Great for: Cave Churches, Medieval History, Byzantine History, Church History
Nestled into the rocky hills of the south-central Konya province, the ancient settlement of Kilistra is a beautiful site of homes, churches, and watchtowers hewn into the undulating cliffs that border the fertile valleys below.
Kilistra was likely founded sometime around the end of the 2nd century BC during the Hellenistic period, the site was chosen to take advantage of the soft, carvable, stone, as well as the natural protection offered by hiding in the curves of the narrow, cliff-ringed gullies above the wider valley below. Kilistra was also founded along the Royal Road, a Persian Highway connecting the empires heartland in the east with its captured territories in the west, using a road network originally founded in the bronze age by the Assyrians.
The churches, homes, and other various buildings are scattered over a fairly wide area though the main attractions are just below the modern village of Gökyürt on the north side. This section is the best marked and where you’ll find the tall, tower-like buildings, and the beautifully carved Sandıkkaya Church. Sandıkkaya, meaning “Chest Rock” is a small church carved to the plan of a Byzantine style cruciform church on the interior and exterior. There are only a few churches built like this including the Ayazini church in the Phrygian Valley, and the Belli Church in Cappadocia’s stunning Soğanlı Valley.
On the narrow cliff top above the church that juts out away from the village are the remains of a number of foundations carved into the bedrock, including the apse of what appears to be a small chapel, a faint cross still visible to the right of the apse.
To the north-west of the village is a small valley lined on either side with numerous carved chambers, some of which are reached by flights of carved stairs. There are dozens of rooms on the north side of this valley, and on the southern slope, a massive, triple vaulted cistern well worth exploring.
To the south-west of the village is another church referred to as the St Paul Church (Aziz Paulos Kilisesi) and Sümbül Church.
The reference to Saint Paul comes from the area’s association with St Paul’s visit to nearby Lystra, Iconium (Konya), Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch. Many guides will try and associate Kilistra with the city of Lystra (16 kms to the south-east), though, despite their similar names, they are completely different sites. It is quite possible that St Paul and his companions passed by Kilistra on his way to Iconium (Konya) though there is no record of any such visit.
While the main attraction is historic Kilistra, the village of Gökyürt with its historic stone buildings and narrow winding streets is quite beautiful and reminiscent of Midyat.
How To Get There
While Kilistra was once set on the great Persian highway, it is now a small village reached by narrow, winding country roads. While you could take a taxi, renting a car for the day from Konya will cost about the same amount and allow you to see far more.
To get to Kilistra/Gökyürt from Konya, leave the city heading south-west along the Konya-Antalya highway (Sometimes Antalya Çevre Yolu or D696) until you near the village of Erenkaya, where you’ll see a sign marked for Kilistra. From the Erenkaya junction it’s a 13 km drive down narrow country lanes to the village of Gökyürt and the remains of Kilistra.
For more about car rental and driving in Turkey make sure to read our full drivers guide.
Where To Stay
While a number of guides claim that the tradition of having a Köyodası, or guest house, is alive here in Gökyürt there’s no guarantee that this will still be the case when you visit so, even if you want to stay here, make sure you have a plan B. Your next best options will be in the city of Konya (48 kms away), Seydişehir (90 kms), or Beyşehir (80 kms). Konya has far and away the most hotel options and sights to visit, though Beyşehir is also a lovely town with a rich history to explore.
Planning on visiting Kilistra? Make sure to check out what other sights are in the stunning Province of Konya!
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