Along with a beautifully bizarre landscape, Cappadocia has an abundance of rock churches. These are places of worship that were carved into the crumbly volcanic rock of the region and many date back for centuries. In the Göreme region, there are many scattered in the various valleys surrounding the town. All it takes is a hike or two in order to find them. But if you’re not up for a hike, there is one rock church that is only about a 20 minute walk from Göreme centre, on your way to the Göreme Open Air Museum: El Nazar.
Walking towards the Open Air Museum, the right hand turn off for the church is about ¾ of the way there. Then it is about a 5-10 minute walk on a quiet path – there are several branches on this main path for other hikes but stick to the main one for El Nazar. The walk is lovely, quiet, and generally people-less. The views can be pretty gorgeous as the walk is through volcanic rock, trees, and scrubby vineyards. It is pretty obvious when you’ve reached El Nazar – the structure is shaped like a wide cone or a tent that sticks right up into the blue sky. Also, there is a sign.
When I first arrived at the church, the door was closed but up a little ways to the right, there was another cave where an older man hangs out. No, he isn’t a reincarnation of John the Baptist. He has set up the cave with as many amenities as he can fit, including tea making capabilities, and this is where he sells the tickets to El Nazar for 5TL. It sounds sketchy but it isn’t – you do get an official Ministry of Culture and Tourism entry ticket in exchange for your money. Once I got mine, the man walked me over to the 10th century church and unlocked the door. After telling me to take as long as wished but “No photos!”, he left. I guess he was just the gatekeeper, not a guide as well. Which was fine with me as being left alone meant I could take the photos I wanted. Kind of anyway – I didn’t use flash as light eventually destroys frescoes and I didn’t want that on my conscience (taking forbidden photos, that’s another thing all together).
Frescoes in these rock churches were very important in the days they were created. Most people couldn’t read so one way to pass on biblical stories was through pictures. The ones at El Nazar depict various scenes including the Annunciation, the Nativity, the raising of Lazarus, crucifixion, ascension, and several others. They aren’t in the best condition because of light, elements, and people over time who used the paintings as target practice. But they are still a beautiful part of history and it was pretty cool to realize that 10 centuries worth of people before me admired these same works of art in this random little rock church of Cappadocia.