The Ihlara valley, which completes the Cappadocian sights and tours, differs from Göreme and the So?anl? valleys. For thousands of years, the torrential waters flowing from the Hasanda? volcano and the Melendiz mountains into the Tuz Gölü (The Salt Lake) on the Central Anatolian plain, have formed a deep canyon with myriad twists.
The slopes of the U shaped canyon are filled with large blocks of rocks that have tumbled down from successive collapses. The depth of the valley can hardly be realized unless one nears the slopes. At the bottom of the valley, the Melendiz stream furnished a source of vitality for the Christian monasteries and churches situated on the wall-like slopes. The Selime village is located on the north exit of the canyon, among the fairy chimneys at the skirts of the slope. On this slope are remnants of monastic settlements reflecting the influence of the «Syrian school».
The road following the natural course of the valley, passes the thermal baths which have been in use since the Roman period, and extends towards Hasanda??. Dominating the plateau is the Hasanda? volcano. At the end of the road, before the entrance to the Ihlara village, one takes the road turning left to enter the valley. This road leads to a modern restaurant and a rest stop. Entering the Museum area from this point, one descends by steps into the deep valley. Sixteen kilometres long, the Ihlara valley possesses more than 100 rock carved churches, along with innumerable monasteries and rooms.
Recently opened to visit, the valley has a rich history and is full of archeological works and documents. Some locally-named churches are decorated with frescoes, identified to be the earliest dated in the Cappa-docian region-pictured serial type, reflecting the «Syria-Egypt» influences. Some others are in the «capital style» while the late ones reveal 13th-century Turkish miniature effects. This diversity in the frescoes is evidence for the variety of origins of the monastic way of ilfe in this region. Some frescoes reflect the oriental and early-period type, with styles, symbols and legends never encountered in Byzantine art.
The facades of some churches are decorated with round vaults lined side-by-side which are Syrian in style.
The tours visit a few easily-reached frescoed churches. The Puren-liseki, Karanl?k, Kokar, A?açalt? and Sümbüllü churches are some examples of these, close to the steps going down into the valley. The names are local and attributed. Their plans show great diversity.
There is a simple-planned church, dedicated to St. George, near the Balisirma village (beside the Bahattin Samanl???). The latest frescoes found in the region, dated from the end of the 13th century, are located here. St. George is seen between a man and a woman, dressed typically in the Turkish style of their time.
The name of the Turkish Seljuk Sultan Mesud lies beside that of the Byzantine Emperor Adronicus. This offers another example of the tolerance shown the Christian subjects by the Turkish state of the time.
The mummy of a young girl found in 1960 in this valley is now in the museum at Ni?de.
The most beautiful churches along the stream of Ihlara, which extends as far as Belisirma, Yaprakhisar and Selimiye, are:
- Y?lanl? Kilise (The Church with the snakes)
- A?açalt? Kilisesi (The Church under the tree)
- Sümbüllü Kilise (The Church with the Hyacinthes)
- K?rkdamalt? Kilisesi (The Church under thé Forty Roofs)
- Bahattin Samanl??? (Bahattin Barn)
The Church with the snakes: It is shaped like a long cross; in its western part a grave has been excavated. On the wall in that part are pictures showing Michael judging people according to their sins and their good deeds. Immediately to the right is a picture showing sinners in the coils of snakes. The dome shows Christ and the angels: in the south-eastern part we see Virgin Mary's death. The church contains also pictures of the Last Supper, of Virgin Mary, of Saints and Angels.
The Church under the tree: It is shaped like a cross and is older than the other churches but its frescoes have been relatively well-preserved. On the wall facing the door we see Daniel between two lions and on the ceiling a dragon.
The Church with the Hyacinthes: It is also shaped like a cross; its frescoes date from the XIV century.
The Church under thé Forty Roofs: Certain Biblical stories appear in its frescoes, among them the murderof Zacheriah.