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Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley

Authors:
  • OBRUK Cave Research Group
OPERA IPOGEA
1 / 2021
Rivista della Società Speleologica Italiana
ISSN 1970-9692
Journal of Speleology in Artificial Cavities
Commissione Nazionale Cavità Artificiali
Estratto da:
Indice OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
5 Subterranean cavities at Khirbet el-‘Ain,
Judean foothills, Israel
Le cavità sotterranee di Khirbet el-‘ain,
contrafforti della Giudea, Israele
Boaz Zissu, Shemesh Ya’aran, Omri
Gaster, Eitan Klein, Yotham Zissu
25 Le ultime miniere del Cadore (Belluno,
Veneto)
The last mines of Cadore region
(Belluno, Veneto, Italy)
Daniele Davolio, Alberto Riva, Sandro
Sedran
39 About the structure and relative
chronology of the complex of articial
caves in Chhoser, Upper Mustang, Nepal
Sulla struttura e sulla cronologia relativa del
complesso delle grotte articiali di Chhoser,
Alto Mustang, Nepal
Igor Grek, Nataliya Moldavskaya,
Mykhailo Shyrokov
51 Rock-cut Byzantine churches of
Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
Le chiese rupestri bizantine della Valle di
Koramaz (Kayseri, Turchia)
Ali Yamaç
69 La cisterna ipogea del XIX secolo
presente nella Grotta della Cisterna a
Catania (Sicilia)
The hypogean cistern of the XIX century
inside the Grotta della Cisterna (Sicily, Italy)
Gaetano Giudice, Francesco Politano,
Alo Cariola, Salvatore Tomasello
75 L’insediamento rupestre di località
Sperone a Verzino (Crotone, Calabria)
The rock-cut settlement of Sperone in
Verzino (Crotone, Calabria, Italy)
Katia Rizzo, Francesco Breglia, Felice
Larocca
pag.
pag.
pag.
pag.
pag.
pag.
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Autorizzazione del Tribunale di Bologna n. 7702 dell’11 ottobre 2006
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Composizione e impaginazione:
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Foto di copertina:
Chiesa rupestre n. 1 del villaggio di Vekse, nella Valle di Koramaz,
provincia di Kaiseri, Turchia centrale (foto R. Straub)
Foto quarta di copertina:
Miniera di Salafossa, nel Cadore, Provincia di Belluno, Veneto (foto S. Sedran)
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51
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley
(Kayseri, Turkey)
Le chiese rupestri bizantine della Valle di Koramaz (Kayseri,
Turchia)
Ali Yamaç
1
1 OBRUK Cave Research Group, Istanbul (Turkey). ayamac@gmail.com
Abstract
Despite being the capital of Cappadocia during the Roman and Byzantine era, no comprehensive scientific research has
been carried out until now in terms of the rock-cut architecture in Kayseri (Caesarea, Mazaca). To fill this deficiency we, as
OBRUK Cave Research Group, have started to work for the “Kayseri Underground Structures Inventory Project” in January
2014. This project, carried out based on a triple protocol with Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environ-
ment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL) and Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality, includes the research, survey, mapping, and
documentation of all the underground structures located in Kayseri territory. This project, covering the entire province and
ongoing for six years, has become very significant and important currently, which was not expected in the beginning, with
46 Byzantine rock-cut churches, 33 underground shelters, 3 underground aqueducts, 10 Assyrian tin mines and 2 cliff-
dwelling villages with 476 different rock-cut dwelling structures in total, explored, researched and inventoried for the first
time by OBRUK Team. The most valuable part of this project carried out in various areas in Kayseri is Koramaz Valley.
Four of these newly found Byzantine rock-cut churches are located in different areas of Kayseri and all the remaining 42
churches are located in Koramaz Valley. In this valley, there are seven different villages and both the interior and surround-
ing of all these villages are full of rock-dwelled structures. Though most of these structures are houses, warehouses, barns,
and dovecotes, there are also several rock-cut churches. Though a part of these previously unexplored churches of the
valley are small and without fresco, there are frescoes on the walls of few churches and some of the churches researched
are as large as the similar examples in Cappadocia. On the other hand, another rock-cut structure complex located in the
valley is a monastery. In this article, these newly explored 42 Byzantine rock-cut churches of Koramaz Valley are explained.
Keywords: Kayseri, Koramaz Valley, Cappadocia, Byzantine rock-cut church.
