The road between Çavuşin and Avanos passes a turn-off to the Zelve Open-Air Museum, where three valleys of abandoned homes and churches converge.
The valley was a monastic retreat from the 9th to the 13th centuries. It was inhabited until 1952, when the valley was deemed too dangerous to live in any longer and the villagers were resettled a few kilometres away in Aktepe, also known as Yeni Zelve (New Zelve). There’s a small, unadorned, rock-cut mosque and an old değirmen (mill) here, remnants of Zelve village life.
Arguably the two most interesting churches are also the easiest to find – they’re on the left soon after the entrance. The Balıklı Kilise (Fish Church) has fish figuring in one of the primitive paintings. Adjoining it is the more impressive Üzümlü Kilise (Grape Church), with obvious bunches of grapes. What’s left of the Geyikli Kilise (Church with Deer) and the Yazılılık Kilise (Church with Scriptures) is also worth seeing.
In general, Zelve doesn’t have as many impressive painted churches as Göreme’s Open-Air Museum. Still, you can while away several happy hours exploring tunnels and houses and gazing on gorgeous vistas. Unfortunately, erosion continues to eat into the valley structures and some parts may be closed because of the danger of collapse, while others may require scrambling and ladders.
There are cafés and çay bahçesis (tea gardens) in the car park outside.
At Paşabağı, halfway along the turn-off road to Zelve, a cluster of fairy chimneys, one of them ‘three-headed’, stands within a vineyard near a mess of souvenir stalls. This highly