on the noxrth wall of the north aisle is mostly lost but a fine Annunciation and Nativity survive on the south wall of the south aisle. Note in particular the cute little sheep and one black goat accompanying the shepherds in their field. 

Behind the church, the blind-arcade-adorned facade of a rock-cut monastery is also visible and reachable with a bit of clambering (I managed to miss its church, apparently only accessible via a window). Above it soars a vast rock formation whose base is ringed with fairy chimneys and other conical rocks, some of them once inhabited. 


There are no places to stay in Şahinefendi. The nearest towns with plenty of beds are Mustafapaşa and Ürgüp although there's also one small pension in Soğanlı.

Transport info

It is impossible to get to Şahinefendi and back to the main population centres of Cappadocia in one day using public transport. This is an excursion that is best done by private car.

Read more about a day trip to Sahinefendi: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnistDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=118258

Read more about the place name: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist/pat-yale_318482_as-the-romans-said.html


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