Travel Turkey

Göreme Open Air Museum: Cappadocia, Turkey

female standing in front of goreme open air museum churches

This is not your ordinary museum.

One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey, Göreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia is a wonder to behold even in winter. This outdoor museum is where you’ll find ancient churches and frescoes dating as far back as the 9th century.

A little Cappadocia history

Once covered in lava and volcanic ash from the volcanoes in the region, millions of years have shaped the tuff-filled region of Cappadocia through natural forces such as wind, rain, and ice. What was left was a landscape filled with unique conical structures, fondly known as “fairy chimneys“. These soft porous rock pillars with hard caps were then carved out by early inhabitants into cave dwellings, underground cities, churches, stables, and pigeon houses.

Cappadocia was also a part of the trading routes of the Silk Road and as such became a melting pot of culture and religion. The region also became a refuge for early Christians fleeing from persecution. This led to the construction of more than a thousand churches in Cappadocia.

Some of these churches can be found in Göreme Open Air Museum, where a valley of rock-cut churches and monastic community complex can be found, less than 2 kilometers from Goreme town center.  It was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985 as part of the Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia.

Know before you go: Tips for visiting Göreme Open Air Museum

From Göreme town center, it is possible to walk to the outdoor museum but the undulating terrain adds to the difficulty. Most of it is an uphill walk so prepare your knees. We took around 30 minutes to get there by walking which included stops. If you’re fitter, you can do it for around 15 minutes.

To avoid the crowds and the tour groups, better go in the early morning upon the opening of the museum. There are guards manning some of the churches, making sure that rules such as No Photography (on some of the churches with frescoes) are followed and that the church will not get too crowded. But to have a more solemn experience, best to go before the crowds.

Bring your water, especially during the summer, as there will be lots of walking. And on that note, make sure that you wear comfortable footwear to make it easy on your feet.

Before you arrive at the museum entrance, you will pass by a car park on the right. There is also a shopping center, a few cafe and restaurants, ATM, and toilets.

The entrance and ticket booth are on the right side of the road. The Tokalı Church (Church of the Buckle) is on the left side.

FEES (as of 2018)
Entrance fee as of 2018 is 30 TL. Audio guide costs 15 TL and you need to present your passport. The Dark Church costs an extra 10 TL.

There is a cafe on site but as always, food can be on the expensive side compared to normal prices. There are also souvenirs available.

the nunnery and entrance of goreme open air museum
The Nunnery which can be found near the entrance gate

Göreme Open Air Museum churches

The three Cappadocian Fathers – St. Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Gregory of Nazianzus – helped unify Christian theology during the 4th century. Through the churches of Cappadocia, Christian worship and religious education were introduced and spread.

Goreme’s churches are usually constructed with a single nave vault because of the volcanic rocks although there were few that were constructed with two naves. These churches usually have paintings on the ceiling, some by direct application of red ochre paint and some with the use of preparatory surface made from a type of plaster with gypsum, sand, and straw. The drawings are often scenes from the Bible.

board showing some of the frescoes depicting the bible inside Goreme Open Air Museum churches

In some of the churches, you will also find tombs. One example is St. Basil Chapel where presumably, the tombs of people who have contributed to the construction/excavation/carving of the chapel can be seen. Some are saying that the tombs are of clergymen.

One church is even named after a fruit – Apple (Elmali) Church. This church features four columns, nine domes, and three apses. It is of the cross-in-square type. You will find in its walls depicted are scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, from his childhood to resurrection.

painting depicting Jesus Christ inside one of the church at Goreme Open Air museum

There is also a church named from an animal. Snake Church (Yilanli) of St Onuphrius dates back to the 11th century but has a section left uncompleted. Portraits of venerated saints of Cappadocia are depicted on the sides of the vault.

The Dark (Karanlik) Church can be entered through a winding tunnel which opens into a barrel-vaulted narthex. You will also find three graves on the south side. Unlike the other churches, the Dark Church sees very little light inside, thus preserving the colors of the paintings. Scenes depicted here are also from the life of Jesus as well as portraits of the four archangels. The church also dates back to the 11th century.

During the Ottoman reign, some of these churches have been used as pigeon coop and shelter against prosecution. The frescoes and monasteries were later restored as best as they could although you can still see signs of damage like gouged eyes and blackened ceilings.

Although some have stairs and railings, there were still some churches that we didn’t feel going up to simply because our knees have given up in the cold weather.

Also, you would appreciate the place more if you have a tour guide with you. I used an audio guide but realized that having a tour guide is better as I can ask questions about the place and other things.

How many hours to allot: 2 to 3 hours depending on your speed

Don’t forget to cross the road and visit Tokalı Kilise (Buckle Church) which is the largest church in Göreme.


Have you been to Göreme, Cappadocia?


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