Goreme is 3km northeast of Uchisar and a principal part of Cappadocian tourism due to the open air museum and the still lived in rock carved houses and fairy chimneys. It is an established part of the back packer route but has plenty of other tourists too and consequently the main street has become an overabundance of bed and breakfast pansiyons, hotels, restaurants, tour companies and the ubiquitous carpet shops. Although the local economy is booming, Cappadocia’s fragile environment is suffering as a consequence. Even so, Göreme has retained the majority of its original charm and a short walk will take you from the village into the nearby landscapes and rock carved churches, away from the crowds that accumulate in the museum.
There are plenty of bicycle, motorbike and car rental places to choose from and the local public transport is more than adequate. The tour company’s offer competitively priced daily tours making Goreme a good base from which to explore.
Göreme village has a long history and its name has changed four times; first was the Byzantine name of Matiana, next the Armenian Christians called it Macan, the Turks renamed it Avcılar and changed it to Goreme, meaning “unseen” in honour of the valley of churches of the same name. The hills above the village offer a welcome respite where the locals continue traditions of the past centuries, still collecting the pigeon droppings to fertilise their fields and use the donkey as their form of transport.
Goreme Historic Sites
Kadir Durmus Church
Up here you will find two churches; the 7th century Kadir Durmus Church with a cave house and rock cut steps, has an impressive and unusual upstairs gallery and cradle shaped tombs.
Yusuf Koc Church
The second church Yusuf Koc Church dates from the 11th century and known as “the church with the five pillars” as its sixth was never carved. It has two domes, although one was damaged in the past to house a pigeon coop, and has frescoes that are well preserved.
Konak Turk House
The wealth of Goreme during the Ottoman period is obvious from many of the surviving structures not least the palatial Konak Turk House (or Mehmet Paşa House, an Ottoman dignitary and original owner) that has been restored and is noted for the frescoes in the two main rooms originally painted by the artist of the Ahmet III dining room at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Goreme Open Air Museum (open daily 08:30-17:30; winter closes 17:00), is an easy 2km walk from the village and is the best known and most visited monastic settlement in Cappadocia. The largest of the religious complexes and its 30 or so churches contain some of the most interesting frescoes, virtually all of which date after the Iconoclastic controversy and mostly from the second half of the 9th century to the end of the 11th century.
Here you will find the best preserved of all the churches; Tokali Kilise (“Church with the Buckle”). The plan of the church differs from the others in the area in having a transverse nave and atrium carved out of an earlier church known as the “Old Church”. The frescoes here date from the second decade of the 10th century and show various scenes of the life of Christ and are classic examples of the archaic period of Cappadocian painting.
The New Church paintings have some of the finest examples of 10th century Byzantine art.
Elmali, Karanlik and Carikli Churches
The best known churches in the main complex are the Elmali Church (“Church of the Apple”), the Karanlik Kilise (“Dark Church”) and the Carikli Kilise (“Church of the Sandals”). These three columned 11th century churches were greatly influenced by Byzantine forms with inscribed cross plans and central domes supported on columns. They are also noted for their skilful paintings especially in Elmali Church. The façade of Karanlik Church has been intricately carved and the blue colour you see everywhere in the church was obtained from the mineral azurite. There are some other late 11th century churches in the museum with less elaborate paintings using cruder geometric patterns and linear pictures painted straight onto rock rather than plaster as in the other churches. The main red ochre colour and symbol of the cross seen everywhere in these churches indicate they have been consecrated.
Barbara and Yilanli Church
The same style is to be found in the Barbara Kilise (Church of St. Barbara) and Yilanli Kilise (“Church of the Snake”). The latter is famous for the depiction of St. Onophrius who was a hermit living in the Egyptian desert in the 4th and 5th centuries and ate only dates and used foliage as a loincloth for cover. The saint was supposedly a woman and temptress who wanted to repent her evil ways and on asking to be set free from the desires of men, her wish was granted and she was given a beard, as can be seen on the fresco of the west wall of the nave. In between Yilanli and Karanlik churches is the refectory that has a rock carved table able to seat at least 50 diners.
El Nazar and Sakli Churches
Two more churches worth a visit can be found half way between the village and museum; the El Nazar Kilise (Evil Eye Church) carved from a tuff pinnacle and has good frescoes; the Sakli Kilise (Hidden Church) whose biblical paintings have Cappadocian landscapes with the fairy chimneys in the background.
Transportation in Goreme
Getting around Goreme is easy enough; it’s a small town with the bus station (Otogar) in the centre.
ATM and Post Office
There is a tourist office, although unofficial, and next door is the bank with an ATM. The post office (PTT) is just a 5 minute walk from there and on the main road heading to Avanos is the Goreme Open Air Museum.
Daily Tours in Goreme
There are reputable tour companies on the main street and elsewhere offering a variety of daily tours which usually include Ihlara and the underground cities. It is recommended that you check their itineraries as some include a ‘shopping stop’ which reduces the price of the tour, as the company will get commission if you do buy anything, but might be something you would choose not to do.
Hot Air Baloon Tours
The Hot Air Balloon tours are very popular; they usually depart at sunrise and go wherever the wind and air currents may blow them in the Cappadocia Valley. The balloon baskets take around 20 passengers, floating down the valleys, often below the ridge line and gets quite close to the chimney rocks. The trips usually take about one hour, come highly recommended and there are at least 15 balloon companies in the region to choose from.
As with anything, it always pays to shop around whether it is for the tours or renting transport or bikes.
Accommodation in Goreme
Göreme has plenty of cheap rooms available and is why it’s popular with the back-pack brigade. At the bus station there is a small office that has information on most of the pansiyons in the village. There are more expensive alternatives although you will find them to be of good value and because many are run by Turkish-European/Australian partnerships they will usually have English speaking staff.