Ihlara Valley is located in Aksaray at Guzelyurt district and it is one of nature’s wonders in Cappadocia. The eruption of lava at Hasan Mountain formed the volcanic soil, which was shaped by Melendiz River for thousands of years and Ihlara Valley is regarded as the biggest canyon in which people lived.
There are many valleys to hike in Cappadocia and all of them are interesting. However, the most distinctive feature of Ihlara Valley is that it offers us very important clues about the early Christian period.
You can find facts about the history of Ihlara Valley in this article. In addition, Ihlara Valley ticket price and opening hours are noted. You can also find a recommended guided tour to visit Ihlara Valley and its surroundings at the bottom of the page.
History of Ihlara Valley
The history of Ihlara Valley goes back to the 4th century. Here, the first rock churches were built by Christians who escaped Roman persecution. Ihlara, once called Peristrema, was one of the most important centers of monastic life throughout Byzantine history.
Ihlara symbolizes the perfect harmony of human and nature, where over 80,000 people are thought to have lived. There was a high population density at Ihlara Valley during early Christianity (the Roman Empire era) and Byzantine Empire era.
As Ihlara became a place of seclusion especially during the Byzantine Empire era, it houses a big number of churches. Kokar, Pureliseki, Agacalti, and Sumbullu Church are located on the part where you can reach by walking down 380 steps while Kemer, Egritas, Karanlikkale, and Yilanli Church are on the other side of the river.
There are so many more churches in Ihlara Valley, however, the three most visited churches are Agacalti, Sumbullu, and Yilanli Church. Before we talk about these three churches in more details, we should also explain why Cappadocia plays an important role in the history of Christianity.
Cappadocia in Early Christian Period
Cappadocia was a very important settlement in the early Christian period. After 30, the year Jesus Christ was crucified, till 313 when the Edict of Milan was declared, life for the Christians was tough.
Due to the policy of oppression led by the Roman Empire against the Christians, the believers of Christianity felt the need to practice their religion secretly. Therefore, Cappadocia stood out with its underground cities, caves, and valleys at such times.
In this respect, Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities in Cappadocia served as perfect spots for Christians. However, permanent residency in underground cities was not sustainable. Thus, the residents looked for ways to live in the open air and the valleys of Cappadocia were quite suitable for that end.
Christian communities lived in Cappadocia for years and in 313 AD, Constantine, the Roman Emperor, announced that the Christians were given the freedom to practice their religion.
The Roman Empire was divided into two in 395 AD and Cappadocia was in the Eastern Roman Empire’s (Byzantium) borders. During the 50 years after Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and it spread everywhere.
In the empire where Christianity was accepted deeply, there were Christians who wanted to take the example of Jesus Christ’s hard lived life. These individuals who wanted Christianity to be involved in every part of their lives wanted to live in a simple way advised by Jesus Christ.
As Jesus Christ said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” And his followers who took heed of Jesus’ way, secluded themselves in the caves at the valleys in Cappadocia.
No matter how impressive the will power of these monks was, it didn’t help the social life at all. Therefore, St. Basil the Great, the Bishop of Caesarea (Kayseri), decided to regulate the life in monastery. As a result, the ones who wanted to seclude themselves were required to live in monasteries in small groups and produce their own food in gardens. Moreover, no monks were supposed to depend on donations.
The monasteries in Cappadocia that were based on the rules established by St. Basil the Great, enjoyed their peak times in the 11th and 13th century. Today, the churches you can see at Ihlara Valley and Goreme Open Air Museum are mostly from these centuries.
Cave Churches in Ihlara Valley
Ihlara Valley experienced its peak especially during the Middle Ages. There are many cave churches in Ihlara Valley that have survived from this period. 3 of them stand out with their frescoes and architecture.
1. Agacalti Church
If you arrive Ihlara Valley via Ihlara Village, after you walk down the stone stairs, you can see Agacalti Church on your right. The walls of the church are covered with various geometric figures, animal figures, and different plants figures. The different colors of yellow, red, and green used on the walls fascinate the visitors. Moreover, the images in this church date back to 11th and 13th century.
The most eye-catching drawings in the church are the depictions of Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, and Adoration of the Magi. Moreover, Ascension is depicted in the most striking way at Agacalti Church compared to other cave churches in Ihlara Valley.
2. Sumbullu Church
Sumbullu Church is located 50 meters after you walk down the stone stairs to the valley and it was carved as two floors between rocks. The church is thought to have been built in 10th century and it has walls on which crosses made of red ochre and doors shaped as horseshoes.
You can also see some scenes from Bible in the church. One of the interesting scenes is Annunciation, which depicts the moment Virgin Mary is seen with Gabriel and Michael, the archangels. Moreover, Jesus Christ is depicted on the dome of the main area.
3. Yilanli Church
Yilanli Church (aka Snake Church) can be reached via the wooden bridge nearby the entrance to Ihlara Valley. In terms of fresco, it’s not only Ihlara’s but also Cappadocia’s one of the richest churches.
On the dome of the main area, you can see a cross in relief style. In the half dome of the church on the apse side; Ascension, Jesus Christ in his youth, Virgin Mary, and John Chrysostom, one of the most prominent figures in the history of Christianity, is depicted.
On the eastern part of the cross, you can see the drawings depicting Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena, the Death of Virgin Mary, the Last Supper, and Crucifixion.
Ihlara Valley Ticket Price 2021
Ihlara Valley ticket price is 55 Turkish Liras as of 2021. Tickets are free for children under the age of 8. Museum Pass Turkey is valid in Ihlara Valley, an open-air museum affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Guided Tour Tickets for Ihlara Valley
If you want to join a guided tour in Cappadocia, including the Ihlara Valley, you can buy a ticket for the Cappadocia Green Tour. Although this tour is more expensive than standard museum tickets, it gives you the advantage of fast track. The history of the cave churches comes to life with the narration of your tour guide.
You can book this best-selling tour, which includes Goreme Valley, Ihlara Valley and Derinkuyu Underground City, by clicking this link. Tickets are sold under the guarantee of GetYourGuide, an international travel site. You can cancel the tour up to 24 hours and get a full refund.
Ihlara Valley Opening Hours 2021
Ihlara Valley opening hours are between 08:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening between April 1 and October 1, which is the summer season. It is closed at 17:30 between October 1 and April 1, which is considered as the winter season. Ihlara Valley is closed on Tuesdays.
Visiting hours of the Museums in Turkey may change depending on events and renovations. I recommend that you visit the official website of Ihlara Valley before going to the museum and review the latest situation.
Written by Serhat Engul