The Masonry Churches of Cappadocia

Of the 500+ Byzantine churches in Cappadocia, 98% are the famous cave churches carved out from the rock. Cappadocia also has several impressive masonry churches—physical buildings constructed above ground with cut stones.


About 15 masonry churches remain in Cappadocia. There were surely many more masonry churches, but subsequent generations dismantled them to reuse their stones for new building projects. All the church once had tall central domes, but Kizil Kilise (Güzelyurt) has the only surviving dome. This church and Canlı Kılıse (Aksaray) are the two most impressive to visit.


A few things patterns can be noticed about the churches. One, all the churches were built in either the early 500s or around 1000 AD—the two periods of Byzantine imperial expansion under the emperors Justinian the Great and Basil II. Two, the masonry churches are generally located in Aksaray province and around Soğanlı Valley. No masonry churches appear around Göreme, which has the highest concentration of churches. Three, the churches are either set in complete isolation without any surrounding settlement, or were the most prominent structure in the community and so served as the parochial church. Four, all the masonry churches are larger and more elaborate than the cave churches, and they would have required more money and technical skill to build. This suggests the rock-built masonry churches were financed by people with imperial connections and thus more prestigious than the rock-cut cave churches.


Andaval (Niğde)

Andaval Church is a well-preserved medieval Byzantine church with a long, fascinating history. The large stone church from 1000 AD was built inside a pre-existing 6th-century basilica and above a Hittite religious site, and then dynamited in the 1970s. For more, https://www.cappadociahistory.com/post/andaval-church-nigde


Karagedik (Ihlara Valley)

A tenth century church set within the Ihlara Valley. The church is surrounded with other small cave chapels and its painting style imitates nearby Bahattin Samanlığı church. The nearby rock cliff has fallen onto the church, so only the north wall and east apse survive.

Red Church (Güzelyurt)

Set isolated in a mountain valley near Sivrihisar, Red Church (Kızıl Kilise) features Anatolia’s oldest surviving dome—an octagonal drum set over the Roman cross church. The church has faint fresco and rubble-mortar vaults. Scholars propose the extra north aisle was a funeral hall for the venerated tomb of St. Gregory of Nazianzos, the famed fourth-century Cappadocian theologian.


Church of St. Gregory of Nazianzos (Güzelyurt)

In the so-called Monastery Valley of Güzelyurt, this medieval church (10C ?) was repaired by the Christian community in the early 1800s, then transformed into a mosque in the early 1900s.


Canlı Kılıse (Aksaray)

Part of a large Byzantine settlement with 25 rock-cut courtyard complexes, Çanlı Kilise is a large, elaborate, 11th-century masonry church. The church is a cross-in-square with central dome (collapsed in 1950s), two-story nave, and side chapel. The ornate brickwork suggest a Constantinople craftsmen. More info at: https://www.cappadociahistory.com/post/canl%C4%B1-kilise-aksaray



Mokisos (Aksaray)

Mokisos (aka Viranşehir, near modern Helvadere) was a sprawling, Byzantine settlement built in the 6th century. Parts of three churches still remain amidst the thousands of collapsed homes. The best preserved in Kemerli Kilise.

Üçayak (Kirşehir)

This imposing and analmolous church has several conspicious features. One, it is located in complete isolation without any nearby settlement and quite far from all other Cappadocian churches. Two, this is a rare double-nave church, which suggests it was perhaps a memorial church. Three, the chruch features exceptional brick-work with wide mortar beds that were covered with a red glaze (as seen on the outer northeast wall). The church has no inscription and is not mentioned in any literary sources, so we know virtually nothing about its founding or purpose. Based on the architecture, the church was likely built around the 1050s. Although the ceiling, dome, and apses have collapses, the church is well preserved and worth visiting. For more info, see the article “Üçayak: A Forgotten Byzantine Church” by Marina Mihaljević.


Sobessos (past Ürgüp)

In the fifth or sixth century, the Christian community of Sobessos (modern Şahinefendi) constructed a small, single nave church inside of the larger Roman-era government hall (bascilica). Only the lower portion of the chruch walls remain. However, Cappadocia’s only mosaics fill the floor around the church. A second masonry chapel lies 20 meters to the southwest, just outside the covered area. The site is free and easy to visit, so is worth the stop if driving through.

Church of St. George (Mavrucan/ Güzelöz)

The large tri-conch church of St. George perches over Güzelöz. Built in the 11th century, then reconstructed in the 13th and 19th century, only the walls remain today. The church was part of a larger complex (seen from the surrounding wall foundation and buried cave rooms to the west) that housed a monastic community.


Ak Kilise (Soğanlı)

Ak Kilise (White Church) was an ancient masonry church in the middle of Soğanlı Village. The sixth-century church was dissembled in the early 1900s, so that only the south wall remains. More info, https://www.cappadociahistory.com/post/ak-kilise-church


Honorable Mentions

A few other masonry churches are worth mentioning.

  • Three churches are half rock-cut and half-masonry: Zindan Kilise (Ortahisar) and Holy Cross Church (Gömeda, Mustafapaşa), and Eski Cami Church (Mavrucan/Güzelöz). The bottom portion is carved out from the living rock, then stones were stacked to form the upper walls and ceiling.

  • Binbir Kilise (“1001 Churches) was a Byzantine settlement on the slope of Karadağ, between Karaman and Konya. Though not in Cappadocia, the abandoned village features about 10 masonry churches from around the tenth century.

  • Hasan Dağ south of Ihlara had several churches standing in the early twentieth century, but most have been destroyed since them.

  • Several churches existed in the Kayseri province. The only remaining masory church is Panagia Church at Gereme on the north slope of Mt. Erciyes. Three other churches in Kayseri, Manda, and Tomarza stood in the earlier 1900s, but are now destroyed. Those were among the earliest churches in Cappadocia, dating around 500 AD.

  • Though not medieval in date, several dozen masonry churches were built by local Greek and Armenian Christians in the 1800s. The most impressive of these modern-era churches are the Church of Helena and Constantine (Mustafapaşa) and Panaya Rum Kilise (Talas, Kayseri).