Kavaklıdere Monastic Complex

Kavaklıdere is a cave settlement that housed a monastic community in the 9th and 10th centuries. Located outside of Ürgüp, the settlement consists of three neighboring volcanic cones with various carved spaces, including: Badem Kilise, a funerary complex, monastic cells, and other living areas. Kavaklıdere is Turkish for “Stream with Poplars,” of which a few remain scattered in the upper valley.

Kavaklıdere Monastery (Urgup), main cones

Directions

The area is located northwest of Ürgüp, between Kapadokya Universitesi and the base of the Aktepe massif. The site is removed yet accessible, located here on Google Maps. You drive up the dirt road along the dry creek bed, then walk up the path about five minutes to the carved settlement. The site is always open and free to visit.


General


The settlement is located here because of the spring at the base of the cones. A large patch of overgrown blackberry bushes surrounds the spring. In the arid landscape of Cappadocia, such water sources are surprisingly abundant (as evidenced by the many Turkish çeşmeler/fountains along the roads).

The medieval spaces have been repurposed and severly eroded. For example, alterations are evident in the main church (Badem Kilise), where a wine press was carved out of the apse. Erosion has eliminated the west walls of many rooms and silted in the lower-level rooms. The resulting poor condition conceals the exact function of many spaces.

The site consists of various rooms at four different levels in three consecutive volcanic cones, each with two peaks. The settlement begins with the spring in the southwest. Then, 40 meters to the northwest is Cone 1, with a formal hall. Cone 2 lies adjacent, with the painted church and monastic spaces. Then Cone 3, isolated 40 meters to the northwest, features external arcosolia and a small chapel.

Cone 1 (Formal Hall and Raised Cell)

The volcanic cone nearest the spring has rooms on four levels. The hillside at the base of the cone was leveled off to create a small terrace platform at the second level to make those rooms accessible.

Kavaklıdere Monastery (Urgup), main hall

A large hall in the northern section is the complex’s most formal space. The room now has multiple entry points; the original entrance from the west has a large recessed arch framing the rectangular door with a small cutout above (perhaps for a processional cross to enter?). An arched recess stands to the right of the door, but does not appear to be a burial chamber. The interior space measures about 3 x 4 meters. An embossed circle once occupied the middle of the flat ceiling. A tall apse occupies the back wall, offset to the north (left). These features—a rectangular hall with a flat ceiling and offset apse—are common elements of Cappadocia’s rock-cut refectories. The floor shows no indication of a rock-cut table, but markings at the base of the walls indicate that a bench once edged the room.

At a later point, for some reason, the refectory room was altered. Two doorways were cut into the east wall, one through the apse. Also, the north wall received two large arched niches with raised platforms. A fragment of another such arch appears on the opposite wall. Such arched platforms typically represent beds; when lining a room, they constitute a monastic dormitory. Finally, a three-meter-long square shaft with footholds breaks through the ceiling on the northern edge. An inaccessible room appears directly above the church on the third level. This room contains a window and door above the hall entrance. However, the internal shaft bypasses this third-level room and leads to another room on the fourth level. That square room has no carved elements, though the western portion has eroded away. Most likely, the vertical shaft was the only entrance point to this upper-level living space, perhaps the hermitage of a stylite monk (similar to St. Symeon’s hermitage at Paşabağı).

Cone 2

Cone 2 lies directly to the northwest of Cone 1, but faces away and does not share a common courtyard. The areas only connect via this animal stable with several troughs along each wall. Above the stable is another functional space with a framed door overlooking the courtyard of Cone 1.

Kavaklıdere Monastery (Urgup), dormitory beds

The rooms were carved inside the base of a ravine, creating a miniature courtyard (similar to the second Hermitage at Paşabağı). The back section had a large dormitory room, which is now separated into two by the eroded ravine. Arched recesses with raised platforms line the walls of both sections. Modern-day treasure hunters have dug through the silt in vain (graves would never have been located in the floor of such refectories!). The large dormitory had a carved entrance preceded by a small entrance room. The current access straight from the south would have been walled off before erosion. An isolated cone immediately opposite the church had a lower-level functional room with shelves (kitchen?) and an upper-level room with a bed (hermitage?).

