Cappadocia's other open air museum

zel1Midway between Çavuşin and Avanos a side turning leads three km through the cluster of fairy chimneys that is Paşabağ to Zelve where three now empty valleys were one of Cappadocia's true troglodytic settlements until rockfalls caused the authorities to relocate the inhabitants to Yeni Zelve (New Zelve) in 1952.

There is a clear and well-labelled route around the site that makes sure that you will see not just the rock-cut churches but also the old seten (mill), the güvercinlik (pigeonhouses), the şaraphane (winery) and the ahır (stable).

Unfortunately the soaring rockfaces that hem in the valleys are still unstable, as an enormous and recently fallen pile of stones attests. For the time being visitors cannot go inside what used to be a dark and scary tunnel that finally emerged on a ledge with a steep drop down into the adjacent valley.

For those keen on seeing some of Cappadocia’s famous rock-cut churches, Zelve offers the Balıklı ve Üzümlü Kilise (Church of the Fish and Grapes) in the first valley and easily recognizable by the damaged frescoes of angels over its entrance. Inside the grapes look suspiciously like giant strawberries, and the fish keep a very low profile.zel2

The same cannot be said of the prominent carved and painted crosses on the walls of the Kutsal Haç Kilisesi (Holy Cross Church) in the second valley. Finally, in the third valley the Direkli Kilise (Columned Church) has largely collapsed so that it looks more like a cave than a church.

The third valley was once home to the village square overlooked by a series of soaring rock-cut niches, one of which may have housed a monastery. Facing them is a small mosque, partially carved out of the rock and partly built of stone. Its simple minaret mimics a design to be seen elsewhere in Cappadocia.

For children, Zelve will seem like one giant adventure playground with endless holes to pop in and out of and lots of space in which to run around although parents will need to keep a close eye on them.

The clues to an all but lost way of life at Zelve may be intriguing, but many people will probably come away with just as vivid a memory of the site’s peaceful beauty with knobbly rock formations topping the steep sides of the valleys and great views opening out towards Avanos from on high.

zel3Rare example of a rock-cut mihrab in Zelve mosqueTransport info

The two-hourly bus services between Avanos, Göreme and Ürgüp pass through Zelve. Two hours should be long enough to explore the site thoroughly. 

On the way to or from Zelve you can also visit the dramatic fairy chineys at nearby Paşabağ.



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