The Zelve Open Air Museum is one of the most fascinating sites in Cappadocia. It’s a historical cave town where a large and diverse community used to live. The main features this site has to offer include churches, dwellings, and religious and secular chambers.
The Muslims and Christians lived here until 1924 in great harmony. Then, due to the exchange of the minorities between Turkey and Greece, Christians had to leave. Muslims too had to leave the valley in the 50s when there was a risk of erosion. They moved a little further and set up a modern village, which was named New Zelve.
The Zelve Open Air Museum is located near Avanos, just 9km from Goreme, so if you are in Goreme, you can just walk there. If you are visiting Pasabag / Monks Valley, you can visit this museum too as the valley is just 1km away from the site. It will take you around 10 to 15 minutes to get here from Goreme or nearby towns. You can drive in your vehicle or hire a taxi.
You have to purchase a ticket before you can enter the museum, you can purchase it from the ticket office at the entrance. Flying a drone is illegal in the valley, so if you have one with you, keep it inside the bag.
There are three valleys in the Open Air Museum that take you through a number of religious and secular chambers, dwellings, stables, and the town square. If you love rock climbing, you will love this place and even if you are a good climber it will take your around 2 hours hike these valleys.
You can start your journey from the first valley where you will see paintings on the surface of the rocks. The frescoes are all that remain of the completely collapsed Geyikli Church. You can see extremely old paintings that display religious symbols of Christianity including the Cross, dear, and fish. There is also a mosque that has a beautiful minaret. The mosque lies on the left, while on the right side you can see the monastery complex. On the opposite side, there is a metal ladder that provides access to the rock-cut complex connected to the second valley.
When you enter the second valley, you can see cave rooms and tunnels spread throughout the valley. You can also explore the dwellings, some of which have more than one level.
When you head to the third valley, you will be mesmerized by the rocks at the entrance. You can follow the path to the Church with Grapes (Turkish: “Uzumlu” Church), a symbol that represents Christ himself. The path also leads you to the Church with Fishes (Turkish: “Balikli” Church), where you can see paintings of fish on the apse.
All the three valleys have historical importance and all are worth visiting, but we think you will enjoy visiting the second and third valley the most. You can examine the cave houses, get off the paved path, and explore the little trails. There are different roads that are less traveled and this is what makes the museum very unique. It’s about four times as big as the Open Air Museum in Goreme, so you are not just visiting the museum; you are going for a hike. There is so much to see and explore, so, you should take the time and explore every structure and every path.
It could be a great trip for a family and everything would be smooth and nice, but you would have to keep an eye on the kids, so they don’t fall off a cliff.
If you are a movie fan, you will like the fact that Nicholas Cage’s film Ghost Rider 2 was filmed here.
If you feel hungry when you get out of the museum, there is a small cafe on the left if you move towards the parking lot. You can rest there, drink water or a cup of tea, and try Gozleme or at least see how it’s made. Gozleme is a traditional Turkish flatbread normally filled with meat and cheese. It’s a famous Turkish dish available in cafes and restaurants all over the country.