I was not expecting much from Soganli Valley in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. In guidebooks, the likes of Ihlara or Pigeon Valley overshadow its presence. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. Sitting off the beaten path, the pigeon houses carved into the rock fairy chimneys, and ancient cave churches promoted a surreal appearance but I was mostly in awe at the old abandoned village.
My visit was part of a tour and after we left, I can say, with the exception of Ihlara, I found Soganli to be one of the more interesting valleys of Cappadocia. Not only does it have historical value, and gorgeous landscapes but the story it told will be firmly imprinted on my mind for a long time to come.
Exploring Soganli Valley
The entire length of Soganli Valley is 16 miles, but my guided walk started in the afternoon, and I estimated we walked for an hour at the most.
Following a set walking path running on an upper level of the valley, I was witness to some impressive landscape views but the main reason we took this route was for easy access to the historical churches. Most of them date from the 9th to 13th centuries, although settlement by mankind actually first took place during the Roman era.
Soganli Valley’s Historical Churches
The first church on our journey was the Yilanli Kilise, otherwise known as the Church of the Serpent. Unfortunately, like many churches in Cappadocia, the intricate frescoes inside were damaged, either from graffiti or during the Ottoman Empire when the area had mostly converted to Islam.
Maybe sometimes, it was done out of malice and this can be assumed from where faces were scratched out but on most occasions, locals simply had no idea of how the frescoes would be historically important to future generations, and they instead used them as pigeon sheds or storage areas for their livestock and produce farmed from the land.
Despite its small size, the Yilanli church was impressive but undoubtedly, my favourite was the Kubbeli Kilise. Locals didn’t stop at carving out the interior of the rock to form a church, but they also carved the exterior to make it look remarkably like the Armenian churches that I had seen in the east of Turkey.
The path then led us to the old abandoned village but should you decide to hike the entire length of Soganli Valley, other famous churches include Canavar (monster and named after the dragon that was killed by Saint George,, the Barbara Church and the church of Karabas, that is well respected for its frescoes portraying the birth of Christ, his crucifixion and the scene where he shares bread and wine with his apostles.
The Abandoned Village of Soganli
Within the valley is a small village that I am guessing consists of roughly 20 houses of which apparently, all residents have left except one elderly gentleman who refuses to move. There is a logical explanation for their desertion, because on top of the hill behind the village is a large rock structure.
At times, it loosens in structure therefore raining large boulders on the village below. So the government relocated everyone but the old gentleman has dug his heels in and locals say, he will never leave his house. Nostalgia has a lot to answer for at times.
Some of the houses, situated at different levels on the hill were overgrown with moss and at one point, I did not realise that I was standing on the roof of another house. Fearing its collapse, I quickly dashed off to wander around the other houses of which the front entrance wooden doors were slowly rotting.
On window frames, I spotted a faint trace of the vibrant blue paint that also typically adorns houses in the South-east. The main purpose of the colour is to scare away scorpions and I have read of the trick being used in places like America and Africa. I don’t know if it actually works but was more concerned because I never realised the Cappadocia region had scorpions!
Turkey’s most famous abandoned village is perhaps Kayakoy on the Mediterranean coast but Soganli also has that eerie vibe, that makes you wonder if the ghosts of earlier residents still lives on. As we were leaving, a Turkish woman sitting on a small boulder beckoned me over.
I decided not to go, in case it was a tourist trap and she would launch into a sales spiel about her special handmade souvenirs.(Soganli is famous for small dolls made by locals)
Maybe she wasn’t selling souvenirs though and just wanted to chat with someone else and not the familiar faces of this small tight-knit community. Unfortunately, I now realise that on-the-spot decision to walk away, means I will never know her story.