A hike through the canyon is an opportunity to see the Cappadocia of more than 1,000 years ago. Only 49km (30 miles) south of Nevsehir, the austere landscape of the Ihlara Valley splits open to reveal a 15km (9 1/3-mile) fissure created by the force of the Melendez River. In contrast with the scenically dusty expanses of the rest of Cappadocia, the bottom of the canyon, nourished by the riverbed, is verdant with vegetation supporting village life much as it did centuries ago. Local women wade along the banks of the river, their traditional baggy trousers trailing in the river's edge as they do the day's washing.
As residents are drawn to Ihlara's canyon fertility, so were the earliest Christians: The canyon is home to over 100 churches and an estimated 4,000 dwellings sculpted into the soft rock face of the valley.
The canyon descends over 90m (295 ft.) in some places, twisting and turning at the beckoning of the river along wide trails lined with poplars and pistachio trees or narrowly navigable paths. There are a number of official entry and exit points along the canyon, past modest yet viable troglodyte villages. Official entry and exit points at the villages allow for either full-day or abbreviated hikes, but you should leave time for detours to the area churches and to pet the donkeys tied to a tree along the river's edge.
The most common starting point to a hike into the valley is the southern entrance near the village of Ihlara, down an endless man-made serpentine stairway 400 steps to the bottom. About 3.5km (2 1/4 miles) away, over sometimes-rough terrain, is the village of Belisirma, an ancient center of medicine before Selçuk Sultan Kiliçarslan II transferred the school to Aksaray. The process of mummification was extensively practiced in this part of the valley; a mummy of a woman found here is on display in the Nigde Archaeological Museum.
The churches, some of which are difficult to reach, date from the 8th or 9th century while the decorative frescoes date to a later post-Iconoclastic period, somewhere between the 10th and 13th centuries. The styles of the churches are generally grouped into two categories: those with an Egyptian or Syrian influence mainly found around the main entrance, and those reflecting a typical Byzantine style bunched around Belisirma.