On the morning of our second day in Göreme we got up early, had our breakfast outside in the pensiyon garden in the brisk morning air and then headed down the road to the Open Air Museum. We got to the museum early, but even by about 9am the place was packed full of tourist! It was a little annoying, but it was still interesting to see the place.
Basically, the Cappadocia region is full of both underground cities and cities built right into the hills and mountains. Because much of the rock is formed from volcanic ash, it is quite soft and easy to dig into. Then, once dug, the contact with air and moisture makes the rock harden and gives a bit more solidity to the houses and structures.
The Göreme Open Air Museum is just one of the many villages carved into the hills. From the time of the Roman Empire Cappadocia was an important place for Christian settlement, and in addition to the houses built into the hills, there are hundreds and hundreds of churches and chapels. I think the region first attracted hermits and monastic communities, which is easy to understand. Cappadocia is made up of huge empty plains and beautiful canyons and mountains, and it is so silent and peaceful, it’s hard to imagine a better place to live a simple and contemplative life. Drawn by the monastics, further settlements developed around the area and Christianity flourished here from the 4th to 11th century.
So, we wandered around the museum and squeezed into a number of small chapels, houses and whatnot. In a few of the chapels there were still some bits of paint from the frescos that once decorated the walls. One of the churches, called the ‘Dark Church’, had been restored and it was amazing to see all the beautiful paintings and bright colours covering nearly ever inch of wall and ceiling space. There were frescos of scenes from the life of Jesus as well as many paintings of Orthodox saints and Byzantine Emperors and Empresses. It was still a small church, and perhaps it was the chapel of a particular family, but it was one of the bigger ones in the museum.
It was interesting to think about some of the different ideas and cultural concepts that were and are a part of Christianity. In Cappadocia the trend was definitely to have as many churches as possible, and new churches were constantly being built. I thought this was sort of a strange thing to do, but then I think it is connected to what I think is still true in Orthodox Christianity ( I welcome any corrections or further information here, because I’m no expert on the subject!). The actual sacrifice of the mass taking place is the most important thing, and it isn’t really very important whether lay people are participating or spectating or not. In Orthodox services, the priests are facing away from the people and all the important bits of the mass are done at an altar hidden from the congregation, as was formerly the case in Catholicism. People can come for communion or say their prayers or watch while the mass is going on, but people can come and go during the service and it seems like the attention or participation of lay people isn’t very necessary to the proceedings. So, with this in mind, having tons of tiny chapels big enough to fit the few priests needed for a mass, so that lots of masses are constantly being said, makes more sense.
Okay, that’s all for now. More to come later!