Riassunto
Benché l’odierna Kayseri (in antico Caesarea, Mazaca) sia stata la capitale della Cappadocia durante l’epoca Romana
e Bizantina, sulla sua architettura rupestre, sino ad ora, non è stata condotta nessuna ricerca scientifica esauriente. Per
colmare questa carenza, il Gruppo di Ricerca Speleologica OBRUK di Istanbul, da gennaio 2014, ha iniziato ad opera-
re nell’ambito del “Kayseri Underground Structures Inventory Project”. Questo progetto, condotto sulla base di un triplo
protocollo con la “Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL)” e con
l’Amministrazione della Città di Kayseri, si occupa della ricerca, mappatura e documentazione di tutte le strutture sotterra-
nee incluse nel suo territorio. Il progetto, della durata di sei anni, è diventato particolarmente significativo, travalicando le
aspettative iniziali, con l’esplorazione e la catalogazione, per la pima volta da parte del team OBRUK, di un insospettato
numero di cavità antropogeniche, tra cui 46 chiese rupestri bizantine, 33 rifugi sotterranei, 3 acquedotti ipogei, 10 miniere
di stagno assire e due villaggi “a parete” costituiti da 476 differenti ambienti.
Le ricerche più importanti sono state condotte nella valle di Koramaz, dove, su uno sviluppo di sedici chilometri, sono pre-
senti sette villaggi, sotto e attorno ai quali sono localizzate innumerevoli strutture rupestri. Benché nella maggior parte dei
casi si tratti di unità abitative, magazzini, fienili e piccionaie, sono anche presenti parecchie chiese rupestri, in precedenza
del tutto sconosciute. Una parte, che potrebbe essere definita di “tipo familiare”, risulta di modeste dimensioni e priva
di affreschi; altre sono invece decorate da cicli pittori di notevole pregio, anche se molto rovinati, ed hanno dimensioni
comparabili a quelle già note nel resto della Cappadocia. Inoltre, uno dei complessi più articolati localizzato nella valle
potrebbe corrisponde ad un vero e proprio insediamento monastico. In questo articolo vengono documentate alcune delle
quarantadue chiese rupestri presenti nelle formazioni rocciose lungo la valle di Koramaz, di cui soltanto due sono state in
passato oggetto di pubblicazioni.
Parole chiave: Kayseri, Valle di Koramaz, Cappadocia, chiese rupestri bizantine.
52
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
Introduction
Situated in the Central Anatolian Volcanic Province
(CAVP), in the middle of Anatolian Plateau in Tur-
key, Kayseri and its vicinity had a tremendous vol-
canic activity, which had started approximately 11
million years ago and continued until the Early Holo-
cene (ca. 10,000 – 8,000 years ago) (Aydar et al., 2012;
Innocenti, Mazzuoli, Pasquarè, Radicati Di Brozolo,
& Villari, 1975), has piled pyroclastic rocks with an
enormous thickness on the surface. Both the eleva-
tions on the north of Kayseri and wide plateau on
the south of Kayseri are completely covered by these
volcanic rock deposits. The amount of pyroclastic de-
posits shows significant differences regionally and is
known to reach a thickness of 400 m in the north of
Kayseri (Sen, Kürkçüoğlu, Aydar, Gourgaud, & Vin-
cent, 2003).
When the volcanic rocks covering the entire area were
first started to be dug and when the inhabitants start-
ed to use the underground as their dwellings are un-
known. The continuous usage of the rock-hewn struc-
tures for thousands of years has made such an ar-
chaeological exploration impossible. The earliest dat-
ed rock-hewn structures encountered in Cappadocia
are probably the Roman rock-cut tombs in Nevşehir
/ Mazıköy and south of Kayseri, especially Ayşepınar
and Yeniköy (Durukan, 2012). From the Roman to
Byzantine empires, the variety of the underground
and rock-cut structures was incredible. The structures
carved in rocks in the area are not limited just to the
houses, barns, dovecotes, tombs, and churches. There
are also monasteries, aqueducts, cisterns, and even
apiaries housed in the rocks and these rock-cut struc-
tures observed in different parts of Kayseri area have
been continuously used until today (Gilli & Yamaç, in
press).
The different natural formations of Cappadocia and
numerous rock-dwelling structures dug in these for-
mations, especially the rock-cut Byzantine churches,
have drawn the attention of numerous travelers start-
ing from approximately 300 years ago and have been
subject to various researches and scientific studies.
These works and studies started for the frescoes in
numerous rock-cut churches found in the area, have
expanded to other rock-cut structures. Today, from
the underground shelters to the hydraulic structures
and from the dovecotes even to the rock-cut apiaries
of the area, there are hundreds of different scholarly
works and studies. Though the volcanic area of over
20,000 sq km where surveys are being carried out is
named as Cappadocia, nearly all of these researches
were performed only in Nevşehir - Ürgüp - Göreme
triangle and this area is a very small part (ca. 5,500 sq
km) of the ancient Cappadocia.
