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eski-gumus1_s.jpg (11152 bytes)The rock-hewn monastery of Eski Gümüşler is 10 km east from Niğde. Trough a rock-cut passage is a large courtyard surrounded by rock-hewn dwellings, crypts, a kitchen and refectory with deep reservoirs for wine and oil. As you enter the courtyard, look at the floor to see a small hole fitted with a propeller to show the constant updraught from the mysterious nine-metre-deep shaft beneath. The crypt to the right of the entry passage has several skeletons still in place. Across the courtyard another crypt, beneath protective covers of wood and glass, holds a well-preserved and apparently undisturbed skeleton.

The lofty main church, to the right off the courtyard, has the best-preserved Byzantine coloured frescoes in Cappadocia, painted from the 7th to 11th centuries. The Virgin and Child to the right of the altar-space is particularly affecting, with Mary given a Mona Lisa smile. The frescoes of two Saints and the Presentation are very nice. The church’s great columns are of course completely unnecessary, but were left when the rock was cut away to mimic the appearance of a traditional temple, The cross-hatch motif was favoured during the Iconoclastic period (725- 842) when sacred images were prohibited and artists resorted to geometries, a preference soon picked up by Islam.

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