Visit fascinating ghost towns of Ibrahimpasa and Cemil; and abandoned cave dwellings surrounding booming Mustafapasa. These untouristy towns are must-see to round out an exploration/ understanding/ deep dive of Cappadocia. Each uniquely fascinating and some downright heartbreaking as they disappear into oblivion.
A poignant ghost town left to ruin with glimpses of its former glory and beauty., Ibrahimpasa was formerly an Orthodox Anatolian Greek town named Babayan. The Greeks’ forced departure from Turkey in the 1920s, after settling here for over 1,000 years, left Ibrahimpasa and many ancient towns in Cappadocia underpopulated. Immigrants from the northern Greek town of Kastoria and Bulgarian Muslims replaced the original Turkish speaking Greeks (known as Karamanlides).
The town is both quaint and stunning built on the steep sides of a gorge. Its easy to picture fairytale creatures scurrying along the winding lanes and dragons soaring overhead.
A sturdy bridge, built in 1939, lies across a small gorge and allows dramatic views of refurbished stone houses with highly decorative facades scattered among ruins of ancient cave dwellings.
Only a handful of the homes are tenanted today. The facade of many are crumbling, made dangerously unstable by the extremes of summer and winter and forcing owners to abandon them. In the upper part of town, a weathered green wooden door of a forlorn Orthodox church was nailed shut. A farmer struggled with a mule while another perilously drove a small tractor down the narrow and steep cobbled lane. The small fruit farms here are subsistence only and even they are dwindling.
Across the bridge, the only sign of life at noontime was a few chickens and an ancient, hobbling lady who flagged me down and dragged me into a massive cave home to purchase handmade scarves, bead wristlets and dried apricots.
Her home was a living museum. Its precisely cut and relatively new stone exterior disguised the bowels of the place – crooked passages, stairs and chambers ruggedly hewn out of rock and strung with minimal electric wiring.
These incredible houses are built atop and designed around excavated living areas within the soft volcanic rock. This lady’s home was a perfect and visible example, built into the edge of the gorge to the right of the bridge. The ground level of you can see under the balcony opens into a carved out warren of passages and rooms.
Over 1,000 years old, Mustafapasa was known as Sinesos when over six hundred Greek Karamanlides and a hundred and fifty Turkish families lived until the 1920s exchange. Those Sinesian Karamanlide families were resettled on the Greek island of Euboea almost a century ago.
There are over 20 chapels and churches here butonly two worth visiting, the 17th century Church of St Helena and Constantine (Konstantinos-Elena) and St Basil Chapel. I’d even skip the place except for the overlooked cave dwelling town near the town’s central square, which is a must see. To the north of the square; at the right of the photo below, you can wander on a grassy path in the shadow of deserted rock dwellings carved out of both sides of a small valley. Modern electric wire poles still standing along the path reveal that the place was still used in this century at least. Heavily eroded rooms with pillars, niches and arches gape under the open sky and cut building stones lie scattered – explore at your own risk.
Returning to the center of town, look for brown signposts for Mustafapasa’s carved rock churches to the south along a wider, paved path. Fairy chimneys soar beside the path on the way to minuscule Church of St Stephen. Head further in and turn right on the fork in the path for the Monastery of St Nicholas (about 25 minutes’ walk from town center) . An imposing stone entryway was built in the mid 1800s and the most recent renovations were completed in 2012. The monastery’s outer walls bear icons from Greece. Climb the pigeon house steps for a great view of the valley.
As for the sights within the town itself, most of the frescoes in St Basil’s central nave have been vandalized but are well- preserved in the stairwell, depicting the Baptism.
The Church of St Helena and Constantine (aka Konstantinos-Elena above), opposite the main square was rebuilt in 1729 and then again in 1850. Visit for the lovely, incredible stonework vine around and above the doors, and the portico. But the drab gray interior, with hardly any frescoes visible are not really worth entering. Impressive Greek mansions with elaborate stone-carved facades dot the town, built in the 1880s from money sent back here by locals working the preserved fish trade in Istanbul.
Lost in Time – Cemil
For a truly off the beaten path glimpse of a disappearing way of life, visit Cemil (Pron. Cher-meel) and explore the poignant Cemil Church. Plan a short stopover from Uchisar, Urgup or Goreme on the way to Sobesos ancient ruins as its 10 minutes’ north. My guide Mehmet unearthed the church’s elderly caretaker from the depths of a neighboring house, after much shouting over its high walls. As he unlocked its bullet-ridden doors, the caretaker told us that he’s the grandson of another who tended the church back when Muslims and Christians shared a gathering space for all before the 1920s.
“Children came through hidden tunnels to play, and the old men had coffee together,” he said.
The church is larger than it appears from the grassy footpath leading up to it. A portico leads to the heavily bullet-riddled brass main doors, unusually set on an inner side. Two sweet and unusual frescoes are painted on the yellow outer wall, one of Christ with children and another of the body of Christ removed from crucifixion, laying on a lion.
The high, barrel-ceilinged church is laid out in the Greek design and has a lovely soaring inner space, with slender blue pillars separating the nave. But its one of the worst defaced I’ve seen here with graffiti on every reachable surface and bullet holes, pointing to the strife between the Greeks and Turks. The fresco of the Annunciation with Gabriel and Mary above the apse are relatively undamaged and clearly visible, indicating the vibrant azure blues, tangerine orange and rust reds that would have covered the interior.
The ruins of the town, like the church, today are poignant. Its deserted but for a few chickens where once people of different religions lived side by side in thriving village before their leaders tore them apart. The town is messy and not as as pretty as Ibrahimpasa, with neon blue plastic bags stuffed into drafty holes in the rubbly rock walls and odd sacks of rubble litter the paths. There’s a similar desolate feel with only a handful of the last families clinging onto their crumbling homes.