Cappadocia was a province of both the Roman and
the Byzantine empires. In AD 371 it was the largest
province of the Roman Empire with a total area of
50,000 sq km and its capital was Kayseri (Mitchell,
2018; Ramsay, 1890). Kayseri was named “Mazaca”
from the Hattians to Strabo and it was changed as
“Caesarea” in the honor of Caesar Augustus in AD 14.
During the 3rd century AD, it was the largest city of
Central Anatolia.
Despite being the capital of Cappadocia during ancient
times, no comprehensive scientific research has been
carried out until now in terms of the rock-cut architec-
ture in Kayseri. To fill this deficiency we, as OBRUK
Cave Research Group, have started to work for the
“Kayseri Underground Structures Inventory Project”
in January 2014. This project, carried out based on a
triple protocol with Foundation for the Protection and
Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage
(ÇEKÜL) and Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality, in-
cludes the research, survey, and documentation of all
the underground structures located in Kayseri. This
project, covering the entire province with an area of
17,500 sq km (of which about 6.000 sq km consists of
volcanic rocks), and ongoing for six years, has become
very significant currently, mainly due to the findings
in Koramaz Valley.
General Description of Koramaz Valley
There is an elevation difference of 700 - 800 m be-
tween the plain where Kayseri is located and moun-
tains located 30 km east of this plain; consequently,
each creek flowing down these slopes has formed its
valley by eroding the soft pyroclastic rocks. East of
Fig. 1 – Location maps showing Kayseri and Koramaz Valley
(after Google Maps and Google Earth-elaboration A. Yamaç).
Fig. 1 – Mappe con la posizione di Kayseri e della Valle di Ko-
ramaz (da Google Maps e Google Earth-elaborazione A. Ya-
maç).
53
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
Kayseri there are six different valleys eroded by these
streams flowing down from the high hills; in the rock
sides of these valleys, there are structures carved by
the inhabitants dwelling in the area for hundreds,
or even more for thousands of years. The longest of
these six valleys is Koramaz Valley (fig. 1). In this 16
km long valley there are in total seven different vil-
lages. From west to east, these are Büyük Bürüngüz,
Üskübü (Subası), Küçük Bürüngüz, Ağırnas, Dimitre,
Vekse, and Ispıdın. Both the interior and surround-
ings of these seven villages, located on the slopes of
Koramaz Valley, are full of structures carved into the
rocks. Though it is very hard to date these structures
due to their continuous usage, the experts have dated
some of the rock-cut churches in the valley to the 9th
and 11th centuries. On the other hand, it is a gener-
ally accepted assumption that the underground shel-
ters on Koramaz Valley have been dug between the
7th and 10th centuries by the Christians living in the
region as a protection against the Arab raids.
Beyond all these, the experts examining the rock-
cut structures near Ağırnas have stated that, though
these structures have changed over time due to differ-
ent usages, by taking into consideration the entrance
decoration and interior architecture, at least 18 of the
cavities on the valley have been dug as Roman rock-
cut chamber tombs and 16 as Columbarium (Gilli,
2017; Yazlık, 2019). To sum up, it is possible to say
that the background of all these structures carved in
rocks on Koramaz Valley dates back to at least 2,000
years ago and probably to even older times (Yamaç,
in press). Recently accepted to UNESCO World Herit-
age Site tentative list, new projects for the restoration
and protection of various structures and churches in
Koramaz Valley have already begun.
Rock-cut Churches of Koramaz Valley
There are 42 different rock-cut churches in and
around five villages of Koramaz Valley. Although
most of them can be accepted as “family-type” small
churches without any ornaments, which was a tradi-
tion in the Byzantine Empire during this period, few
others are large and having frescoes. Only two of these
42 churches had been published previously.
List of rock-cut churches according to the villages of
Koramaz Valley is below:
VILLAGE NO. OF CHURCHES
Büyük Bürüngüz
Subaşı
Küçük Bürüngüz
Ağırnas
Dimitre
Vekse
Ispıdın
TOTAL
1 (monastery)
15
7
5
14
42
Considering that some of the rock-cut churches we re-
searched in the valley are very similar to each other,
we decided that it would not be necessary to describe
all of them individually and in detail. Therefore, in
this article, while we will give accounts of all these
churches we explored based on their villages, we will
give details only for a few more important ones.
Subaşı (Üskübü) Village
The previous name of Subaşı Village was Üskübü
and earlier it was Skopi. There is a huge complicated
structure, located 200 m northwest of Subaşı Village,
dug on a rocky slope, with a church as well. In this
settlement, excavated on a steep wall and located on
a line with a length of 180 m, there are 11 different
structures of all sizes. Some are connected with tun-
nels and this complex, consisting of some small cham-
bers and a room in the size of 100 sq m, as well as
a kitchen with oven and chimney, is most possibly a
monastery with its church, courtyard, kitchen, dining
hall, living spaces, and ceremonial chamber (fig. 2,
fig. 3, fig. 4).
