It was the summer of 2017 when we drove from Ankara, the capital of Turkey till Mersin, a port city on the Mediterranean coast. The main reason we planned this trip was that Mersin’s rich historical heritage.
Alahan Monastery was one of our destinations and it was definitely worth to see this place, although we had to drive 200 km more from the center. As other Unesco related places we visited, Alahan monastery also did not let us down. What we know about this place is mostly based on the excavations, done by Michael Gough from BIAA (British Institute at Ankara) under several periods between 1952-1968.
It is always a question when you have to drive more just to check one single place. You always ask yourself does it worth to do it or not. For Alahan Monastery, I can tell you that even if you are not interested in archaeology, the view they have over there is stunning, thanks to the fact that the complex is built on the slopes of the beautiful Taurus Mountains. For sure you can still ask yourself, it is worth to visit just for a view or not. Well, then maybe you should stay at home. :)
Although this place is now far away from the civilization, it is believed that it was one of the region’s most important religious centers during the 5th century, while it was located near a busy trade route back then.
Once you climb there and managed to turn your head from the pleasant view of the Goksu Valley, you are getting amazed by the richly carved reliefs of angels and demons on the main entrance.
All churches and small cells for the monks are linked by a straight line of columns. The whole complex of Alahan Monastery stretches along the side of the mountain and covers approximately an area of 600 sqm.
This leads you first to the west basilica with its Corinthian columns.
At the end of the path you are meeting with the star of this complex, the east basilica from 5th century, also known as Koja Kalessi and it is believed that it was built for the use of the pilgrims.
It is also credited as one of the first samples of domed basilica architecture, although there are some discussions on this: Rather than being domed, it may have a tower, capped by a pyramid of timber. Which once fallen, would have left no trace after those centuries.
Nevertheless, as Michael Gough states “the use of squinch arches at the angles of the tower strongly suggests that the architect was familiar with the basic principles of domical construction, and this alone would make Koja Kalessi a building of exceptional interest if, as some scholars have believed, it was built a good half century before the most distinguished of all domed basilicas, the church of St. Sophia in Istanbul, begun in 532. The dating of the building therefore assumes great importance.”
If these are too much detail for you, you can still enjoy the Alahan Monastery with the -detailed figurative- architectural elements of this basilica and by coming here, you can be one of the visitors of this place, on which the first one known was the Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi in the late seventeenth century.