Karabulut Church (Zemi Valley)

Karabulut (“Black Cloud”) Church is a picturesque cave church in Göreme’s Zemi Valley. The small church sits atop an isolated fairy chimney with six external graves and carved rooms.

The church is accessible only by hiking from Göreme or the Nevşehir–Ürgüp highway. The church is near Cistern Church, and here on Google Maps. It has no door, so it is always open and free to enter. For this reason, the church has been the recent victim of illegal excavations.


Architecture


Visitors enter the church by climbing the steep western face. The unique location prohibits a narthex, so visitors enter through the small trapezoidal nave (three meters by three meters), which has a short, flat ceiling. The room contains two floor graves and a prothesis niche (north wall). Low benches and floral-painted rock molding line both side walls. The apse has a low templon barrier. Backfill covers the entire sanctuary floor and the lower walls. Older pictures do not reveal apse furniture.


Nave


Despite the minimalist architectural, the painting style is rich and skillful. The saints on the outer walls are prominent, with deep red colors and large proportions.

Karabulut Church (Zemi Valley), nave

The dominant painting is Pentecost on the roof. Christ sits in heaven (represented by the full-body round mandorla) and sends the Holy Spirit (red line) to his apostles, six sitting on each side. Peter and Paul are closest to the apse on each side, with the buildings of Jerusalem behind them.


The right (south) wall contains a vivid mural of three life-sized saints. Saints George and Theodore sit atop white and orange horses to slay the (now-erased) snake below. A military saint stands to their left, while a martyr is on the back wall.


On the front wall, two archangels in military apparel frame the apse. Several figures stand on the short templon wall. Though they are not identifiable, their diminutive size indicates that they were the church donors. They were likely buried in the floor graves.


The left (north) wall contains smaller busts of saints above, inside, and below the prothesis niche. Despite the existence of heavy damage to most of the wall, there remains the heads and necks of four bridled horses. They look like the horses on the opposite wall and appear to pull a chariot.


Apse


The apse scene is Deesis. Jesus sits on a wide scarlet throne flanked by Mary and John the Baptist making petition with extended hands. The irregular shape of the apse (squarish and low) leads to distorted viewing angles. From the nave, only Jesus’ legs are visible.

Karabulut Church (Zemi Valley), apse

The lower register has eight Church Fathers—(from L to R) ?, Basil, ?, Gregory, (small niche) John Chrysostom, Nicholas, Elephlernos, and Theophanos. Although all the heads are the same size, the bodies were adjusted to fit into the spherical apse around Jesus. Saints Minas and Daniel occupy the apse arch.


Conclusion


In 2017-18, treasure hunters illegally excavated inside the church to find a buried grave. The deep shaft in the nave and backfill dirt now scar the interior, leaving a black cloud over Karabulut Church.


Karabulut Church (along with nearby Cistern Church) is a great hiking destination where one can escape the crowds and experience the solitude of ancient monastic life. However, the climb up the fairy chimney requires skill and courage.

© 2019 Jason Borges

photo credits

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