The church is a cross planned structure with an ap-
proximately rectangular narthex in front, barrel
Fig. 2 – General view of Subaşı rock-cut complex (photo A. Yamaç).
Fig.  2 – Vista generale del complesso rupestre di Subaşı (foto A. Yamaç).
54
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
vaulted, with grave niches at the entrance and the
south wall partially destroyed. The church is one of
the two biggest rock-cut churches in Koramaz Valley
together with Vekse Church No 1; taking into consid-
eration the similar examples in Göreme (Karakaya,
2014), it can be dated to the 10th - 11th centuries.
Ağırnas Village
Ağırnas Village is located 4 km north of Subaşı Village
and on the slopes of Koramaz Valley. In accordance
with the population and tax records of the Ottoman
Empire, there were 53 Christian and 3 Muslim fami-
lies in 1500. In 1520, this changed as 72 Christian and
2 Muslim families (Inbaşı, 1993). The oldest houses of
the village are on the first two lines facing Koramaz
Valley and the house of Mimar Sinan (“Sinan the Ar-
chitect”), who was born here in 1489, is also among
these houses (Yamaç & Tok, 2015).
Apart from the two churches which were constructed
Fig. 3 –  General  plan  of  Subaşı  rock-cut  complex  (drawn A. 
Yamaç).
Fig. 3 Planimetria generale del complesso rupestre di
Subaşı (grafica A Yamaç).
Fig. 4 – Church of rock-cut complex of Subaşı (photo A.E. Ke-
skin).
Fig.  4  – Chiesa  del  complesso  rupestre  di  Subaşı  (foto  A.E. 
Keskin).
55
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
during 19th century, there are a total of 15 rock-cut
churches in and around Ağırnas Village, and only
one of them is in the village. This church is inside the
“Ağırnas Underground Shelter” which is located 200 m
south of the village center, dug on a rocky slope on the
east of Koramaz Valley, left bank. The main entrance
of this structure, which is currently open to tourists,
is protected with a millstone door. After the first room
in the entrance, there is a church with a length of 8.40
m and the main axis of northwest-southeast direction.
As often encountered in Cappadocia, the church has
a barrel-vault ceiling and a horseshoe apse. There
are three niches on the south wall of the church and
a single niche both on west and north walls. A pas-
sage on the west wall connects the church to storage
chambers. Most possibly the church must have been
excavated within the underground shelter, between
9th-11th centuries (fig. 5, fig. 6).
On the other hand, located approximately 500 m west
of Ağırnas, there is an enormous cliff settlement on
three different walls of Koramaz Valley, where the
valley is forked. Here, in total 195 rock-cut dwelling
Fig. 5 – Plan of Ağırnas Underground Shelter. On the upper right corner the larger-scale church is reproduced (drawn E. Tok & 
Ç. Çankırılı).
Fig.  5 – Pianta del Rifugio Sotterraneo di Ağırnas. In alto, a destra è riprodotta la chiesa a più grande scala  (grafica E. Tok & Ç. 
Çankırılı).
56
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
Fig. 6 – Church of Ağırnas Underground Shelter (photo R. Straub).
Fig.  6 – Chiesa del Rifugio Sotterraneo di Ağırnas (foto R. Straub).
57
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
structures have been explored and surveyed. Though
most of these structures are houses, storage units,
barns, or dovecotes, there are also 14 churches. By tak-
ing into consideration the churches and underground
shelters in these settlements, rock-cut architecture in
this region can also be dated between the 7th and 11th
centuries (Lamesa, 2011). Rock-cut churches in these
cliff settlements will be explained according to their
locations on the walls (fig.7).
Ağırnas South Wall Churches
In this section of the cliff settlement, a total of 154
rock-cut structure had been surveyed and there are
eight different churches which can probably be dat-
ed to Late Byzantine Era. Luckily we know the local
names of all of them. These names, given by the in-
habitants of the village centuries after the construc-
tion of these churches, have nothing to do with their
history. Even, as there are no frescoes inside those
churches, they are not names originating from images
like in Göreme. However, we think it is more original
than numbering, as we have had to do in the case of
the churches of Vekse and Ispıdın villages.
Höngele Church
Both the entrance and the apse of this church are
facing east and the main axis of the structure is to-
wards the north. The window behind the apse is
the only example in the region. There are two ar-
cosolium graves next to each other on the northern
wall of the church, which measures 6.03 m × 2.93 m
and has a height of 3 m. The door of the church has
highly detailed workmanship and the embossed cross
above the entrance door is rare. There is a grave on
the right and left of the entrance door in the atrium.
