PAT – Seeking the secret church (I)

Seeking the secret church (I)Itand#39s the peak of the peak season and Greme is heaving with visitors. The hotels are full, the restaurants are full and the tours are booked out.

Every morning the sky fills with more than a hundred hot-air balloons. There are parked cars wherever you turn.

This is good news for our businesses despite the rumor mill reporting a less than stellar year on the tourism front. For those of us trying to live a normal life around it, however, itand#39s all, well, letand#39s just say a tad wearying, so last week I talked a friend into accompanying me on a mini-aenture in search of SaklI Kilise (Hidden Church).

Ever since I first came here, a sign to this church has been smugly taunting me. In the early days, I remember making tentative enquiries as to its whereabouts from a man with few teeth who, at that time, ran a cafandeacute near the sign.

In theory, he moonlighted as a guide to the church. The trouble was that mainly he served drinks to those on their way to or from the Open Air Museum so there was never a time when I was ready to go exploring that coincided with his being available to guide me.

My friend, though, assured me that she knew the way. The church was kept locked, she told me, so weand#39d have to stop off at El Nazar Kilise and see if we could pick up the key.

El Nazar Kilise is an isolated early 10th-century church that had once fallen foul of a Trip Aisor hiccup that saw it listed as the best place to go shopping in Greme. More seriously, it was one of the frescoed churches for which restoration United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had provided funding.

That restoration had also provided it with a protective shelter shaped, in my opinion, rather like an inverted molarUnlike SaklI Kilise, El Nazar Kilise is easy to find and Iand#39d visited it in those same early days of enthusiasm for all things Gremeli. Oddly, though, I remembered it as a church whose frescoes were entirely geometric so it came as quite a shock to mount the newly built stairs to the entrance and step into a small cruciform chamber whose walls and ceilings were almost entirely covered with painted figures.

Luckily, my friend is an expert on medieval church imagery, which meant that she could run me through the stories on the walls. We particularly admired the crib in which the baby Jesus was sleeping.

It looked remarkably like a cross between an impressive piece of Byzantine art and a Cappadocian village cradle.The key to SaklI Kilise was not to be had though.

It was late in the afternoon and the caretaker was busy selling tickets to visitors and thinking about home time. We made a date for another day, then ambled back along a track that took us past some of Gremeand#39s most dramatic scenery.

As we walked, so we noticed the steady encroachment of commerce into the valleys. Nothing dramatic, just simple stalls selling orange juice and trinkets.

But the fact is that not so long ago, no such thing was allowed and the valleys were empty.One could argue that itand#39s safer to have people about in the valleys.

One could argue that it enables more locals to make a living from the landscape. I remember the days of emptiness, however, and they were the ones I preferred.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Greme, Cappadocia.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman