Goreme Open Air Museum
The Göreme Open Air Museum is the crown jewel of Cappadocia's rich history. This small area contains the best churches in Cappadocia and several monastic complexes. In 1985, the Göreme Open Air Museum was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to conserve and properly display Cappadocia’s best cave churches.
Göreme Valley contains at least 60 churches, 45 refractories, hundreds of burials graves, and countless agricultural rooms. The high density of carved churches suggests Göreme Valley was a hive of religious activity.
The Reason for Church Growth
Why are there so many churches, chapels, refractories, and tombs in this small area? The answer is a combination of three interrelated factors—funerals, monasticism, and pilgrimage.
In pre-Christian Roman times, Göreme Valley was a burial location with rock-carved tombs. As the Roman Empire Christianized, the burial spaces became Christian in character.
Then, around the 800's, monks formed small monasteries in the area to pursue the contemplative life. The valley had several advantages for monastic living. Spiritually, the area was considered "sacred" because previous saints were buried there. Geologically, the surreal, desert-like topography created a mystical, spiritual context, a common feature in Byzantine monasteries. And practically, the churches and living spaces were easy to construct.
Once Göreme Valley became populated with monks and
hermits, lay Christians came as pilgrims. They journeyed here to visit the
monks, receive prayer, or behold a holy relic. The influx of pilgrims enhanced
the sacred reputation of the region. This, in turn, meant more people wanted to
build a memorial chapel or monastery here. Thus, the three motivations of
sacred burial, monastic life, and spiritual pilgrimage reinforced each other.
For these reasons, Göreme Valley has the highest concentration of Christian
churches in Cappadocia.
After a period of extensive Christian usage in the 10th and 11th centuries, Göreme Valley was seemingly abandoned around 1100 AD when Seljuk Turks occupied the region. The area became a Turkish village community. Farmers carved holes into the floors to serve as winepresses and ovens.
In 1924, all Greek Christians in Turkey were relocated to Greece. After that point, the churches were no longer used for worship. In the period of 1930-1970, Turks had minimal interest in preserving Greek culture, as the country had just fought Greek invaders to gain their national independence. During this time, some rooms were used for agricultural purposes. For example, Dark Church became a dovecote to harvest pigeon manure (which actually helped to preserve the excellent paintings).
In the 1970s, interest in Cappadocia reemerged. Scholars came to analyze the cave churches and tourism increased. In 1973, the Turkish Government took steps to preserve and market Cappadocia. They declared Cappadocia a "Privileged Region for Touristic Development." Before that time, the churches of at the Göreme Open Air Museum were open and unprotected. In 1975, the nearby town of Avcılar changed its name to Göreme. This put the Göreme Open Air Museum under the town’s jurisdiction so they could receive 40% of all revenues. Then in 1985, the "Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia" was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today, the Göreme Open Air Museum is Cappadocia's main attraction, with over 1 million visitors every year.
Courtesy: Cappadocia history. com
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