Saturday, October 18, 2014

Göreme Open Air Museum.


We saved the best for last! Today, we visited what I would consider as the pièce de résistance of the cultural landmarks in Cappadocia - the Göreme Open Air Museum.


Before we headed out to the museum, we did have to take care of one administrative task first.  Tomorrow, we're leaving for Istanbul and we need to find transportation to the airport.  I guess we could have arranged it through the hotel but I decided we could just check out the options at the bus station in Göreme.  From our hotel, it's probably no more than a 10 minute walk to the bus station.  Last time I was here, it was to take the overnight bus to the seaside town of Fethiye.  Back then, the bus left at 7pm.   Today, you can still take the same bus! I also used to come here to use the ATM.   There's a row of them across from all the travel agencies.  I know this place well :-)

For our ride to the airport, I had in mind taking a shuttle bus of some sort.  When we got to the bus station, Bro immediately headed for the taxi stand to find out the cost of a taxi.  We only talked with one guy and he wanted 280 lira which comes to around $60.  No way!   I pointed Bro in the direction of the travel agencies and there were two offering shuttle service to the airport. The first place was open but no one inside. 


There was a person inside the second agency we stepped in to.  He wanted 25TL per person for the ride.  Deal!  We paid our cash and got our receipt.

With that one administrative task out of the way, we could now enjoy the rest of our day.  It's our last day here so we need to make the most of it!

Although we could have easily walked to the Göreme Open Air Museum from here - it's only about a kilometer away, Bro wanted to drive.  So, we headed back to the hotel and grabbed the car and drove the short distance to the museum.  Bro has quickly figured out that in Turkey, as in Greece, you can pretty much park your car anywhere as long as you don't block anyone.  In the short time we've been here, he's gotten to be quite a pro at finding suitable parking spaces!


Not surprisingly, the museum is an extremely popular tourist attraction.  I think it's the first place that most tours take you to.  The place was already teeming with tourists when we arrived.  Our museum pass covered our entry fee so that was taken care of.  Having been here before, I knew enough about the place to appreciate it.  But, since this was Bro's first visit, I knew it would benefit him if he rented the headsets and did the audio tour - an especially good deal for 15TL.


It didn't take much to convince him.  With gear in hand, he followed me past the entry turnstiles.

The Göreme Open Air Museum encompasses an area where one can visit the finest of the rock cut churches that exist in all of Cappadocia.  In all, there are eleven churches within the Museum; most were *built* in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.

On my first visit here in 2008, what I remember most were the frescoes inside many of the churches.  The colors were as vibrant today as they were when they were originally painted; they were stunning works of art.

Unfortunately, some things have changed here.  For one thing, the place is mobbed, absolutely mobbed with tourists!  When Lei and I were here, there were so few people around us, it felt like we had the place all to ourselves.  Now, with the mobs of tourists, they actually limit the time you can spend inside each church.

The other thing that has changed is that photography is no longer allowed!  Bummer.  When I came in 2008, I had just bought my Nikon dSLR camera.  I was truly a dSLR novice so the pictures I took didn't come out all that well (fuzzy) mainly because I had yet to really know how to physically position myself so I could take photos in dim light and have them come out well focused.  I was hoping to get better pictures this time around but that was not to be.  So, as bad as they were, I am now grateful that I have photos from 2008 to look back on.



As you enter the museum grounds, the first place you see is a free standing fairy chimney that houses the Nunnery which is a 6-7 story tall structure. A chain link prevented us from entering but apparently, you can usually go inside to see the dining hall, kitchen and some rooms on the first floor and the ruins of a chapel on the second floor.  The church is situated on the third floor. The different levels of the monastery are connected by tunnels.


From the Nunnery, we followed the path to make our way around the complex of churches.



A valley runs alongside the Museum.  There were more rock structures, including dovecotes, on the opposing hillside.


A tunnels provided a short cut from one church back to the main path.  Bro is big proponent of taking the shorter route!


The path wound its way up the hill to the area where most of the churches are located.


From there, we had a nice view of the Museum grounds below. 


Bro was listening to his audio guide and so we used that as our guide as to where to go.  I followed him from one church to another.  When we stood inside, he would listen first and then pass the headphones to me so we both got to learn about the space we were standing in.


I enjoyed the view of the grounds as much as I enjoyed the interiors of the churches.



For some of the churches, it was so crowded that you had to line up to go inside..  Sometimes, there was even a bit of a wait.   It was crazy.


We made our way around St. Barbara Church,  Elmali Kilise (Apple Church) and Yilanli Kilise (Snake Church).  There are signs in front of each church that describe it so you have some idea of what you're walking into.  Luckily, with the audio tour, we also got descriptions of the interior.

Most of the churches are very modestly decorated - a few frescoes here and there, some in good condition but most were either defaced or in poor condition.  Then, came Carikli Kilise (Sandals Church).  For most visitors, this church is their first view of a church decorated with magnificent fresoces.  You really do gasp in awe when you enter and look all around.  Here are some photos of the interior of Sandals Church that I took back in 2008.  Imagine a small room with walls and ceilings fully covered in frescoes and than admire that the colors are so vibrant.  How stunning!





We left the best of the best to the last - the church that is  considered to be the most magnificent church in the Museum - the  Dark Church (Karanlik Kilise).  A separate entry fee is required but it was included in our museum pass so we got in without having to pay extra.  I didn't see too many people entering and I told Bro I suspected that most of the tour groups don't include this church in their itinerary because of the extra charge.  Too bad really because they miss out on one spectacular place!

 I took several shots of the exterior before entering. You can see how the monks made the exterior look like it had church windows and doors just as a manmade built church would have!




Over the centuries, many of the frescoes have been sadly defaced.


You can see the roughly hewn steps inside.


Again, no photos of the interior were allowed so what follows are photos I took on my visit in 2008.  Such glorious artwork! 






We weren't inside the Dark Church for long.  Even though there was a time limit, the entry fee really had kept the crowds away.  Aside from Bro and I, there were only two other people admiring the interior.  Back outside, we stepped in to sunshine.  The clouds that had covered us all morning long had gone and we were gazing up at a bright blue sky; it was going to be another spectacular autumn day in Cappadocia!



From the Dark Church, we headed back towards the entrance.  We had seen all the churches but one - Tokalı Kilise (Buckle Church).  It was on the list of churches to see but for some reason, we never came across a sign for it. 



By the time we exited the Museum, it was late morning.  The tourist horde was just arriving!  I'm so glad we left when we did!


As we walked back towards the car, we saw people streaming inside a door, carved into the hillside.  We were curious so as we past them, we glanced at the sign - it was the description for Tokalı Kilise (Buckle Church)!  We joined the throng of people heading inside.  The entry fee is included in the price of the ticket for the Göreme Open Air Museum.  The interior is amazing!  I am so bummed out that photos are not allowed and unfortunately, neither Lei or I were aware of this church when we visited in 2008 so I have no photos of my own to post up.  But, this church is so stunning, I just have to post up a photo.  It's definitely the largest interior of all the churches, with its four rooms and vaulted ceiling. Unfortunately, we had returned the headphones so we really didn't learn anything about this church.  I have some reading to do when I get home.

Interior of Tokalı Kilise (Photo by Olle Edqvist)

We're done with seeing rock churches.  Besides, it's much too beautiful a day to be inside so we're going to take in a bit more of Mother Nature's work.  Off to the White Valley!