Eski Gümüşler Monastery

Top choice in Cappadocia

Some of Cappadocia's best-preserved and most captivating frescoes are hidden within this rarely visited rock-hewn monastery that was only rediscovered in 1963. The lofty main church is covered with colourful Byzantine frescoes, painted between the 7th and 11th centuries. Of particular interest is the striking Virgin and Child to the left of the apse, which depicts Mary giving a Mona Lisa smile – it's said to be the only smiling Mary in existence.

Last tickets are 5pm October to March.

Although the frescoes are the monastery's most famous feature, the warren of rooms here are fun to explore too. You enter the complex via a rock-cut passage, which opens onto a large courtyard with reservoirs for wine and oil, and rock-cut dwellings, crypts, a kitchen and a refectory. A small hole in the ground acts as a vent for a 9m-deep shaft leading to two levels of subterranean rooms. You can descend through the chambers or climb to an upstairs bedroom.

Eski Gümüşler Monastery sprawls along the base of a cliff about 10km northeast of Niğde. To get there, Gümüşler Belediyesi dolmuşes (₺3, 20 minutes) depart every hour from Niğde's Eski Otogar. As you enter Gümüşler, don't worry when the bus passes a couple of signs pointing to the monastery – it eventually passes right by it. To catch a bus back to Niğde, wait at the bus stand across the road from the monastery entrance. The bus back to Niğde comes past at roughly 10 minutes to the hour and 20 minutes past the hour.

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