Changing the guards at the Open Air Museum

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April 8th 2018
Published: April 23rd 2018
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Sadly we are leaving the natural wonders of Cappadocia behind today, with another long drive, this time heading towards Darende, but more of that later. First we are having an early morning visit to the Goreme Open Air Museum (hoping to avoid the crowds). The Open Air Museum is a must see if you're in the area. It's a UNESCO world heritage site and it's easy to see why as we begin to look around this huge site housing a large number of 10th, 11th and 12th century refectory monasteries carved out of the rocks, many of which are highly decorated with religious paintings.

As we enter the open air museum, on our left is what's known as the 'nunnery'. It's a 7 storey building with a kitchen, dining hall and other rooms, along with a chapel. All the levels are connected by tunnels and have the same circular stone sliding doors as we saw in the Underground City that could be closed to keep the nuns safe inside. We have a look inside the oddly named St Barbara's Church. I don't know about you, but Barbara seems more at home as the name of a character from the 70s sit com the Good Life than as an ancient name from centuries ago. Inside the rock carved church are domed ceilings which are decorated with red patterns painted directly onto the rock. There are many rooms to explore in the complex and we quickly begin to spot the kitchens (blackened ceilings and walls with a long table with benches carved into the rock. There are little cubby holes for the food and circular dips in the floor and tables that were obviously used for fires. Inside the entrances to some of the little churches hewn into the rockface are tombs with skeletons in (covered with glass to protect them).

Some of the churches are really quite spectacularly painted with vivid colours depicting stories from the bible with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Angel Gabriel, the three wise men and other nativity or bible story characters. At a time when most people couldn't read this was a way of putting across your message in pictorial form. I know I'm about to get 'wowed' when I see a sign with a camera and a cross through it outside some entrances. Inside these churches the paintings are amazing considering how old they are and you aren't allowed to take photos. I'm never really sure how taking a photo is going to damage them, but hey, rules is rules. There are bored looking guards in bouncer style uniforms in each of these churches sat on a wooden seat in the gloom. I feel they would be better employed dressed in period costumes acting out monastic chanting or swinging incense or muttering prayers. It would be much more atmospheric and bring the place to life in a way that I always find hard to imagine without visual clues. They could still be doing their 'guarding' duties just in a more educational way. Time for a changing of the guards at the Open Air Museum and a different way of protecting these amazing legacies from the past.

We notice that most of the faces of the pictures have had their eyes scratched away. Muslims at the time wanted to wreck the pictures to stop the Christian messages being put across. It's very sad to see but despite this vandalism there is enough left to be completely blown away by the detail and the sheer brilliance of the colours of the paintings.

We enter another church carved into the rocks called Elmali or Apple Church. There is a picture inside with a guy holding up what some say is a globe (that can't be right, the world was flat in those days!) and others say is an apple hence why the church got this name. It is more likely named by the locals after the apple orchard that used to be directly in front of the church.

We come out of the darkness of the cave churches and are blinded by the sunlight each time. After a quiet start the site is now starting to fill up. Near the entrance there is the biggest tour group I've ever seen all bunched around an interpretation board listening to a talk from their flag holding tour guide. There must be at least 75 of them! At one tiny church that has an extra entrance fee, we have to wait for ages at the tiny door with a tour guide who says her group is still inside. Eventually out pours a stream of Chinese tourists one after the other in a seemingly never ending line. Once we finally get to go inside the church, we find it's a really tiny space and surmise that the Chinese contingent have obviously been playing a version of 'how many people can you fit in a phone box' game.

As we leave the Goreme Open Air Museum there is just one more church to see, set a little further away from the main complex this is the most spectacular of them all. Called the Tokali Church this amazing building has a vivid indigo blue background to the religious paintings and is stunning, covering the arches and columns of the carved out church.

With a sad sigh we get on board our minibus and wave goodbye to the fabulous Cappadocia and its otherworldly rock formations. Another long day of driving awaits us but this time the mountains are spectacular and I have the coveted front seat up with the driver. Tesekkur ederim Cappadocia, you were amazing.

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