The Cappadocia region’s most understated area, the town of Guzelyurt (Gelveri) is rich in history despite being a small town. Cappadocia has several fascinating places, with Goreme and Urgup being the most popular and most visited. Both towns host millions of visitors annually from around the globe, because of their beautiful landscapes, historical importance, and ancient structures. Both towns are the top attractions in Central Turkey.
But, that doesn’t mean they are the only towns worth exploring, because if you head west from these towns, you can discover the small town of Guzelyurt. The town might not be as popular as Goreme or Urgup, but that doesn’t mean it’s not equally astounding.
The town is popular for having underground cities, around 30 churches, and other ancient structures. Despite being extremely beautiful and having a lot to offer, the town is not as popular as it should be.
A brief overview of Guzelyurt
The town is located in the Southeast of Aksaray and it has a total population of around 18,500 people. It’s 44 km away from the city of Aksaray and you can reach it through a short bus ride. The area can also be considered as Mini Cappadocia as it has everything to offer that Cappadocia is famous for from underground cities to Greek houses and rock-hewn churches.
The town’s name, Guzelyurt, means lovely homeland. (The town was named as such because of the richness and beauty of its nature.) It indeed lives up to its name with its spectacular landscape, historical richness, and natural attractions. Not only it’s the home to ancient sites, but it also contains deserted dwellings from the Greek and Ottoman that can be seen throughout the town.
If you wander around the back streets, you will see some beautifully built gateways that still have Greek engravings. You will also see some fountains which served as the source of water for the people till a few decades ago before the modern supply began.
Surprisingly, there is also a small rock-hewn mosque. It is speculated that this mosque was initially a church and it was turned into a mosque later. Furthermore, there are no other instances like this in Cappadocia.
A brief history
As we said before the town is of extreme historical importance and its reputation as a crucial religious Centre goes back to ancient times. It has got structures from the Byzantine period and other periods as well.
We can find more information related to the town’s geographical location and population in the travel books that cover the ancient history of the town. Some of the former residents have written archived documents and a few publications have also been published that give us more insight into the history of this city and its cultural importance.
It was previously called “Gelveri” and “Karvali“, meaning beautiful water in Cappadocian Greek, when the Christians lived here. When the population exchange happened between the Greeks and Turks in 1923, the Christians moved to Greece. The migrants from Guzelyurt settled on the Northern shores of Greece.
Around 1.1 million Christians migrated from Turkey to Greece and around 595,000 people migrated from Greece.
These people settled in a new town (which they established themselves) called “Nea Karvali“, meaning new Karvali. It was located nearby Kavala, and the residents of that town were located in Guzelyurt. The residents (Turks) of Kavala and Thessaloniki settled in Guzelyurt.
The settlers settled in the houses of Greek residents who moved to Greece. Most of the houses were not occupied as the numbers of people leaving the area were higher than the numbers of people coming here to settle.
Dive deep into the history of Guzelyurt
It’s astonishing to think that this region used to host societies from the southeast who would come to Anatolia. The region also saw the victory of Alexander the Great after the domination of Hittite, Lydia, and Persia in this region. It was under the control of Persian Governors for some time and then feudal kingdoms took over. In this region, many settlements were created including the Tyana and Archelais (Aksaray). These then became a part of the Roman Empire in 17 AD. It was Augustus who annexed these settlements into the Roman Empire.
The Romans had great control over the plain parts of the area, later turned into a Roman province. And it was in the less controlled parts like valleys and mountains, where the small villages and rock-hewn sites were created. It’s possible that Guzelyurt was also among the settlements that emerged in this area.
It was still a part of the Byzantine Empire When the Roman Empire was divided into two halves. During the rule of Diocletian, the eastern side of Cappadocia became a part of Armenia, after he reduced the borders of the Cappadocia. The letters from Saint Gregory tell that Guzelyurt was called “Karbala” at that time. It was a small village with Christians as its residents.
The Kappadokia II province was established in 371 when Emperor Valens, who was the Roman emperor from 364 to 378, split off the southern region. Tyana became the capital of this province. Emperor Heraclius, who was an emperor from 610-641 managed to build an atmosphere of trust between 623 and 627 when he defended the region from the Persian threats. But, when the Arab invasions began in 646, an atmosphere of distrust was created. The rule over the lands of Cappadocia kept shifting between the Byzantines and the Arabs, who after conquering Caisareia (Kayseri), took Tyana as well. The country was under threats and sceptic coercion, VIII-IX. During the centuries, the religious and cultural norms retrograded. The architectural activities were halted when the majority of the clergy fled to Italy, impacting the monastery system.
Byzantines gained dominance over the Arabs and reclaimed the lands up to Melitene (Malatya) in the 19th century. The Arab invasions came to an end when Ioannes Tzimiskes who ruled from 969 to 976 gained victories in Syria and Mesopotamia, following Emperor Nikephoros Phokas (963-969) victory in Cicilia. Emperor VII. The region got to see a safer period during the rule of Konstantinos Porphyrogennetos (944-959) and Konstantinos Doukas (1059-1067). Art and architecture thrived during this period, thanks to the weakened iconoclast movement and the environment of peace and safety. Several churches and art paintings that we can still see today are from this period.
XI. The region again became unstable when in the second half of the century the Turks began to raid. Many attacks were carried out and the obliteration of Seljuks to Melitene in, (Malatya) to Sebasteia (Sivas) in and Caesareia (Kayseri) in 1057, 1059, and 1067 respectively, the Byzantine emperor IV, forced Romanus Diogenes to assemble a great army. The Byzantine Emperor who reigned from 1068 to 1071 brought the army to Cappadocia and took made his way to the east. The Turks got control of the larger part of Anatolia including Cappadocia when the Byzantine army got defeated by Seljuk Sultan Alparslan. The two armies battled on the plain of Mantzikert (Malazgirt). In the Battle of Myriocephealon in 1176, the Byzantine army was defeated by the Seljuk Turks. Anatolia now had no threats from the Byzantine Empire in the west.
Anatolian Seljuks got hold of the Guzelyurt, but not for too long. It became a part of the Eretna Principality, administered by Mongols, following the “Battle of Kosedag” in 1248. It became a part of the “Karamanogullari” lands when the authority of Mongols weakened. But, after that, it was included in the Ottoman Empire when Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered it.
When the churches built during the Ottoman reign were examined, it came to light that the Greek residents of this area didn’t suffer from any discrimination and they were free to practice their religious beliefs even when the Turkish ruled them.
The Turkish Republic was established, and the Greek population in Guzelyurt had to leave. Due to the Greek–Turkish population exchange, they went to Greece and formed a city called “Nea Karvala”.
Guzelyurt has always been important religion-wise and from the beginning, the Christian scholars were trained here including the St. Gregory, who was a father of the church and played a role in the growth of Orthodox Christianity. Churches and monasteries have been built in this area throughout. Some churches continued to keep his memory alive as well as preserved the Orthodox faith. The monastery buildings were also being used to offer health and education services to the residents, so they were seen as social centers. This tells that Guzelyurt has not just been an important religious center, but it also maintained its relevance in terms of social and cultural activity.