We heard that the Selime Cathedral was a masterpiece of rock houses and churches we had to see. And the rumors were definitely true.
As we drove through Selime town and passed the Selime Cathedral (aka Selime Monastery) on our left, I had to be careful not to crash our van! It was staggering to see in person. A towering rock complex with rooms, windows, stairs and even a church on top.
If you have ever dreamed of taking visiting a fairytale-like monastery that is also a multi-level cave, house and church, then this is for you! This stunning architectural marvel stands as a tribute to the various civilizations that have called it home. And yes, it’s hard to believe when you visit it, but people have lived here.
So, if you were not sure if you should pop over from the main show in Goreme, then don’t hesitate. This historic structure is ready to take you on a journey of a lifetime!
The following is the most important information for the Selime Monastery
Note: The price above is very approximate due to Turkey’s ongoing inflation crisis. The prices had just been adjusted when we visited in May 2023. The Turkish Lira price will likely rise throughout the year as the currency continues to decline, but it should stay around 10 EUR.
Selime Cathedral is part of a complex located in the Cappadocia region with a fascinating history. You can walk through the complex slowly climbing the hill to Selime Monastery, passing through arches and up a steep climb to get to the very center of it all. All the way through the monastery you will be in awe of the steep walls and rock columns, funky houses and living areas, kitchens, winemaking and the finale of course – the church at the top!
Selime Cathedral is located in a region that was once home to many civilizations including the Hittites, Persians, Romans, Early Christians, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks and Ottomans. All of these civilizations left their mark on Selime Monastery, which is why it is such an interesting site to visit.
On top of that, there are other nearby attractions you can pop into while you are here including
There is a lot of hype and myths surrounding Turkey, Cappadocia, and Selime and how it was used in the filming of Star Wars for places like Naboo. The truth is, there is nothing to be found in any references to Star Wars having been filmed in Selime or anywhere in Turkey.
I overheard a guide saying that they just shot photos of the place and used them in 3D renderings for Star Wars Episode 1. However, upon further digging online I have not seen anything about it.
It seems if anywhere was filmed for the rock houses in Star Wars it was in Tunisia and not in Turkey or Selime specifically. Even though there is even a place called “Star Wars Family Tea Garden” leveraging all the hype for a bit of marketing! Why not, I guess?
The cathedral complex is located at the end of Ihlara Valley, just outside the village of Selime, at the bottom of the Aksaray province. To get to the site, visitors have the option to simply drive to Selime itself, or take a two-hour hike from the Melendiz River, passing Belisirma Village, rock-hewn caves, and churches. For those who are feeling a bit lazy, there is also the option to take a Cappadocia day tour from Goreme – called the Green Tour.
The entrance to the complex is located at the bottom of the hill on the outskirts to Selime. The walls of the fortress enclose the complex and the monastery.
Visiting the Cathedral is an unforgettable experience, and with the right planning, it can be one of the highlights of any trip to Cappadocia. Be sure to check out the nearby attractions and plan your tour dates in advance to make the most out of your trip.
We actually entered the complex of the Selime Cathedral after a long walk through the Ihlara Valley because the ticket covers both attractions. And, we were staying right around the corner, so it was a no-brainer to pop in after our day out in the valley.
You show your ticket to the lackadaisical guards who hang out at the bottom. There is no real “entrance” per se, they just try to get hold of anyone walking in to inspect your ticket.
As you start climbing up to the Selime Cathedral there are dozens of areas to explore. The team working there has done a great job of guiding you through the complex with red arrows (which you can see above). Sometimes there are multiple ways through or around, but most of the time it is advisable to follow the arrows.
We got lost a few times or had to backtrack, but that is also part of the fun of exploring the Selime Monastery complex. It’s actually a really fun and cool series of caves, living quarters, corridors, stairs, and the finale at the top – the cathedral. Some parts are off to the side, but most of it is all laid out in a logical fashion for you to see one thing at a time.
You can take your time and explore every room and detail, or rush a bit more and come back to things you missed later. What we found really cool was just diving into the deeper rooms where the monks lived and seeing what views there are, corridors that connect to other rooms and anything else we could discover. It is quite the experience if you have grown up with Indiana Jones!
In the upper section are a few bigger rooms that make up the majestic basilica-style church. It comes complete with wall and ceiling paintings from the 10th century. The cathedral also features unique Georgian architectural characteristics that make it really a sight to behold. Now, if you come from Europe and are expecting something like Notre Dame or other big city cathedrals, think again. This is more low-key, but quite amazing for the period it was created it. And considering it’s in a cave, it’s quite the spectacle!
Two other nearby attractions (which are free by the way) you should absolutely see when you visit Selime Monastery are the Fairy Chimneys and the Virgin Mary Church. They are both right next to the cathedral but do not get nearly as much attention. As we were parked right below the Fairy Chimneys with our campervan we had a lot of time to appreciate and explore both of these.
There is a road leading to the right of the cathedral as you face it away from Semlime, and if you take that you will find a small sign to the Virgin Mary Church. It is actually up in a cave above some houses on the edge of town and requires you to walk first uphill on a small dirt road, then through a few small caves and some not-so-well-secured steps to get to. I will include our pictures so you can see if it is too much for you. Most people can do it, but be safety conscious when you get there and don’t do anything you are not comfortable with.
Right around the corner from there is an open are filled with Fairy Chimneys. They are actually very pointy rocks that were also used to create houses, living quarters and caves for people here. There is no specific trail or path there, so you have to find your way in yourself. It is a little slippery in part, so be sure to wear good shoes. We had some situations we found quite tricky and we were quite preparted
There are lots of openings, rooms and steps to explore, but please be careful here as it is very easy to get in over your head. Literally. We wanted to explore some of the rooms and caves higher up, and tried in some cases. But, if you are not a confident rock climber, I would avoid them in most cases. The locals often had ladders, so that explains some of the locations being so precarious. Just use common sense!
The Cappadocia region around is chock-full of plenty of nearby attractions to explore! Start off your tour of the area with a visit to the Kaymakli and Derinkuyu underground cities – two of the most impressive underground cities in the Cappadocia region, built by early Christians. You can explore the tunnels, rooms, and ventilation systems – just don’t forget your flashlight!
Next, make sure to check out the Zelve Open Air Museum, an outdoor museum that shows off the incredible rock-cut architecture and cave dwellings of Cappadocia. It’s a must-see for visitors looking to get a glimpse of Cappadocia’s fascinating past.
And last but not least, Uchisar Castle – a fortress built right into a rock formation – is a great place to climb to the top and get a panoramic view of Cappadocia.
Selime Monastery dates back to the 8th or 9th century having been developed and extended over a longer period of time.
Selime Monastery is a cave and rock complex that features a maze of rooms as well as a basilica-style church at the top. Inside you'll discover how people lived in this jaw-dropping complex as well as original frescoes that have endured the centuries.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!