Göreme’s Open Air Museum should be your first stop in Cappadocia (after a sunrise hot air balloon ride, of course). This monastic community complex is the best preserved example of the many Byzantine rock-cut churches that cover the region, and is a Unesco World Heritage site. The site encompasses 11 chapels and refectories all from the 10th–12th centuries. Expect to spend at least 2 hours here, and add 30 minutes each way if you plan to walk to the museum from Göreme’s city center.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Open daily 8am–6:30pm
Entry: 25TL (about $9 USD)
Dark Church: additional 10TL (about $4 USD)
It is not allowed to take photos of the better frescoes, so unfortunately you will just have to trust us that they are incredibly vivid, bright and well preserved! The best one is the Karanlik Kilise (Dark Church) which gets its name because there is only one window. The darkness has preserved the frescoes and they look as if they have been newly painted. An incredible experience that is absolutely worth the extra 10TL admission fee.
The churches are considered a holy place. Remember to be quiet and respectful, especially in the Dark Church where people do go to pray. Talking is not allowed and there is a guard stationed inside to make sure everyone is following the rules.
Unfortunately it was here that I observed tourists walking into a church, taking a photo of each wall, and then turning around and leaving without really looking through their own eyes. If you are just there for the photos, you could have saved yourself the trip and seen all of this online, right? Take your time and look through your own eyes. I know, it can be overwhelming to see so many churches in one day that all look so similar. So see if you can determine which biblical scenes are being represented in the frescoes. Then pick out your favorite and see how many times it is repeated throughout the monastery. You’ll definitely see multiple representations of the journey to Bethlehem and the nativity, the crucifixion, the raising of Lazarus, and St. George and the Dragon. The worst feeling is looking back on your visit years later and not remembering anything specific, just that you saw a whole bunch of old frescoes. Picking out one in particular to study and memorize is a great way to make a true memory of the museum that will stick with you.
Outside the gates of the museum, on the main road, is the Tokali Kilise (Buckle Church) which can also be visited with your Open Air Museum ticket. It was undergoing restoration the last time we visited in 2014 but you could still enter. You cannot miss this church as it is the largest and most impressive of the region. The frescoes have a bright indigo background which is very unique, and shows detailed depictions of the life of Christ.
Outside the museum are lots of restaurants and tea houses, as well as a camel! No, camels are not native to Turkey, but this one lives here in Goreme for tourists to ride and take photos.
If you love the museum and want to do more hiking and see even more churches, check out our post on hiking the Red and Rose Valleys where we discovered more churches, for free!