The Goreme Open Air Museum was kind of a memorable bit in my time in Cappadocia. Not because of the site itself but because one of the guards seriously thought I’d just fallen off the back of a turnip truck. It was both entertaining and insulting and in my own little way, I got my revenge. That is the problem with working in an office most days – you very quickly learn to deal with idiots and not always in a nice way. One of the reasons I try to escape my cubicle as often as possible…
The Goreme Open-Air Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage site; it’s a pretty large monastic complex carved from the Cappadocian soft volcanic rock. Many of the buildings date back as far as the 10th century, developed by orthodox Christian monks of the time who really loved Byzantine art. There are a number of little churches named after saints (St. Barbara) or fruit (Apple Church) or animals (Snake Church), or even clothes items (Buckle Church) with fascinating Byzantine frescoes whose colours can still be surprisingly strong. However, most frescoes are damaged either because of the elements, earthquakes, light, and people over time who have defaced the paintings for various reasons.
If frescoes are your thing, then you must ensure that you see the Dark Church. Extra payment is required to gain access but it is well worth the additional money. The paintings have been restored to their former glory thanks to those extra fees AND the extra fee also means that most people don’t go see it – so you can very well have the place to yourself like I mostly did. Well, me and the guard that I mentioned earlier, anyway.
After staring in awe for a few minutes at the beautiful artwork and mentally in tears that photography was forbidden, I realized that I was the only tourist in the church. I glanced at the guard who asked me if I wanted to take photos. After learning to be a scurrilous rule breaker on the Camino Frances I’d just walked a few weeks previously, dude didn’t have to ask me twice! Though in my defence, I didn’t use the flash on my camera which meant I didn’t get the best photos in the world. But that’s okay! I now have a photo of what is supposedly the only fresco in existence depicting Jesus as a boy (all are either as a baby or a grown man)! I thanked the guard and we chatted for a few minutes. It was mostly him telling me that he works here part time and the rest of the time he’s a guide. He wanted me to leave my cave hotel and meet him the next evening at his friend’s restaurant with all my luggage. Then, he said, he’ll show me all of Cappadocia for the next three days in a private tour and if I like massage, he can give me one too!
Especially as a solo female traveller, I wasn’t taking the chance and going off with some strange man who likes to give massages. Who knows – I may have seen the most awesome things Cappadocia has to offer with an extremely informative and generous resident. Or I may not have. But what killed me about the whole thing was his whole attitude that there was no way I’d say no. So I didn’t. I told him I would meet him the next day at his friend’s restaurant. I have no idea if he showed up looking for me or not – I wasn’t there. And to this day, I’m not ashamed of lying to him – if he thinks I was idiot enough to meet up with him, then he’s idiot enough to believe me when I said yes. Ah well. At least I got my forbidden photos.
After I left my ‘admirer’ in the Dark Church, there wasn’t much left to see of the museum. There are other rooms such as a dining area complete with table and benches and a kitchen, both of which actually look like what they used to be…surprising considering the crumbly rock from which all of this is carved. There was also the Buckle Church outside of the main enclosure, down the hill back towards Goreme. The entry price is included in the museum ticket so you may as well check it out. Inside is pretty large and there are even more fantastic frescoes. Worth a peek.
Tip I: The museum is only about a 20 minute walk (1.5km) from Goreme center. However, it is an exposed walk so take a bottle of water! And a hat.
Tip II: Go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon – not only to avoid as much of the hot sun as possible but also to avoid as many of the tour groups as possible. Tour groups also have a bad habit of blocking the entrances to the buildings so when you’re trying to enjoy the frescoes, all of a sudden the sunlight (mostly the only source of light in the churches) goes dark because of them.
Tip III: Please please please don’t use your flash when photographing the frescoes – the reason why the colours are still around today is because of the limited reach of the sunlight. If we want these frescoes to last another thousand years, then don’t flash light on them! Please?
Tip IV: About ¾ of the way to the museum, there is a turn off to a cute little rock church called El Nazar that is worth the quick detour.
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