Home to rock-cut churches and cave dwellings, Ihlara Valley is a canyon and has a depth of around 98m. The valley holds chapels, churches, monasteries, and hermits’ cave that date back to the 11th and 13th centuries.
Ihlara Valley, also known as Peristrema Valley (Greek) has a 14 km long gorge that cuts its way through volcanic rock. The valley was created thousands of years ago by the Melendiz River. There are many churches here, but most of them are located within 5km from Ihlara village. This is why this section is the most popular among tourists. The river runs for another 9km, but there are no churches or cliff faces in this section. The valley is situated on the eastern foothills of Mount Hasan, the eruption of which resulted in the formation of a popular volcanic rock. The river made its way through the volcanic rock.
Ihlara valley is 82km away from Goreme and 39km away from Aksaray Province. If you are staying at any of these places, you can rent a car to reach the valley. There are some sites in between, you can take a break and visit them as well.
Many tourists visiting Cappadocia think they would only see fairy chimneys, balloons, and rock formations, etc, but in this valley, you would see something very rare in the region. Just as you enter, you will see a waterfall. That’s right, a waterfall in Cappadocia. Not only this, but you will also see wildlife such as fish, frogs, lizards, birds, turtles, and more. So, if you don’t want a dry hike, hike Ihlara Valley. The ever-flowing river, lush greenery, wildlife, and ancient structures make the valley a popular destination.
You can use the map that is displayed at the entrance and the parking lots. You can see different routes and lengths. There are different loops, ranging from 4km to 32km. There are different points where you can exit and then get a taxi to get back. The 7km loop is highly popular, as almost everything that there’s to see, you will see within 7km.
The valley is an official museum, so there is an entrance fee. Both sides of the river have plenty of spots that you visit and both trails are well-maintained. There are three entrances to Ihlara Valley. The first one is in Ihlara Village from where the valley starts, but fewer tourists choose this as there are no churches. The second entrance is located 2km away from the village. There are more than 300 steps that you will have to walk. This is the most popular entrance. The third entrance is Belisirma village, which is the best option if you are visiting the valley in a car. It has a huge parking spot where you can park your vehicle. There are also restaurants there.
As there are different routes, it could be difficult for you to choose one. Some hikers hike the complete trail from the Ihlara Village to Selime, but some prefer only the first 5km section. We have three routes for you, from which you can choose one.
The first route begins from the middle entrance, you enter and walk down the staircase and visit Agacalti Church. Then, hike 1km further and you will get to Kokar Church. Next, you can visit Dark Castle and Egri Tas Church, for which you need to cross the river. Go back about 100m from the entrance and visit Hyacinth and Snake Churches. Now, walk up the staircase to get to your car. At the top, there are also bathrooms are restaurants. This will be a 3km hike that will take around 3 hours.
To follow the second route, enter in Belisirma. Hike 1km and visit the St. George Church. There is a Tea Garden just 200m away from the church, stop there for a snack.
The third route begins from the middle entrance. You have to walk down the steps and near the landing; you can visit Agacalti, Hyacinth, and Snake Churches. Walk downstream to visit St. George Church and have a snack at the Tea Garden. Then, you can go to the Belisirma parking lot, from where you can take a taxi to reach your car.
As we mentioned, there are a lot of churches in Ihlara valley and the churches display a great architectural variety. There is a huge cross-in-square church called Ala Church. It also contains a church with funerary complexes. A small church called as Bahattin Hayloft, Hyacinith (a residential building) that has an ornate façade, and Karagedik, a masonry church.
If you want to discover the architectural variety, visit the Karagedik and Bahattin Hayloft. Both church were funded by the same people and designed by the same artists. If you go inside, you can see various designs and patterns that indicate the churches were used for different purposes like funerary, liturgical, and monastic.
You can also see carved rooms near all churches. As the valley is a canyon, the churches had to have special architectural forms. If you see the churches on the west side, their apses that face eastward are very close to the rock. But, tunnels were carved in the back of the nave, because it was not possible to enter through this space. This happened in Agacalti, Kokar, and St. George Churches. However, the apses have collapsed now, so people can enter directly.
In the Ihlara valley, you can also see some residential complexes. The complexes are scattered, and because most of the land is not farmable, the population of the valley was very limited. The residents resided for reasons other than monastic or religious. The villages are situated above the canyon, where people lived and they had to come down to visit churches.
The unique painting styles in the churches are also fascinating. The paintings in the churches near the middle entrance have eastern or Persian style. These designed must have influenced by Christians who migrated here from Syria around the eighth century. Whereas, you can see the Byzantine Constantinople styles in the churches near the north end.
A few churches in the Ihlara valley also have crosses painted on their ceilings that were made using stark colors. The churches have open ceilings, so mural paintings are possible.
Hiking the Ihlara Valley gives a different experience and you would see how greatly it differs from other valleys in the region.