elmalı church

Cave Churches of Goreme Open Air Museum


This church is the largest in the region and is situated on a slope a few hundred metres from the group of churches within the Göreme open-air museum. The entrance, today, opens onto a long, barrel-vaulted atrium which leads to a transverse nave, somewhat larger in scale. The nave is separated from an apse by a series of four columns supporting five arches. The apse is high and narrow. The narthex and atrium are known as the “old church” and the large flanking nave as the “new church”. Both parts of the church date from various periods, as do the frescos. Those on the walls of the old church are dated to the beginning of the 10th century and are executed in a primitive provincial style. The frescos of the new church, which date to the second half of the 10th century, however, possess a quite well-developed realism. The use of blue pigment as in these frescos is iconographically unique for the region. The walls are decorated with frescos of scenes from the New Testament, in frieze form, particularly scenes from the life of Christ. There are also representations of saints and scenes from the iconography of the saints. Among the frescos are those illustrating an account of the life of Basilius, archbishop of Caesareia.


This is among the churches of the Göreme open-air museum. It has a typical cross-vaulted inscribed-cross plan, with four roughly-hewn columns and a square interior. A narrow passageway leads to the inner court, and from there one enters the church via a second narrow passage. The iconostasis before the main apse has been damaged. Otherwise the frescos decorating the walls and ceilings of the church have preserved their original vitality. They are dominated by the warm yellow ochre much used here. The paintings may be compared with those of the Karanlık church and the Çarıklı church which, like these, are dated to the 11th century. Flaked off in places, the red-dawbed Christian symbols of the iconoclastic period may be discerned beneath the painted surface.

In a medallion in the central dome is a painting of Christ Pantocrator, and a Deisis in the apes. Besides these are a number of scenes or related to from the Christ cycle, including the Journey to Bethlehem, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, Entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, Entombment, Women at the Tomb, Christ on Mount Olives and the Ascension and the Hospitality of Abraham and the Three Hebrews. The scenes of the Baptism of Christ and the Crucifixion are relatively well preserved.


The church is carved out to the rear of the outcrop containing the Elmalı church, in the open-air museum of Göreme. It is cruciform in plan with two free-standing pillars carved out of rock, and two partially engaged at the corners of the carved out walls. Much of the decoration of the church, which is dated to the 11th century, is in the form of red ochre daub painted directly onto the rock surface, which has led to the church being seen as typical of those carved out and decorated during the iconoclastic period. The daubed motifs are mainly the symbols of Christianity. The triple cross motif over the right-hand apse is notable, the central cross being contained in a nimbus. This represents the figure of Christ. Four red studs between the arms of the cross represent the nails of the Cross and the two flanking crosses represent the two thieves crucified with Christ. A Deisis and part of the figure of a saint executed in fresco may also be seen to the left of the entrance. The colours of these frescos are dull and the figures crudely drawn. Red is the dominant colour.

The figure of Christ Pantocrator is to be seen in the apse, while the patron of the church, St. Barbara, is represented on the northern wall alongside the figures of the warrior saints, Theodore and George, who are portrayed on horseback, facing each other.


This is two-celled church with an elongated, flat-roofed nave fronted by a barrel-vaulted atrium. It is thought to be a small funerary chapel. It is in the Göreme open-air museum. The apse has been carved out of the left-hand wall. The church may be dated to the end of the 11th century. There are some daubed red ochre geometrical shapes as well as a number of frescos in the church.

On the vault over the apse are depicted St. Onesimos,followed by the two warrior saints, George and Theodore, facing each other on horseback. St. George on a white horse carries a lance, as does Theodore on a red horse, and both are engaged in slaying the dragon at their feet. Next to them stand the figures of Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337 A.D.) and his mother, Helena. Both are portrayed with auras, indicating their acceptance as saints. Between them they hold the True Cross.

On the opposite vault wall are depicted three saints figures, St. Onophrius, purported to have been a sinful woman, and on repenting to have changed into a man. This figure is depicted naked. Flanking this is the figures of Thomas in a benedictory pose, and St. Basil bearing the Holy Book.

At the opposite end of the vault stands Christ Pantocrator in the lunette, flanked by a small, anonymous figure.


Part of the Göreme open-air museum, the church is called the “dark” as it is, indeed, very dark within. The barrel-vaulted nartex is reached via a narrow winding staircase. From there one enters the rectangular nave. It is typical cross-vaulted cruciform-planned church with dome on four pillars. A fresco of the iconostasis is damaged. The church has one small window. The lack of light has preserved the vitality of the frescoes. Both the plan and decorations of this church are strongly reminiscent of the Elmali and Carikli churches. The paintings are characterised by figures with meaningful facial expressions and figural movement, while an attempt has plainly been made to animate the painting through the detailed use of architectural and decorative elements. The extensive use of blue, a relatively rare pigment,is notable. There is no chronological order to the frescos, with the most important scenes from the Christ cycle being illustrated without regard for their sequence. The scenes illustrated are mainly related to the to the feast of the Liturgy. The scenes shown in greatest detail are the Annunciation, the Journey to Bethlehelm, the Nativity, Baptism of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Crucification, the Women at the Tomb, Christ on Mt. Olives and the Ascention.

The two biblical scenes of the Hospitality of Abraham and the Three Hebrews are also included among the frescos.


This church is reached via an open staircase and the only source of natural light for the interior is through the entrance. Named after the carik (sandal) marks on the floor, the nartex is in ruins. The subject matter of the frescos is typical of these churches. The artist appears to have used the frescos of the Karanlik church as a model in places. These three churches- Karanlik, Elmali and Carikli- probably date the same period.

In the centre of the dome is a fresco of Chirist Pantocrator, with busts of angle in madelions surrounding it and portraits of the four evangelists in the pendentives. A Deisis on the main apse wall is flanked by six saints.

The figures of the Madonna and Child are in the northern apse and a bust of St. Michael in the southern. Other frescos include scenes from the Christ cycle: the Nativity, the Babtism of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Entrance into Jerusalem, the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, Three Women at the Tomb, Christ on Mount Olives and the Ascension.

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