These graves are thought to belong to the donors of
the church. The unique workmanship at the entrance
gate and the arcosolium tombs in it suggest that this
structure could be excavated as a Roman tomb before
it was converted into a church around the 11th cen-
tury (fig.8).
Ağırnas North Wall Churches
Starting with the entrance of the valley by Ağırnas,
this cliff settlement group continues to the south from
here and unites with the southern wall structures.
Fig. 7 – Koramaz Valley develops south of Ağırnas Village, with another small branch towards North. All those three rock walls of 
the valley are full of rock-cut dwellings (after Google Earth-elaboration A. Yamaç).
Fig.  7 – La Valle di Koramaz si sviluppa a sud del villaggio di Ağırnas, con un altro breve ramo verso Nord. Le tre pareti di roccia 
della valle sono cosparse di abitazioni rupestri (da Google Earth-elaborazione A. Yamaç).
58
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
The most important difference of this part compared
to the southern structures is that they were dug with-
in different levels. The structures have similar archi-
tectural features to all other rock-cut buildings of the
Koramaz Valley extending to the south and have un-
dergone major changes over time. In this section, a
total of 34 rock-cut structures had been surveyed and
there are three rock-cut churches.
There is a large hall measuring almost 16 m × 4.5 m
in the middle part of the wall. The main entrance of
the church, which was reached by a chimney in front
of the western wall of this building, was clogged with
Fig. 8 – Entrance of Höngele Church. Ornament style and in-
terior of the structure suggests that previously it was a Roman
tomb (photo B. Yazlık).
Fig.  8 – Ingresso della chiesa di Höngele. Lo stile della deco-
razione e della struttura interna suggeriscono che in preceden-
za fosse una tomba romana (foto B. Yazlık).
Fig. 9 – General plan of  Northeast  Wall Dwellings  of Ağırnas 
Village. Gilaburulu Church can be seen at the bottom right cor-
ner of the plan (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig.  9 –  Pianta  generale  del  villaggio  a  parete  Nordorientale 
del  Villaggio  di  Ağırnas.  La  Chiesa  Gilaburulu  è  localizzata 
nell’angolo inferiore destro della planimetria (grafica A. Yamaç).
59
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
rubble. Probably it was turned into dovecote long after
its construction and at this stage the entrance part
should be blocked and a chimney should be opened.
There is a small chapel with a double apse next to this
church and at the same elevation.
Ağırnas Northeast Wall Churches
Although all the rock settlements of Koramaz Val-
ley near Ağırnas were dug into the western walls of
the valley, an exception is a small number of rock
settlements on the northeastern bank of the stream.
At the point where the valley made a fork and under
the newly built houses of the village, there are seven
rock-cut settlements and two are churches. At the
most southeastern end of the complex, there is a dou-
ble apse Gilaburulu Church (fig.9) with some frescoes,
even though it has been heavily damaged. This church
has a total area of 66 sq m and is supported by a single
column carved into the rock body. North nave of the
church is significantly larger than the south nave and
there are silo-like underground structures dug into
the ground in front of both apses.
Fig. 10 – Entrance of Görmis Church (photo A. Yamaç).
Fig.  10 – Ingresso della Chiesa di Görmis (foto A. Yamaç).
Fig. 11 – Plan of Görmis Church (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig.  11 – Pianta della Chiesa di Görmis (grafica A. Yamaç).
Fig. 12 – West corner of Dimitre cliff settlements (photo A. Yamaç).
Fig.  12 – Sperone occidentale dell’insediamento a falesia di Dimitre (foto A. Yamaç).
60
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
Gormis Church
The peculiarity of this structure is that it is the only
structure on the east slope of Koramaz Valley around
Ağırnas and all other rock-cut structures on the main-
line of the valley are located on the opposite, western
wall. The entrance door of this church faces north and
a total of 6 graves, probably belonging to the donors
of the church, are located in the atrium of the church.
The templon and the altar of the church have sur-
vived to the present day. It appears that the access
to the church was partially destroyed. A room on the
right side of the entrance and a rock tomb on the floor
are interesting. This church, which is an 11th century
Byzantine structure, measures 6.88 m × 2.60 m and a
height of 3.54 m, has been well preserved compared
to its counterparts. The rectangular church has semi-
circular apse, an altar carved from the rock body, and
three semicircular niches on the north wall of the nave
(fig. 10, fig.11).