Almond Church

The primary space in the area of Cone 2 is Almond Church (Turkish, Badem Kilise). This small, single-nave church dates to the 9th or 10th century, based on the painting. The nave measures about 2 x 4 meters. The western wall, and perhaps narthex, have eroded away.

Almond Church at Kavaklıdere, nave ceiling

A tall barrel vault springs from corbels decorated with floral vines. A thick braid, similar in design to Red Valley Churches, lines the base of the vault. A large painted cross, visible now only at the eastern section, once dominated the ceiling. The Ionic-style base and variated border recall the ceiling crosses at Eğrıtaş and Kokar Churches (Ihlara Valley). The quadrants around the central cross contain painted images. Though heavily destroyed, they appear as angelic beings. The south section features Annunciation. The angel on the north side mirrors his double in the apse scene—white robe, with green and red wings, reaching forward in service.

Standing saints were painted on the upper walls. Throughout the church, all faces (including those of animals and angels) were destroyed. Yet, we can identify the easternmost figure on the north wall as a monk (as at Pancarlık Church near Ürgüp). The elder man with long, white hair and monastic garments raises his hands in prayer. He lacks a halo around his head, which suggests he was alive when the church was painted. Though he is nameless, we might suspect that he was the abbot of the monastic community. The lower half of the side walls had three tall, arched recesses for sitting.

The eastern seats nearest the apse have been repurposed. The broad triumphal arch has a braided pattern and adjoining tulip-like flowers leading to the apex. The side walls of the arch have been carved away, though the lower portion reveals an earlier templon barrier.

Almond Church at Kavaklıdere, Christ in Glory on conch

A robust scene of Christ in Glory fills the apse conch. This version is unique in several ways. Christ sits upon a rounded throne, raising his right hand against the green background. The four living creatures, whose heads are larger than Jesus, appear outside of the mandorla circle. The lion and bull emerge from the lower part. In place of their bodies, white streaks lead to the base of the mandorla, creating a sense of movement. Above them appear a red eagle and a human, who appears in the form of an angel. The hand of God, in a large white ring, emerges at the apex of the scene. The scene has no other figures, perhaps because of the limited surface space inside the small apse.

The lower section, separated by a red and navy band, includes the twelve apostles, six on each side. The female figure raising her hands in prayer is Theotokos. The painted arch to the right of Mary, along with the required gap in the middle of this lower band, suggests that a framed kathedra seat for the bishop furnished the back of the apse. The small apse has a painted prothesis niche just inside the arch.

The apse has been entirely retrofitted. The bema floor was lowered some 50 cm to create a round basin. A large collection vat was carved through the northern wall of the apse, and then a doorway into a separate room with a stomping press was carved through the back wall of the apse. The resulting winepress reveals a rather inefficient construction. The builders could have easily refashioned the apse floor and lower nave floor to serve the same purpose (as seen in the sanctuaries of Cross Church in Red Valley and Kepez Church 2).

Cone 3 (Chapel and Arcosolia)

The final component of Kavaklıdere is the funerary area, located 40 meters to the northwest of Almond Church. The spring (~life) and necropolis (~death) occupy opposite ends of the settlement, creating boundary markers around the main living areas between.

Kavaklıdere Monastery (Urgup), cone 3 with graves

Three well-preserved arcosolia, facing towards the church, line an isolated cone. A square frame outlines each arcosolium grave. A small chapel stands farther away. The double recessed entrance on the south side proceeds into the small nave. Like Almond Church, the barrel vault springs from a thick corbel. A prothesis niche and bench furnish the north wall. The interior was plastered, but only red paint lines the niche. The small apse has a corner bench and attached altar. The eastern portion has eroded away, perhaps simply by the expansion of the apse window. An adjacent cone has two more arcosolia graves.

For more on Kavaklıdere, see Nicole Thierry, Haut Moyen Age en Cappadoca (1984), pp. 373-76.

© 2019 Jason Borges

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