Just a little outside the central Anatolian province of Aksaray, there lies the stunningly beautiful, ancient Çanlı Kilise (translated as the Bell Church in Turkish) church complex and accompanying rock dwellings. Although some reviews from visitors of the church might say that this attraction is not worth visiting, I would argue that this is a remarkably impressive site marked by a sense of mystery and allure, and a breathtakingly picturesque view.
The surroundings of Bell Church were described by Prof. Dr. Robert Ousterhout, a prominent specialtist in Byzantine architecture and history who had worked on the ruins, in these words:
“In all, we have documented more than 25 residential units, close to 30 churches and chapels, two outlying settlements, several smaIl “underground cities,” seven cemeteries, and a variety of freseoes, architectural sculptures, surface ceramics, and other smaIl finds. Materials analysis has been conducted on wood, paint pigments, and plaster samples.”
The Bell Church
The Bell Church is a 11th century religious complex that was built in traditional Byzantine style. Today, it stands in the region of Western Cappadocia as one of the finest and the most well-preserved examples of traditional Byzantine masonry churches. During the excavations that were conducted at the church in the 1990s, many bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings, inscriptions and mummies were discovered.
The church has several tombs. A room on the back side (to the north) of Bell Church has a few tombs and arcosoliums (arched recesses used as a place of entombment). In addition, the room right across the entrance of Bell Church serves as a small cemetery with a collection of tombstones present.
Prior to the research conducted on Bell Church and surrounding structures, it was widely accepted that the rock-cut settlements in Cappadocia were mostly for monastic use. However, the findings acquired from research at Bell Church found something different. In the words of Prof. Dr. Robert Ousterhout:
“The settlement at Bell Church was not purely monastic, but a small town or village, with about two dozen large residential units, organised around a courtyard, cut into the slope of the hill: houses (from distinguished mansions of landowners to the hovels of the poor), as well as barns, stables, store rooms, cisterns, dovecotes, wine presses, fortifications and places of refuge, churches and chapels, cemeteries, and a few monasteries, that is features common to most Byzantine communities.”
As a result, Bell Church is of great importance, not only for Cappadocia, but for Byzantine history as well. It is sad to see that such a marvelous site is in a state of neglect and, every day, it is harmed even more by treasure hunters.
As Prof. Dr. Robert Ousterhout describes, there are many rock-cut caves, residential units and rooms that are connected to each other with narrow, dark tunnels. There are two residential complexes located a couple of meters before Bell Church, however, these are unforfotunetely very damaged due to illegal excavations done by treasure hunters.
It is presumed that these dwellings and residential complexes were used actively between the 10th and 14th centuries.
A quick trivia: The small niches that were carved onto the walls of the many structres in the region are meant for pigeons. Surprisingly, these piegon houses on the walls of the structures are still very intact. The ancient residents of the region used these to acquire piegon dung which they used as fertilizer.
Some of the tunnels and the rooms have very deep holes in the ground in certain parts that were used for various purposes in previous centuries. Moreover, there some other deep holes (some of them are as deep as 10 meters) that were dug by the treasure hunters. I would suggest you to take every step carefully, especially if you are planning to explore the rooms and tunnels thoroughly.
What you need to know before visiting?
Prior to my visit, I thought it would take no more than 20 minutes to see the area, but I ended up spending around an hour. If you want to see the church and the settlement properly, I suggest you to spare at least an hour.
Below, you will see the map of the area and the historical sites marked with numbers, made by Prof. Dr. Robert Ousterhout.
Where is Bell Church?
The Bell Church and the rock dwellings are situated on plain hills that stand between the villages of Çeltek and Akhisar. The road (from Akhisar village) is overall in good condition, however a small part of it is not asphalted, so, I would suggest you to drive cautiously.
There are no signboards to the church, as a result, you will have to rely on Google Maps.
Once you reach the ruins, you can comfortably park on the side of the road.