Fragile frescoes in Dark Church protected

Fragile frescoes in Dark Church protected

NEVŞEHİR

Fragile frescoes depicting some of the most important events in Christianity in the historic Dark Church in Cappadocia have managed to survive with minimal damage until today due to careful protection by authorities. 

The masterpieces in the Dark Church, which include the life of Jesus Christ from birth to death, are being protected from damage that could be caused by ever-growing crowds wanting to see them. 

The church, which was built at the end of the 11th century in Cappadocia into a rock, was closed to visitors in 1987. It reopened after an eight-year restoration process carried out by Turkish, French, Italian and Polish restorers. 

The Dark Church in the Göreme Open Air Museum is one of the rare faith centers where some events mentioned in the Torah are also depicted in the frescoes (mural paintings made of molten metal in lime water). 

The frescoes depict the hiding of Virgin Mary, the birth of Jesus, the journey to Bethlehem, baptism, the raising of Lazarus, entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, betrayal, the crucifixion of Jesus, the assignment of the apostles, the ascension of Jesus, the hospitality of Prophet Ibrahim and the burning of three Jews. 

The church is made up of a central dome, four columns, and three axes and is accessed through a curved staircase carved into rocks. 

The Culture and Tourism Ministry has banned visitors from taking photographs inside the church due to the damage flashes cause on the masterpieces. The church has remained in the dark for centuries, with only one small window letting light in. 

Carbon dioxide and body sweat pose great risk to the frescoes too, which prompted authorities to restrict the number of visitors to the church. Only 15 visitors are allowed in at the same time. 

Visitors are allowed to tour the church for only three minutes and are required to pay a fee on top of the entrance fee for the Göreme Open Air Museum before entering. 

Limitations for protection 

Nevşehir Museum director Murat Gülyaz said the additional fee was imposed to control the number of visitors to the church, which he said was the best preserved one in the region. 

“Most of the paintings have survived until this day without damage due to the minimal light inside. Following the inclusion of Cappadocia into the UNESCO World Heritage List, an important restoration work was carried out here. There is an entrance fee to visit the Göreme Open Air Museum, and although it is in the same site, an extra fee is required for the Dark Church because it may draw a lot of visitors. We also restricted the number of people visiting the church at the same time. A maximum of 15 people can visit the church at the same time. We limited the length of the visits to three minutes because the wall paintings are also affected by carbon dioxide exhaled by people,” he said. 

Işık Yılmaz, a tourist guide, said the frescoes have been drawing great interest among foreign visitors. 

Cappadocia has many churches, but this by far the best protected one. Centuries ago, before the rocks were painted, priests fasted for 15 days, blessed the paintings and painted the frescoes. Tourists are impressed by this hard process,” Yılmaz said. 

Last year, 688,989 tourists visited the Göreme Open Air Museum. Among them, 59,076 tourists visited the Dark Church.