Dimitre (Turan) Village
Four kilometres after Ağırnas, Koramaz Valley reach-
es Dimitre, which is currently known as Turan Vil-
lage. In the Ottoman registrations, dated 1500, 37
dwellings, and 1520, 48 dwellings were recorded in
the village (Inbaşı, 1993).
Old Dimitre Village is not located on the mainline of
Koramaz Valley but on the north slopes of a branch
extending to the east (fig. 1 and fig. 12). This region
is the deepest point of Koramaz Valley: in Dimitre
branch, the maximum difference between the altitude
of the plateau and the bottom of the valley reaches
80 m. The total number of cliff dwellings on the walls
of this branch are more than the cliff dwellings of
Ağırnas: the most important reason is that, differ-
ently from Ağırnas, the residents of Dimitre Village
continued to live in these rock-cut structures until re-
cently. When the village became uninhabitable due to
the collapses, in 1966, it has moved to the plain on
top of the valley, to its current settlement. The rock-
cut settlements of Dimitre have changed much more
due to its inhabitation and usage until such a recent
date. During this study, in Old Dimitre Village, in to-
Fig. 13 A small Byzantine church in Dimitre Village (photo
D. Albov).
Fig.  13 – Piccola chiesa bizantina nel villaggio di Dimitre (foto 
D. Albov).
Fig.  14 – Wall of Koramaz Valley to the north of Vekse Village. In this sector there are few rock-cut dwellings and four churches 
(photo A. Yamaç).
Fig.  14 – Parete della Valle di Koramaz a nord del villaggio di Vekse. In questo settore vi sono poche abitazioni rupestri e quattro 
chiese (foto A. Yamaç).
61
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
tal 229 rock-cut settlements have been explored and
surveyed. Among these structures, most of which are
dwelling, barn, and dovecote, there are also seven
churches. Those small rock-cut churches are architec-
turally quite similar; all of them are with a length of
6-7 m and have a horseshoe apse (fig. 13).
Vekse Village
The next village after Dimitre in Koramaz Valley is
Vekse which is located 2.5 km west and is the small-
est village of this valley. The opposite slopes of the
valley consist of red-colored volcanic rocks reaching to
a height of 20 m from place to place and extending
like a wall from one end to the other (fig. 14). Struc-
turally, Vekse is very similar to Ağırnas. On one side
of the valley, there is the current village and on the
other side, there are the rock-cut structures. Differ-
ently from Ağırnas and Dimitre, there are not many
rock-cut settlements on the walls of Koramaz Valley
extending in front of Vekse. The number of rock-cut
structures on the walls is just 12 in total and five
of these structures are churches. Apart from Vekse
Church No. 1, all other four churches have approxi-
mately a 6 m long axis and horseshoe apse plan.
Vekse Church No. 1
The rock-cut church of Vekse No. 1 is situated 400
meters south-east from the main settlement of Vekse
and on the top of a cliff. The entrance of the church
is located on the north wall. It was partly destroyed
but on the broken wall we still can see the square ex-
onarthex overlapped by the semicircular vault. The
semicircular niches are carved in the lower parts of
the west and east walls. The naos is a Byzantium type
“compact cross-in-square” style. In the apse there is
still the rectangular-shaped altar carved in a rock pro-
trusion. There are three arch-niches over the altar. On
the north wall a small rock-cut table (the prothesis)
is present. Connection with dome is made by the flat
pendentives of triangular shape. To the south of the
naos the parekklesion of rectangular shape that ex-
tend on the axis north-south is adjoining. It is covered
by a barrel vault. Along the west wall of the parek-
klesion a rock-cut bench has been obtained and in
the south corner a burial pit of rectangular shape is
situated. On the east side the second apse was exca-
vated with a rock-cut altar in the centre and two rock-
cut shelves. To the west of the naos adjoining large
narthex extends on the east-west axis. It is overlaid
by a high barrel vault. In the east part of the narthex,
Fig.  15 – Vekse Church No. 1, view from the nave towards the apse (photo R. Straub).
Fig.  15 – Chiesa n. 1 di Vekse, vista dalla navata verso l’abside (foto R. Straub).
62
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
Fig.  16 – Vekse Church No. 1, view from the apse towards the nave and the entrance (photo R. Straub).
Fig. 16Chiesa n. 1 di Vekse, vista dall’abside verso la navata e l’ingresso (foto R. Straub).
63
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
on each sides, in the walls two arcosolium niches were
carved. In the western part of the southern wall a big
arcosolium niche semicircular-shaped in plan-section
is positioned. In front of that niche on the floor there
is a burial pit. One more burial pit was cut on the floor
between two eastern arcosolium niches (fig. 15, fig. 16,
fig. 17). One fresco is preserved on the east wall be-
tween the apses of the main church and parekklesion.
