Durmuş Kadir Church is a majestic basilica cave church near Göreme. This sixth-century church has a rock pulpit and some of the most elegant carved architecture in Cappadocia.
The church is located on the southwestern edge of Göreme, two roads past Flintstones Cave Hotel. The church is located here on Google Maps (though mislabeled as Yusuf Koç Church). The church is fenced but the gate is usually open. You may encounter some Turkish newly-weds taking wedding pictures in this majestic church space.
The large narthex (entrance room) measures 10 meters by 4 meters – larger than many Cappadocian cave churches. The high barrel-vault ceiling springs from a low triple-lipped cornice (molding). Entrance into the church nave is obtained through the recessed arch. Rainwater has caused extensive water damage on the ceiling, along the lower walls, and in both burial chambers.
The massive narthex has a total of ten graves. The most prominent graves are abnormally spacious, perhaps to accommodate more than just the deceased corpse. The primary burial grave was the large rock chamber at the far (southern) end. This raised grave imitates a movable coffin, which were often laid in Byzantine churches. The double-grave arcosolia (recessed niche) behind the raised gave breaks through the cornice molding, so it was a later addition. The plaster (and presumably painted icons) is now destroyed. Two infant graves also appear near the raised tomb.
A second burial chamber is located through the arched doorway, which was carefully designed to appear as though it were a real arched doorway. The builder re-carved the cornice to look like imposts. The soffit (arch underside) was painted to resemble masonry bricks, even to the point of including mortar gaps between the stones. The large corner chamber has two floor graves and two arcosolia built off of each side.
Another burial chamber, entered from the outside, lies west of the narthex. This long room has a ribbed barrel-vaulted ceiling and crosses that are carved on each wall, yet contains only one grave, at the far end.
The nave of Durmuş Kadir follows a basilica floor plan, with a large central room and two side aisles. This basilica floor plan dates the church to the early 500s (like St. John the Baptist and Belha Monastery). The upper windows are a unique and ingenious part of Durmuş Kadir church. In regular masonry basilicas, the height of the barrel-vault ceiling of the central aisle rises above the flat-ceiling side aisles, thus creating space for windows along the upper wall. The builders of this rock-cut church achieved this same effect by locating the church near a falaise. However, because the church is carved into the hillside, only the northern wall has the upper windows. The original windows were enlarged when the church became a pigeon house.
The spacious church measures over 10 meters by 11 meters, while the main ceiling rises nine meters. Such large dimensions are characteristic of sixth-century Byzantine churches, built during a time of imperial expansion under Justinian the Great.
The elaborately carved decorations are the defining features of Durmuş Kadir Church. Despite some water damage on the roof and side aisles, this 1,500-year-old church is amazingly well-preserved, for two reasons. The builders carved this church into an exceptionally firm layer of tuff rock (compacted volcanic ash) which has resisted erosion. Also, the church nave shows minimal signs of actual usage, such as wall paintings (except on the face of the templon barrier).
The side arcades (rows of arches) are the most decorated architectural features. Each arcade has four stout pillars – two freestanding and two attached. The columns have round, inset pillars on all faces. The arches above are exact and trimmed. The architectural forms are uniform and symmetrical except for the design flourishes at the beam intersections. Ornate pilasters and cornices subdivide the upper wall into rectangular sections. In Byzantine churches, this register was painted with scenes from Christ’s life; however, this church has no indications of wall paintings.
The large rock-cut ambon (pulpit tower) dominates the middle of the nave space. This isolated piece of furniture has tall steps on both sides leading to a round platform with a low railing. Water dripping from the roof above has shaved off the southern edge. From atop this pulpit, the bishop/priest delivered his sermon. The bishop/priest performed most of the liturgy from within the sanctuary. Then, to share his message from Scripture, he walked across the raised the pathway, ascended the steps, and walked onto the ambon platform.
A small water basin rests above the bench in the back-right corner. This holy water was used to perform the “smaller blessing” as people entered the church.
The front sanctuary area is impressive in both size and style. The horseshoe-shaped apse is raised four steps and reaches up eight meters. For seating, a synthronon bench with a slender central throne lines the back wall. The templon barrier had two pillars upholding a tall architrave beam. Though the right half has collapsed, the rock beam remains suspended in the air. The apse has no remains of a rock-cut altar, so the church likely had a free-standing wooden altar.
The side apses have simple, low templon barriers after a step in the bench. An attached altar and niched seat furnish both apses, with the left apse far better preserved.
The large basilica cave church of Durmuş Kadir is distinct for its elaborate carved furniture and central ambon. Opposite the church is more evidence of human activity, such as carved rooms with crosses, pre-Christian Roman graves, rows of pigeon houses, and an underground canal with a cistern beneath.