Zelve Open-Air Museum, which once housed one of the largest communities in the region is an amazing cave town, honeycombed with dwellings, religious and secular chambers. Zelve is situated about 10 km out from Goreme on the Avanos road. Here, the Christians and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony, until 1924. Then Christians had to leave the Valley because of the exchange of minorities between Greece and Turkey, and the Muslims were forced to evacuate the Valley in the 50’s when life became dangerous due to risk of erosion. They left the site to set up a modern village, a little further on, to which they gave the name Yeni Zelve (New Zelve).
Now old Zelve is a ghost town and the erosion still continues. The three valleys in the Zelve open air museum offer a heaven for the rock climbers. It takes at least two hours for a good trekker to walk through these valleys, which also house the oldest examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings.
Start your excursion by visiting the first valley on the right taking the stamps in the second valley, then turning right. While walking along the path, you will see on the right some paintings on the surface of the rock. These frescoes are what remain from the now totally collapsed Geyikli Kilise (the Church with the Deer) and afford examples of the oldest paintings displaying the principal religious symbols of Christianity, like the Cross, the deer and the fish. On entering the first valley you will see a rock-cut mosque on the left, with a lovely minaret. You will then notice a monastery complex on the right resembling an upside down bowl cut of the rock. Immediately opposite, there is a rock-cut complex accessible by a metal ladder and connected to the second valley by a long, cave tunnel.
On leaving the first valley you can enter the second valley by following the path in front of the Mosque. Before leaving this open-air museum, be sure to pay special attention to the rocks at the entrance of the third valley. Here you will find a rock-cut mill with a grindstone which remained in use until the 50’s. Recently, its entrance has collapsed.
Then follow the path to the Uzumlu Kilise (The Church with Grapes) named after the bunches of grapes, a symbol representing Christ himself, in a country famous for its Dionysiac rituals. Just next to Uzumlu Kilise, is the Balikli Kilise (The Church with Fishes). On the apse above you will be able to discern paintings of fish in a very faded red.