It is preserved fragmentarily but there still could be
seen two human figures.
Vekse Church No. 2
To the north of today’s Vekse settlement, there are
four different churches along the north wall of the Ko-
ramaz Valley. Called Vekse Church No 2 by us, this is
a good example of the adaptation of a relatively large
rock-cut church to the natural form of the rock body.
There are two round arched niches on the east of the
nave measuring 3.8 × 6 m, supported by a single col-
umn. The main apse is connected to the lateral apse
by a passage to the west. There is a simple templon
wall in front of both apses (fig. 18, fig. 19). The total
distance between this church, which has no fresco re-
mains insight, and Vekse Church No 3 on the same
slope, is about 200 m.
Vekse Church No. 5
This is the last structure to the east on the northern
wall of Vekse. This church, which is located in the
middle of the rock wall, on top of the slope, is entered
through a rock-carved courtyard that has been ex-
cavated neatly and has niches on its walls. On both
walls of this 7,5 m long church, there are three large
niches with rectangular plan and arches. There is an
altar carved into the rock body on the east wall of the
horseshoe apse. The purpose of the room, which was
dug in the southeast direction inside the church with
a nearly square plan and a ventilation shaft in the
centre of the ceiling, is uncertain. There is no niche on
the walls and the floor is filled with debris fallen from
the ceiling (fig. 20).
Fig.  17 – Plan of Vekse Church No.  1 (drawn A. Yamaç  & E. 
Ianovskaya).
Fig.  17 – Pianta della Chiesa n. 1 di Vekse (grafica Yamaç & 
E. Ianovskaya).
Fig.  18 – Nave of  Vekse Church No.  2, looking from  west to-
wards east (photo A.E. Keskin).
Fig. 18Navata  della  Chiesa  n.  2  di  Vekse,  guardando  da 
ovest verso est (foto A.E. Keskin). 
Fig.  19 – Plan of Vekse Church No. 2 (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig. 19Pianta della Chiesa n. 2 di Vekse (grafica A. Yamaç).
64
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
Ispıdın Village
This is the last western village of Koramaz Valley. In
accordance with the Ottoman registrations, in 1500
population census, there were 19 dwellings in total
and 15 of these dwellings were stated to be Christians.
In the 1520 population census, the number of houses
increased to 35 and the number of Christian houses
was 23 (Inbaşı, 1993). In the village, there are 14 dif-
ferent rock-cut churches on both walls of Koramaz
Valley (fig. 21). All these churches are scattered to dif-
ferent parts of the valley. Apart from 3-4 small rock-
cut dwellings, the lack of cliff settlements is as inter-
esting as the excessive number of churches in such a
small village. In a village with 19 houses in total in
1500, it is hard to explain the existence of 14 differ-
ent rock-cut churches approximately 500 years even
before this date. All these 14 churches numbered by
us are approximately in similar sizes and are small
structures with the main axis of approximately 6-7
m. Apart from one church, all other churches have a
horseshoe apse. In three churches, there is windowed
templon carved into the main rock between the apse
and the nave.
Ispıdın Church No. 1
This small rock church, located on the rocky ridge
next to the bridge that crosses the Koramaz Valley in
the southwest of Ispıdın Village, was the only frescoed
church we have come across in Kayseri. We say “it was”
because the intense destruction by illicit diggers that
Fig. 20 – Plan of Vekse Church No. 5 (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig. 20Pianta della Chiesa n. 5 di Vekse (grafica A. Yamaç).
Fig.  21 – Distribution of 14 churches around Ispıdın Village (after Google Earth-elaboration A. Yamaç)).
Fig. 21Distribuzione delle 14 chiese rupestri attorno al villaggio di Ispıdın (da Google Earth-elaborazione A. Yamaç).
65
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
we have observed in this church only in the last year
is incredible. Most of the frescoes described in Kara-
kaya’s article published in 2013 and dated 11th to 13th
centuries are now unrecognizable (fig. 22, fig. 23). The
church has an irregular rectangular plan and there is
a small narthex in the north (fig. 24). The central sec-
tion where the cross arms meet is square-shaped and
covered with a dome that is crossed by pendants. The
cross arms, which are rectangular and covered with
barrel-vaults, differ in size. The church has northeast
and northwest corner rooms. In the east of the cross
arm forming the bema, there is a half-round apse and
a prothesis in the northeast (Karakaya, 2013; Straub,
Yazlık, & Yamaç, 2019).
Ispıdın Churches No. 2, 3 and 4
To the north of Ispıdın Church No 1, on the rocky slope
opposite the bridge, there are three small churches,
which are separated by 10-15 m and are very simi-
lar to each other in terms of architecture. The church
number 2 in the west direction, like the other two, is
in the northwest-southeast direction and has an amor-
phous rectangular plan. The ceiling is barrel-vaulted
Fig.  22 – Ispıdın Church No. 1 (photo R. Straub).
