Zelve Open Air Museum
The Zelve Valley, now known as the Zelve Open Air Museum, is among the earliest-settled and last-abandoned monastic valleys in Cappadocia.
Its churches are not as many or as impressive as those at the more famous Goreme Open Air Museum but Zelve has its own attractions: the topography is even more dramatic, with crags and pinnacles and steep valleys, and there's more freedom to climb around and look at all the caves, nooks and crannies.
The best thing that Zelve offers that Goreme does not is the valleys; three valleys, of which two are connected by a tunnel, of abandoned homes and churches converge. Unlike Goreme, contained in a relatively small area, Zelve is a meandering 1,5 kilometres of sightseeing. It was a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th century where Christians moved during the Persian and Arab invasions, and although Zelve doesn't have as many impressive painted churches as the Goreme Open-Air Museum, its sinewy valley walls with rock antennae that are wonderfully picturesque places for poking around.
The complex contains innumerable rooms and passages which also house many pointed fairy chimneys with large stems, at about 12 m (40 feet) above the valley floor. Cappadocia's first seminaries to train priests were located here at the monastery. Dating back to the early years of monastery life in Zelve is the Direkli Church (Columned Church). Direkli Church is located at the bottom of the slope. The main decorations are iconoclastic-doctrine high relief crosses and no ornaments except a few red patterns. The valley also contains the Balikli Kilise (Fish Church), Uzumlu Kilise (Grapes Church) churches and the now totally collapsed Geyikli Kilise (Deer Church). These churches date to the pre-Iconoclastic period.
Zelve was until 1952 a living community where ordinary people went about their daily life, grinding bulgur at the seten (mill), pressing grapes for pekmez (molasses) in the şaraphane (winery), rearing pigeons for their fertilizing manure in the güvercinliks (pigeon houses) and bedding their animals down for the night in the cave-cut ahırs (stables). In that sense it was always a very different place from what is now the Göreme Open-Air Museum, which was a religious settlement inhabited by Byzantine monks and nuns, and was only unofficially lived in in later years after the population moved down the road to what eventually became Goreme Village.
The Christians and Muslims lived here together in perfect harmony until 1924 when the Christians had to leave as a result of the exchange of minorities between Greece and Turkey.
Now old Zelve is a ghost town and the erosion still continues. The three valleys in the Zelve open air museum offer a heaven for the rock climbers. It takes at least two hours for a good trekker to walk through these valleys, which also house the oldest examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings.
We recommend starting to explore this amazing place by visiting the first valley on the right taking the stamps in the second valley, then turning right. While walking along the path, you will see on the right some paintings on the surface of the rock. These frescoes are what remain from the now totally collapsed Geyikli Kilise (the Church with the Deer) and afford examples of the oldest paintings displaying the principal religious symbols of Christianity, like the Cross, the deer and the fish. On entering the first valley you will see a rock-cut mosque on the left, with a lovely minaret. You will then notice a monastery complex on the right resembling an upside down bowl cut of the rock. Immediately opposite, there is a rock-cut complex accessible by a metal ladder and connected to the second valley by a long, cave tunnel.
An excellent walking trail loops around the valleys allowing access to the various caverns, although erosion continues to eat into the valley structures and certain areas are cordoned off due to rock falls.