Soğanlı Valley Overview

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

Soğanlı is a serene valley with courtyard monasteries and cave churches from the 10th and 11th centuries. The remote valley is forty kilometers southeast of Nevşehir, about a one-hour drive from Göreme. The valley rivals the Göreme Open Air Museum and Ihlara Valley in terms of historic importance and natural beauty, but receives far fewer visitors.

Soğanlı Valley, bluff and churches

The area is an ancient rock-cut village with over 20 churches (about 10 are notable). The valley cliffs also include Roman-era tombs and hundreds of pigeon houses.


Soğanlı Valley is the ideal destination for peacefully hiking around and enjoying ancient churches. Most visitors spend only two hours here, but this deserves a full-day trip.


Two creeks have carved out this open green V-shaped valley. The sound of water echoes off the valley walls as birds fly overhead. The setting and rich history make Soğanlı Valley a spectacular destination.


Directions


Today Soğanlı is a quaint Turkish village in the district of Yeşilhisar, Kayseri. Google Maps correctly identifies the valley entrance for driving directions (but misplaces all the churches).


From the main road coming from Güzelöz, follow the signs on the right. You drive several kilometers through the modern village of Soğanlı and arrive at the park entrance. Immediately after the entrance is the ancient village plaza, now abandoned.


In the Valley


The hundreds of caves and stone rooms above the town center was the ancient village site. People made homes by carving rooms into the hillside, and then used the quarried stones to build a masonry room in front. The foundation of a 6th-century church lies below the homes. The various churches and monasteries were built within walking distance of the village center.

Map of Soganli Valley Churches

At the old village plaza, the road splits along the two creeks. Stay right and cross the bridge to visit Karabaş and Snake (Canavar) Church, from which you walk to Domed (Kubbeli) and Hidden (Saklı) Churches. Turn left to visit Geyikli Monastery, St. Barbara Church, and Han.


On your way out, stop to visit Buckle and Sky Churches, about 1 km past the entrance as you exit.


If time is limited, the best sites to visit are St. Barbara Church, Geyikli Monastery, Karabaş Kilise, Domed Church and Hidden Church.


Full explanations of the all 12 churches can be read here :

  1. Geyikli (Deer) Monastery

  2. Cemetery (Mezarlık) Church

  3. St. Barbara Church

  4. Snake (Canavar) Church

  5. Karabaş Monastery

  6. Domed (Kubbeli) Churches

  7. Hidden (Saklı) Church

  8. Buckle (Tokalı) Church

  9. Sky (Gök) Church

  10. Ak Kilise

  11. Cross (Haç) Church

  12. Han Complex


Eating


Soğanlı valley has two amazing cafes. They serve great Turkish food in serene orchard gardens near the creek. The pleasant setting of both cafés makes Soğanlı Valley one of the most enjoyable places to eat in all of Cappadocia. Soğanlı Valley is one hour from other major sites, and there no other eating options, so plan to eat here. Both cafes have heated indoor seating for the winter.


Café 1 (Hidden Apple Garden) is immediately before the entrance gate on your left. The manager Yılmaz speaks English and eagerly welcomes people.


Café 2 is located at the very end of the north fork, next to Canavar Kilise. Here local ladies sell handmade dolls, for which the village of Soğanlı is famous.


History


The ancient Roman-era city of Soandos was a large, agricultural settlement with military importance.


The architecture and paintings of churches are the best means for dating the settlement. The earliest church in Soandos was Ak Kilise in the city center, just above where the creeks converge. This sixth-century, single-nave rock church was destroyed during World War I. So already in the 500s the community was wealthy enough to hire a skilled architect.


Like the rest of Cappadocia, Soandos declined during Arab raids in the 600s and 700s. The area re-emerged during the Middle Byzantine Period (~900-1100 AD). Most cave churches and courtyard complexes were built in the years 920–1020 AD.


The military importance of Soandos is evident from the church inscriptions. Three churches were built by prominent military/political figures, an unusual characteristic for Cappadocia. A Byzantine military official named Basil built St. Barbara Church. John Skepides founded the Geyikli monastery, and perhaps lived at Han across the creek. He was known by the titles “counsel of the chrysotriklinion, advisor, and commander.” His relative Michael Skepides was a significant donor at Karabaş Kilise. His contribution paid for the final layer paintings. This Skepides family were the local rulers of the area, perhaps military officials on payroll in Constantinople.


Ancient Soandos had military significance in the 10th and 11th centuries. As the courts of Constantinople marched east towards Persia to reclaim ancient territories, the region of Cappadocia was served as an important base. Soandos was a key community in the Byzantine expansion. Local leaders benefited from the imperial gains and used their wealth to build the monasteries and churches.

Even after the Seljuk Turks took over the region in 1070, Greek Christians remained in the existing monastic communities, but had limited resources for building expansions. Based on the painting style at Canavar Kilise, Christians lived here until the 15th century.


Canavar Monastery (Soğanlı Valley)

During the Ottoman period Turkish farmers settled in the area. They renamed the ancient village Soğanlı, which means “with onions.” Most residents now live 1-2 km downstream where there is more open land.


Conclusion


Soğanlı is an ancient settlement with historic cave churches and monasteries set in a peaceful valley. The landscape also reveals a vibrant, agricultural community. The best part of Soğanlı is the remote location, just far enough away to not be overrun by crowds of selfie-snapping tourists. This makes Soğanlı a destination to experience ancient cave sites in peace and solitude.

© 2019 Jason Borges

photo credits

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