Fig. 22Chiesa n. 1 di Ispidin (foto R. Straub).
Fig.  23 – Ispıdın Church No. 1: detail (photo R. Straub).
Fig. 23Chiesa n. 1 di Ispıdın: particolare (foto R. Straub). 
66
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
and the naos is full of debris due to illicit digging in
front of the horseshoe-shaped apse. Numerous small
niches partly on the walls and on the architrave and
the chimney in front of the entrance show that the
church was once changed to a dovecote.
From this church to the southeast, Ispıdın Church No
3 is located on the same rocky ridge. Unlike the church
no 2, there is a nartex in front of the western entrance
of this building, which was later turned into a dovecote.
The church has an entrance from both the south and
the narthex. There is a rectangular niche with round
arches on both walls of the naos. Ispıdın Church No 4
is located 15 m southeast of Ispıdın Church No 3, along
with its narthex with a very smooth architecture. The
building, like the other two churches, has a semi-circu-
lar apse and a barrel-vaulted ceiling (fig. 25).
Ispıdın Church No. 5
The church is entered through a door on the rocky
slope facing south and to the valley. The building has
a rectangular plan measuring 7.5 × 2.5 m in the north-
west-southeast direction. The ceiling of the building
has a barrel-vault, and there are four square-shaped,
round-arched niches and a transept lined side by side
on the north wall of the naos. As the rock block in the
southern part of the church was too thin to allow a
Fig.  24 – Plan of Ispıdın Church No. 1 (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig.  24  – Pianta  della  Chiesa  n.  1  di  Ispıdın  (grafica  A.  Ya-
maç).
Fig.  25 – Plan of Ispıdın Churches No. 2, 3 and 4 (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig. 25Planimetrie delle Chiese n. 2, 3 e 4 di Ispıdın (grafica A. Yamaç).
67
OPERA IPOGEA 1 - 2021
transept arm to be excavated here, just like Vekse
Church No.1 only one arm of the transept was made.
The only feature of this small church, which has no
fresco today, is the templon wall with windows that
separates the apse and the nave. (fig. 26).
Ispıdın Church No. 12
Located on the eastern end of Ispıdın, 20 m above
Church No. 7, this building is another frescoed church
in the region. Although a few fragments of these
fresco es remain, the few human motifs that can be
detected are remarkable. This building, which can be
regarded as one of the largest churches in the region
with its dimensions of 3.5 × 8.5 m, has a barrel-vault,
a semi-circular apse and has a very elaborate architec-
ture and workmanship. The altar on the east wall of
the apse is carved into the rock body. The function of
the room measuring 3.5 × 4 m, which is connected to
the church with a large entrance from the south and
which has been possibly excavated in the same period,
is uncertain. There is a mihrab-like niche on the south
wall of this room, the southwestern corner of which
has collapsed (fig. 27, fig. 28).
Fig.  26 – Ispıdın Church No. 5 (photo A.E. Keskin).
Fig. 26Chiesa n. 5 di Ispıdın (foto A.E. Keskin).
Acknowledgement
We’ve been working together for more than six years and during this period “Kayseri Underground Structures Inventory Project” 
reached an unbelievable level. It would be impossible without his dedicated attitude and extraordinary efforts. So, it is a pleasure
to express our sincere gratitude to Prof. Osman Özsoy, Kayseri Coordinator of ÇEKÜL Foundation.
Fig.  27 – Ispıdın Church No. 12 (photo D. Albov).
Fig. 27Chiesa n. 12 di Ispıdın (foto D. Albov). 
Fig.  28 – Plan of Ispıdın Church No. 12 (drawn A. Yamaç).
Fig. 28Pianta della Chiesa  n.  12  di  Ispıdın (grafica A. Ya-
maç).
68
Rock-cut Byzantine churches of Koramaz Valley (Kayseri, Turkey)
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The evolution of Neogene volcanic activity in the Central Taurus is investigated; stratigraphical and radiometric age data from the Ürgüp (Kayseri) basin idicate that volcanism in the area began at least as early as Upper Miocene, lasting up to prehistoric times. The volcanism maintained throughout this time interval a calcalkaline character. The diachronous end of calcalkaline volcanism along the Taurus margin is tentatively related to the differential collision between the Afro-Arabian and the Anatolian plates, probably due to an original irregular shape of the Anatolian continental margin.
Kappadokia'da, Argaios Dağı Çevresinde Hellenistik-Roma Dönemi Mezarları ve Ölü Kültü
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