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Rose Valley Monastic Area

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Rose Valley (Turkish, Güllü Dere) Monastic Area is an open area with multiple churches, a monastery, fairy chimneys with monks’ cells, and graves. The most striking feature of the Güllü Dere Monastic Area is the concentration and diversity of sacred spaces in a small area. Based on the church paintings, this monastic area was inhabited about 800–1000AD.


Güllü Dere is a branch of Red Valley. From Çavuşin, take the road into Red Valley. Turn left into the first valley, marked Güllü Dere I. Travel 100 meters along the sandy road; the monastic area will appear as a large dirt lot on your left. None of the churches or spaces are marked. Church 1 is located here.

Stylite Fairy Chimneys

The area has at least four fairy chimney cones with rooms carved at the top. The extreme height of these spaces prohibits direct examination. These were private living cells for “stylite” monks (from the Greek word for pillar). Rather than constructing a tall pole or tower to live on top of, monks in Cappadocia carved a space into the peak of a fairy chimney. Hermits lived in these elevated places to separate themselves from “the world” below. Their isolation was a mark of holiness, which ironically made them famous and attracted pilgrims.

Church 1

The first church (Güllü Dere Chapel 1) is located on the left side at the beginning of the valley. The narthex and rear wall have fallen away, so you look directly into the nave and apse.

Rose Valley Church 1, nave

Several rooms exist near the church. The larger complex was perhaps a monastery. However, the poor conditions prohibit any definite conclusions. The absence of the church entrance and narthex reveals how much has eroded over time.

The church is a barrel-vaulted single nave with an apse. The architectural style is detailed and professional. Blind arcades with three niches line the side walls. The perfectly arched ceiling springs from a large square cornice. The front arch on the left has the prothesis niche for communion elements. An entrance (likely not original) was carved through the middle niche on the right side.

The slanted side walls reveal a peculiarity of Cappadocian geology. Once the rear had eroded away, the lateral walls lacked support. Over time, the rock slowly morphed, reshaping the hollow interior space of the church. The rear sections of the wall lean significantly, as the rock has changed shape throughout the last 1,000 years.

The apse arch in front has pronounced features that mirror the architectural look of masonry arched walls. The tall ceiling permits a large painting area on the lunette (the wall above the arch). The arch has a thick frame with a detailed base.

The apse had three niches. Rainwater from behind broke into the rear niche and brought sand into the church.

The only preserved paintings are towards the front of the church. The best painting on the left wall is Presentation. Mary and Joseph hand Jesus to Simeon (the Jerusalem priest). The men’s tunic robes drape with many layers. The details of Simeon’s face (the only face remaining in the church) reflect the painter’s skill. The sky blue and red colors are soft and harmonious. As a unique feature, the supporting figures in each scene have rose-like spirals in place of hands.

Jesus’ Baptism occupies the right wall. Jesus stands naked in the Jordan River. Water lines are painted up to his chest. John the Baptist stands to his left in a red robe. Two angels stand on the right, holding garments for Jesus. The image explicitly features a Trinitarian theology. The hand gesturing a blessing above Jesus’ head represents God the Father. The descending white dove symbolizes God the Holy Spirit. These two elements and Jesus’ head are united inside a red triangle frame. The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century articulated the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, visualized here by a Cappadocian monk living 600 years later.

Rose Valley Church 1, Baptism

The scene on the front lunette (above the arch) has Mary sitting on a large red throne and Jesus sitting on her lap. Angels wearing white and yellow robes stand on each side of her. John Chrysostom stands on the far right, while a female martyr stands on the far left. Only the lower halves of these figures remain. The broad underside of the arch (soffit) has nine braided circles with the busts of (unidentifiable) Old Testaments prophets.

The destroyed scene in the apse was Christ in Glory. You can faintly see someone sitting in a large circle and people standing around the base. This depicted Jesus sitting on his heavenly throne.

Rose Valley Church, front left area

The non-figural painting of this church is striking. The spikey diamonds framing the arch are the most visible elements of the church. This green, white, and red band appears in other churches in Red Valley, especially for the mandorla (large circle) around Jesus, to indicate divine holiness. Here, the pattern demarcates the sacred apse area. The checkered pattern on the cornice (molding) has alternating squares of solid blue and white-red stripes.

