Zelve Open Air Museum: A Secluded Monastery in Cappadocia
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Zelve Open Air Museum

A secluded monastery complex

Best Known for
Countless dwellings

Built
4th century

Civilization
Byzantine

Suggested Duration
90 min

Zelve Open Air Museum is one of the few places in the world where you can explore a ghost town entirely made of cave dwellings. The museum, which sits about 10km from Goreme (another open-air museum), was once the home to one of the largest communities in Cappadocia. The town was inhabited up to the mid-20th century, and the residents called their humble rock-carved settlement Zelve town.

Today, the town is completely abandoned and treats visitors to an exclusive sneak peek into the lives of ancient Cappadocians. Due to heavier erosion in most around the valley, the cave dwellings here are not as vivid as those in Goreme Open Air Museum. Nevertheless, you can still find a couple of cave churches and a mosque among the dwellings, which makes exploring the ghost town one of the most intriguing experiences.

The museum is spread over three valleys, and each valley has its attractions. Two of these three valleys are connected by a tunnel, which is unfortunately closed for safety reasons.

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Zelve Open Air Museum is one of the few places in the world where you can explore a ghost town entirely made of cave dwellings. The museum, which sits about 10km from Goreme (another open-air museum), was once the home to one of the largest communities in Cappadocia. The town was inhabited up to the mid-20th century, and the residents called their humble rock-carved settlement Zelve town.

Today, the town is completely abandoned and treats visitors to an exclusive sneak peek into the lives of ancient Cappadocians. Due to heavier erosion in most around the valley, the cave dwellings here are not as vivid as those in Goreme Open Air Museum. Nevertheless, you can still find a couple of cave churches and a mosque among the dwellings, which makes exploring the ghost town one of the most intriguing experiences.

The museum is spread over three valleys, and each valley has its attractions. Two of these three valleys are connected by a tunnel, which is unfortunately closed for safety reasons.

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The History

Valleys

Churches

Key Features

Tips & Etiquette

Just like Goreme, the area started as a monastic retreat in the Iconoclastic period. Some of the oldest cave churches in the area, like the Direkli Church, dating back to this period. The oldest seminaries in Cappadocia were also started in Zelve around this time.

During the Persian and Arab invasions, Greek Christians moved into Zelve to escape persecution. Here, amongst the safety of the rock-cut dwellings and the valley topography, they would go about their lives at a safe distance from their persecutors.

When the Ottoman Turks took over Turkey, Turkish Muslims also moved into the area. While there was no conflict between the two communities, and they lived together for centuries in perfect harmony until 1924 during the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. During the exchange, the Christian population of Zelve was moved to Greece.

Later on, in the ’50s, erosion in the valley reached dangerous levels, and the Muslims were forced to evacuate. They set up a modern village not so far off and named it Yeni Zelve (New Zelve).

While the restorations were ongoing, the massive damage was done by another erosion followed by the heavy rain in mid. April 2007.

Zelve Open Air Museum is separated into three sections:

The First Valley

The museum’s first valley is home to the Geyikli Kilise (Church with the Deer) and a few frescoes. There is also a rock-carved mosque and a monastery complex. It is connected to the second valley via a metal ladder and a long cave tunnel.

The Second Valley

Unfortunately, you cannot use the tunnel to get here due to safety concerns; the path in front of the mosque is used. Here, there are many cave dwellings that you can explore up to the second or third level. It is also full of tunnels.

The Third Valley

The valley is home to the town square and a sloped cave where the community is believed to have held its ceremonies and festivals. There are also multiple rock-cut churches like the Uzumlu Kilise (Church with Grapes) and the Balikli Kilise (Church with Fishes). It is considered by some to be the most impressive section of the open-air museum.

In the first valley, you will enjoy iconoclastic paintings that remain from the collapsed Geyikli Kilise. There is also a small mosque that looks like it was built conventionally using stones. But on closer inspection, you will realize that it was carved out of the volcanic rock just like every other structure in the valley.

The second valley gives you more freedom as there are a lot of residential cave dwellings to explore. There are prominent drawings of crosses on the walls of the Kutsal Hac Kilisesi (Holy Cross Church).

You get to see the impressive Uzumlu Kilise (Grape Church) and the Balikli Kilise (Fish Church) in the third valley. However, some churches here, like the Direkli Kilise (Column Church), have collapsed entirely, and they look more like ordinary caves than ancient churches.

  • Although it was entirely cut out of the rock, life in Zelve town was just like in an ordinary town.
  • Don’t miss the seten stone- a mill where the locals ground bulgur and floor.
  • The inhabitants reared pigeons whose dung provided manure for their farms.
  • Last but not least, the monastery was a silent cornerstone that helped Christianity grow in Europe, training and sending missioner monks to the outer world.
  • There is a sign at the ticket office stating that visitors cannot fly any drones inside the museum. If you have one, don’t carry it into the museum, as you won’t be allowed to fly it without official permission.
  • Put on comfortable shoes (e.g. tennis shoes) or any other shoes with a good grip.
  • Remember to apply sunscreen as you will be exposed to direct sunlight on some occasions.

Visiting Zelve Open Air Museum

Getting to Zelve is relatively easy; it is only 8 km (16-minute drive) from Goreme town, where many people touring Cappadocia stay in. You can also stay and commute from Uchisar, which is only 12.4 km away (an 18-minute drive). For those who want to get the best possible sightseeing experience, walking from either one of these towns gives you that.

There is a main path with signs winding through the valleys. You don’t have to stick to the main path as there are several smaller branching paths and trails that let you explore a bit further. Here, you get a once in a lifetime glimpse into the life inside a cave town. Those are periodically measured, but still, be cautious and pay attention to any warning signs you may see, as erosion in the valley has made some cave dwellings susceptible to collapse.

Zelve Valley treats its visitors with peace, quiet, and an impressive view opening towards Avanos. The scenery is surreal and provides you with the most unique of backgrounds for photos. There are rarely any crowds here, so take your time to explore the hidden gem as you savor its treasured peace.

Once you are done exploring the museum, you can get refreshments at little cafes near the entrance. Here, small stalls are selling stuffed flat loaves of bread and fresh orange juice; so, take your pick. Also, there is a cafeteria, Peri Cafeteria, a few meters behind the ticket office where you can grab some snacks such as “gozleme” or a fresh yummy pomegranate juice that will keep you going for more adventures.

Entrance Fee
20TL

Opening Hours
The valley is open every day from 08:00 to 19:00 hours from April 1st to October 1st.
From October 1st to April 1st, it is available between 08:00 and 17:00 hours.
Last time to purchase a ticket: 18.15 for summer and 16:15 for winter.

Cappadocia Tours

What is Nearby

Zelve Open Air Museum is part of the Cappadocian landscape, home to many exciting attractions. There is the Goreme Open Air Museum, where you can enjoy rock-cut churches and impressive frescoes. There are also mind-blowing underground cities in the area, a rock castle with rock-cut hotel rooms, a valley (Pasabag Valley) with fairy chimneys, and you can even take a balloon flight across the Cappadocian skies.

If you want to explore Zelve and Cappadocia as a whole most conveniently and excitingly possible, just let us know.

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