Byzantine and Turkish Era

There is no sign of a monastic way of life in Anatolia during the early Christian period. However in Egypt (Thebaid) and in the Holy Land the monastic way of life was adopted by a great many people. After Islamic Arabs conquered these areas, many Christian groups took refuge in the interior of Anatolia and continued their monastic way of life in accordance with their religious beliefs.

It was the 7th century that witnessed these events. In Binbir Kilise (1001 Church) on the Toros mountains in the south, in Heraklia (near Miletus) on Bafa Lake (Aegean region), in Uluda? in Bursa.'and finally in the Cappa-docian region there was an outgrowth of extensive monastery life.

In Cappa-docia's Göreme and Ihlara valleys, church frescoes and decorations and architectural designs of churches show a definite blend of Egyptian, Syrian and Anatolian influences in planning and style. It is therefore a pity that of the great number of castles, churches and monasteries that were built in the 7th – 9th centuries, the ruins of only one or two could survive to our day. In the 7th century it was mentioned in the Acts of local Saint Hieron that some christians are living in the caves of «Koroma».

The mosaic and fresco art of the Byzantine Empire reserves certain parts of churches for Biblical themes, according to certain principles. These frescoes were produced by the artists in the capital whereas in the pro­vinces, it was the monks who practised the art. Understandably, the ma­jority of the Cappadocian church frescoes reflect the comparatively pri­mitive provincial style.

The Cappadocian churches had to obey the rules of the icon prohibi­tion period (Iconoclastic era) during the years 726-842. In rock churches in the Göreme region, simple forms and cross motifs can be seen on naked walls or under deteriorating fresco plasters. Some claim that these motifs belong to the iconoclastic period, but they do not.

It is quite clear that these churches dug into rocks were built accor­ding to the principles of the fashion of their day. Many of the columned churches in the Göreme region are four columned and cruciform, a style which appeared in the capital Istanbul in the 10th – 11th centuries. So churches built according to this plan spread from the capital to the provinces in the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Empire was at its peak in rule and artistic activity.

The use of these plans in a rather uncreative, religious community such as Cappadocia could only come during this period and not earlier. Simple motifs which decorate the walls of some churches must have been drawn by monks as simple de­corations, who knew that they would soon be covered by frescoes. In short, it is clear that the walls of churches carved into rocks according to a plan that originated well after the iconoclastic era cannot be decorated with motifs belonging to the iconoclastic period.

At the end of the 11th century, a great part of Anatolia came under the rule of the Seljuk Turks. Christians cherished a wide freedom under the tolerant Turkish governments. Some of the Cappadocian churches were built and frescoed during this Turkish period. It was the Mongolian inva­sion of the 13th. century that finally struck and hindered these activities.

One of the most important national and religious institutions established during the spread of Turkish influence in Anatolia was in the small village Hac? Bekta? in Cappadocia. Like the mausoleum of Hac? Bekta?, one time prominent Turkish thinker, a great many other mausoleums, mosques, and others are classical Seljuk and Ottoman art works that reach our day.

The main route that .passing through Cappadocia, ties the Seljuk capital Konya to districts Kayseri and Sivas is lined with a row of caravanserais which are unique, strictly Turkish in creation. The caravanserais were a series of motels or inns, built in the form of a castle and were especially influential in encouraging travelling and commerce. The Christian villages of those times survived side by side with their Turkish neighbors up until the 1920's. They were discharged then, according to an immigrant exchange agreement signed by the Greek and the Turkish governments.

A great number of frescoes carry the inscription of a Christian name and a date beside them. It so happened that the later Christians believed in the miraculous medicinal effect of drinking the broken pieces of these frescoes added to water. Such ignorant and destructive misuses by the local people and the tourists have since been stopped and all important buildings in the area have been put under the protection of the local museum directorate.

 

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