Church 1 is the largest and best-constructed church in the monastic area.

Church 2 and Monastery Complex

The second church (Güllü Dere Chapel 2) is part of a monastic complex some 100 meters behind (eastwards) Church 1.

Rose Valley Church 2, monastic area

The church has been largely destroyed. Rainwater formed a steep ravine that gushes through the nave of the church. Only the arched entrance and apse remain. The soffit (underside of the arch) before the door has green and red braided circles. The church had a barrel-vaulted single nave and small niches on the side walls. The apse shows some painting and three niches. This church has the same form as Church 1, though is half the size.

Rose Valley Church 2, entrance and apse

The church is part of a small monastic complex. A small room north of the church was a dormitory for local monks. The five arched niches were beds. Monks would lie on straw mats on the raised bed and rest their heads on the rock pillows. At a later point, an entrance was carved through the fifth bed into the cooking room, which had a wine press.

The rock face with the small dormitory and church entrance has fallen away. The original complex likely extended out another 3-4 meters, allowing for more sleeping spaces and a church narthex. Additional carved spaces near the complex are difficult to enter. The spectacular cave (next to the cooking room) resulted from erosion, not from human carving.

Church 3

Church 3 is inside a well-carved fairy chimney, located 100 meters southwest of Church 1. The entrance of the church is 3 meters up the east face.

The outside of the fairy chimney has multiple holes—a square church entrance, an arched window into the apse, an acrosolium (burial niche), and two blockaded holes atop the cone. The upper two holes were likely the entrance and the window of a living cell for a stylite monk.

Rose Valley Church, cone with holes

The church has two small rooms. The entrance room is a cramped burial chamber. The floor has two large graves. The wall has several etched crosses and cryptic figures in clay red. The shape and location of this room are peculiar. The room is set at a 45-degree angle on the side of the church. Therefore, people enter from the direction of the apse, into the side of the church. A more logical plan would have placed this narthex/burial chamber on the other (western) side of the fairy chimney, so people could have entered directly into the back of the nave. Why was the church entrance constructed so oddly? All of the chimney’s holes (church, acrosolium, and monk’s cell) face eastwards up the valley. This provided a direct view of the other church spaces and fields. The valley-facing entrances visually oriented monks towards their fellow monks in the valley, a physical sign of their communal unity.

The painting and architecture of the church are equally unique. The miniature nave is 1 by 2 meters in size. The floor has a large grave, perhaps for one of the stylite monks who lived above. The back half of the church has arched etches that create pseudo niches. The prothesis niche in the front left is deeply carved and painted, with an unknown saint in a red frame above.

Rose Valley Church 3, nave

The walls and apse (but not ceiling) were plastered in white, though only the front half of the church was painted. The front wall is the most decorated portion. The broad lunette features a large image of Jesus’s bust. The cruciform halo and “IC XC” letters. His dark red robe forms the backdrop for his light hand, which gestures a blessing. Jesus’ long hair rests on his shoulders. Concentric rainbow squares fill the background. Two saints (Church Fathers?) stand on each side of the apse.

Rose Valley Church 3, front wall and apse

The apse has a well-preserved altar in the back. The square shape and lipped surface remain fully intact. Above the altar is an arched window for lighting. Red lines inside the shaft create a “brick effect.” The conch scene is Mary holding Jesus on her lap, with angels on her side. The “hand of God” rests above them in a red circle. A rare occurrence of the Chi Rho Christogram (the Greek letters XP superimposed) appears to the left of Mary’s head.


A fourth church (Three Crosses/ Üç Haçlı) is also nearby, but faces away from the monastic area, so is described separately. Acrosolia (arched burial niches) were carved into several fairy chimneys. As with other spaces, these tend to face the central area.

The upper portion of the valley (beyond Church 2) bears the marks of complex water channels. These carved tunnels diverted rainwater away from crops on the valley floor and also helped with irrigation. The size and length of these channels indicate that agriculture in the valley was well developed. The flat areas (now sandy parking lots) used to be cultivated gardens. Such infrastructures suggest a significant population. The agricultural scale and center-facing design reveal a community with a strong group identity and commitment.


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