Çanlı Church Ruins and Caves

Çanlı Kilisesi

/ By Josh

Cost: Free

Great for: Ruined Churches, Mountain Views, Nature, Cave homes, Mummies

High in the cave filled hills of Aksaray with a magnificent view of Mount Hasan is Çanlı Church, a ruinous eleventh century Byzantine church that became especially famous after grave robbers were caught uncovering mummified children and cats! It’s high, lonely spot makes it a beautiful place to visit and explore.

Çanlı Kilisesi Church Ruins

Aksaray Çanlı Kilise Church

Why Visit?

Time, especially the last 75 years, has not been kind to this once grand and elegant building. Today only one small portion of the grand domed roofs remains today, the main domes collapsed sometime in 1954. Photographs from British explorer Gertrude Bell (the subject of the film Queen of the Desert) circa 1907 show a church in much better condition.

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Aksaray Çanlı Kilise Church
The main sanctuary of the ruined church.
Çanlı Church Ruıns
The church with Mount Hasan rising out of a thin fog across the valley.
Çanlı Kilisesi Church Roosts
Pigeon roosts carved in the rock with Çanlı Church in the distance.

Despite the poor condition of the building, the grand setting and lonesomeness of the place make it well worth a visit. The once elaborate frescoes have been nearly completely lost, although, in some places they can still be seen even if the exact subject is hard to make out.

Aksaray Çanlı Kilise Church
While there are many patches of ruined frescoes still showing they are all in a statue of complete ruin like this panel, though most are worse yet.

During the Roman period and continuing into the Byzantine, the region of Cappadocia was a major centre of Christianity, home to countless churches and monasteries. Unfortunately, very little is known about the history of this particular church; even its name is still unknown. Based on the design and building materials used the church has been dated to sometime in the eleventh century.

Surrounding the church, spreading along the rim of the mountain is a large settlement of cave dwellings and even some large cave complexes that run deep into the hillside. Many small churches and chapels have been found here but recent research has led experts to believe there was no monastic complex here though there were others in the surrounding area.

Çanlı Kilisesi Church Cave Church
A semi collapsed cave church that is now being used as a shepherds enclosure.
Aksaray Çanlı Kilise Church
pigeon roosts

In 1994, treasure hunters were caught by police digging in the parekklesion. They had unearthed some mummified remains which led to further excavations. These excavations, combined with the finds of the grave robbers, unearthed two mummified children and two cats as well as various grave goods. The mummies are now in the museums in the cities of Aksaray and Niğde. The remains were not intentionally mummified but rather the extremely dry climate and the volcanic stone that the graves were dug into made for the perfect conditions.


How To Get There


Çanlı Church is only about 15 kilometres away from the city of Aksaray. To get to it drive south out of the city along 11 Bulvarı, turning east (left) in the village of Sağlık and follow along the road to the town of Akhisar which will be on your left. Take your second right and follow the road out into the hills for another 4 kilometres from the village. You can’t miss the church up on your left.

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Like any small town, there will often be some infrequent public transit between the city of Aksaray and Akhisar. From where the bus passes to the church is 5kms of beautiful scenery if you feel inclined to walk it. If you continue on past Çanlı Church you will end up in the town of Kızılkaya from which you’ll be able to get to the more popular sites of Ihlara and Güzelyurt.


Aksaray Çanlı Kilise Church
The hills between the village of Akhisar and the ruins of Çanlı Church.

Where To Stay

Camp if you can! Cappadocia is an awesome opportunity to do some camping. Tent or cave, take your pick! If you’re not interested in camping then you have the choice between the non-touristic city of Aksaray or one of the more touristic centres of Ihlara, Güzelyürt, or Selime. The latter three will have you closer to Aksaray’s beautiful history and landscape while the city centre will be a bit cheaper.

Other Tips

Planning on visiting Çanlı Church? Make sure to check out what other sights are in the area!

Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.