The Ruined City of Nora/Mokissos and the Village of Helvadere
/ By Josh
Turkey is home to more ancient tombs, lost cities, battlefields, historic mosques, ruined churches, and underground cities than one person could ever hope to explore in a lifetime. One side effect of so much history in one place is that there is too much for archaeologists and historians to properly investigate. The Ruined City of Nora and the surrounding area is one of those places that has gotten left by the wayside by researchers, and that’s the beauty of it! Entering the valley you feel as if you’re the first to discover this vast ruined city on the slopes of Mount Hasan!
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The Ruined City of Nora/Mokissos
Nora/Mokissos Antik Kenti
The main body of the ruined city sits in a valley with the peak of Mount Hasan looming in the distance. In ancient times this valley would have been much deeper but the creek that runs from the slopes above gradually filled in this part of the city, burying many of the buildings and creating something of a small plain that brings in flocks of sheep.
The fact that most of the stones are un-hewn and nearly black make the city feel even more ancient than it is. Many of the walls and doors that are still intact look like the rough walls of a sheep enclosure made by a giant. While the stones are rough, they are far larger than any modern builder would bother using today.
Due to the fact that the Nora ruins have not been excavated or even turned into any sort of official museum, there is actually very little to be said about the history of the site. In fact, if you look at Wikipedia or any of the numerous sites that plagiarize from Wikipedia you’ll find some misinformation. It’s claimed that Nora was once called Mokissos, which was later renamed Justinopolis, before being renamed Kırşehir by the Turks. The problem is that Kırşehir is 100kms away in a flat prairie.
According to a statement made in a local paper by an expert at the Aksaray Museum and based on what we could see, this is what we know: The city was likely established as a garrison rather than a proper settlement by the Romans then continued as a garrison under the Byzantines until around the 8th century. While there are thought to be around 1000 homes in the city there are none of the Roman hallmarks of a large settlement. There is no sign of marble work, no waterworks, and no grand pillared streets. The layout is actually quite muddled and the stonework rough. While the earliest remaining buildings are said to be from the late Roman/early Byzantine period the majority of the buildings are thought to be from the 7th century, not long before it was abandoned sometime in the 8th century AD. And just to keep things confusing he says that Nora was also once known as Mokissos, though this too has its issues as the City of Mokissos is known to have become the City of Kırşehir. It is very unlikely that both of these Cappadocian cities would have shared the name Mokissos.
In her book “The Thousand and One Churches” famed traveler and researcher Gertrude Bell refers to the city as “Viranşerhir” which is more likely a description rather than the name of this place as it means “Destroyed or Ruined City”.
One of the other sights in the area is a castle just a few kilometres to the south-west of the village and it isn’t really worth visiting. The castle sits behind a small stadium-like building and is so small that it’s rather hard to notice. It’s so small in fact that it’s hard to be sure that it’s actually a historical castle and not some strange fake. There are the remains of a small chapel in the one corner which makes it seem a bit more legitimate.
If you have a car then visiting Milk Church is definitely worth the 20 minute drive through the oak trees and out onto the bare upper slopes of Mount Hasan. While there is little left of the old church here, what does remain is set in a remarkable place with a view of the mountain peak nearby and an incredible vantage point of the plain far below.
I have not been able to find any information regarding the history of this church beyond its name.
Helvadere is the closest village to Mount Hasan and also one of the recommended starting points for hiking to the summit. The mountain is an inactive volcano standing at 3286 metres above sea level and commands a magnificent view of the surrounding region. It’s one of three dormant volcanoes that created the martian landscapes of the Cappadocia region and the second highest point in Central Anatolia. While there is a great amount of debate around the authenticity of this claim, the Çatalhöyük map depicting the neolithic town is thought to show Mount Hasan erupting in the background. The original map can be seen at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
Hiking from the abandoned restaurant near Milk Church one can reach the summit and descend again the same day conditions permitting. As the route is poorly marked at best, you will want to do some more research or hire a guide before attempting an ascent.
How To Get There
By far the easiest way to get to the sights around Helvadere is to have your own car. Milk Church is a short drive above the town but it would be a long walk. To drive to Helvadere head south on the D750 from the city of Aksaray and turn east (left) at Taşpınar. Continue east for 15km following the signs for Helvadere and turn off when you see the brown signs for Süt Kilisesi and Nora Antik Kenti. Nora can be found behind and above the village along a new cobbled road. Don’t follow the road to the end, but park at the cut out in the bank up to your right. This rough trail will take you to the ruins.
For more about car rental and driving in Turkey make sure to read our full drivers guide.
To get to Süt Kilisesi go south west out of the village along the only road that heads up the mountain. Google Maps is far from trustworthy here and the church appears to be un-named so it will take a bit of exploring on your part. One tip: it’s not in the gated, abandoned park. You can drive right up to the church.
There is some bus service to Helvadere from the city of Aksaray but it won’t be quick and it won’t be frequent. Also, you’ll have to hike a bit to get to any of the sights. If you’re thinking of doing some hiking anyways then after taking the bus to Helvadere follow the same steps as suggested above for driving.
Where To Stay
Camp if you can! Nora and the slopes of Mount Hasan are an awesome chance to do some camping. 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.
There are a couple of small restaurants near the lake in the village of Helvadere, if you’re looking for a place to eat or to have a cup of tea. If you’re looking to buy some supplies there is a small market across from the fountain in the upper half of the village a little ways below the ruins.
Planning on seeing Nora? 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.