Güllüdere and Kızılçukur – Valley of Roses and Red Valley in Cappadocia

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The Scientific Committee of the Benetton Studies Research Foundation has decided to dedicate the thirty-first edition of the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Garden to a place in Asia Minor that emerges from the long historical and geographical history of Cappadocia: two contiguous valleys carved into the volcanic rock, the Rose Valley and the Red Valley, in Turkish Güllüdere and Kızılçukur.

In the center of the Anatolian peninsula, which has always been a bridge for different cultures between Asia and Europe, between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, Cappadocia extends with its plateaus to a thousand meters above sea level and surrounded by imposing volcanoes. The soil is arid, dug by water and wind; the climate is harsh. All this forms the natural scenario of a region that has seen, since the first century, the arrival of early Christianity and the fathers of the church, and then the spread of Byzantine culture, which with its countless hermit and monastic settlements, churches and sanctuaries will form one of the most important Christian communities of the first millennium. To all this correspond spaces that today reveal themselves with extraordinary pictorial cycles, sacred buildings and artifacts dispersed in a vast territory, which starting from the thirteenth century, with the disappearance of the Byzantine presence, will become stables, rural houses and cisterns, and a multitude of pigeon houses that provide those who cultivate the land with the guano necessary for the fertility of the fields.

The two valleys emerge from this context, and show us the extent and the profound value of a landscape in which the forms of human settlement and the disruptive geological nature of the soil retain traces of an ancient culture of predominantly cave dwelling, in conditions of equilibrium between the different manifestations of nature and cultures that pass through it over the course of the centuries.

At the same time, everything here tells us about the contradictions of today’s society, such as the abandonment of places, their consumption connected to mass tourism and its times, but also, together, of the need to seek and cultivate a different look, obtaining from what with difficulty remains and regenerates, a new vision of the tools of work, of human relations, of the forms of government necessary to grow a awareness of the landscape oriented towards hospitality and in-depth study rather than rapid consumption.

Not far from Göreme (between the two main cities of Cappadocia, Nevşehir and Kayseri) and along the road that leads from the village of Çavuşin to Ortahisar, the Red Valley and the two branches of the Rose Valley open and run almost parallel to stop, to the east, at the base of the massif that separates them from the Zelve Valley. Steep paths and stairs engraved in the rock connect them, climbing over the plateaus that alternate in this territory readable only through slow steps and tangible relationships, without which it’s difficult to grasp the exceptional, extremely fragile nature of these places, often condemned to a single, immediate perception: the one that associates the morphology of the washed and constantly eroded rocks with the fixed and seductive image of fantastic figures such as those of the “fairy chimneys”.

The area containing the two valleys has an extension of about 3 square kilometers, and is characterized by an environment with a dry climate, very scarce of water, in which man digging the rock has always found the necessary shelter from the harsh winters and the summer heat of these high altitude territories.
Deeply engraved in the terrain of the plateau, the two valleys are in tune with a process in continuous evolution, connected to the geological stratifications of volcanic nature that explain the origin of the shape’s settlements, the fertility of the soil and the singular adaptability of the rock to the needs that humans and animals have had to build a refuge.

A dense sequence of cultivated fields and terraces with fruit trees and vineyards unwinds along the furrows dug by the water, passable in the valleys, neatly arranged to form a mosaic of shapes interrupted by uncertain roads that follow the banks of a stream, from the flank of a rocky wall, with infinite gaps and cracks that announce on the outside the rich articulation of environments excavated in the darkness of the rock mass.
The place is therefore an invitation to knowledge, which foresees on the one hand forms of slow approach, and on the other the acceptance of the invisible dimension of a landscape in which man has found space and welcome in the living rock, designing living environments that oscillate between dark and light, between excavation of the tuff and cultivation of a soil originated by the getting rid of that same inhabited rock.

The valleys are scattered with churches and monastic complexes, mostly obtained by subtraction from the rock: complex architectures, rich in pictorial cycles that cover the excavated volumes, environments invisible from the outside, if not for the collapse or flaking of a wall. The painted surfaces re-emerge from dense layers of soot and centuries of scarring: partial appearances, but sufficient to understand the value of a historical phase that saw Byzantine culture characterize the social life and environment of this region for a few centuries.


In the valleys, churches still mark the coordinates of this barely visible network of relationships: with their interiors full of references to the landscape that generated them, they help us understand and penetrate the meaning of these places. Some are collected in the compact structure of a tufaceous cone, others dug behind a rocky wall: the first ones, those of Sant’Agatangelo (also called Church of the Three Crosses, in Turkish Üç Haçli Kilise), of San Giovanni (also called Church of the Quince, in Ayvalı Kilise in Turkish) and of Stilita Niceta (also called Chiesa dell’Uva, in Turkish Üzümlü Kilise) invite us to look for access gates between the stairs and the narrow passages of the rural environment; the second, that of the Columns and that of Saints Joachim and Anna, are more accessible and on the main road, behind walls that continuous erosion makes less thick and safe.

Cappadocia, for a long time ignored, rarely described by European travelers and only from the eighteenth century, will be “discovered” at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the start of a season of explorations and studies along which it is placed, in the 1969, the sharp gaze of an Italian poet, Pier Paolo Pasolini who as director leads into this world of rock nature, “between pink and poor ocher”, the narration of one of his works, Medea.

What was then still an adventurous exploration, later became a wider awareness in the direction of the protection of these places and the recognition of their cultural value, culminating in 1985 in the designation by UNESCO of a world heritage site (attributed in particular to the “Göreme National Park and the rock sites of Cappadocia”). But what is now subject to international protection is bitterly confronted with the many contradictions of a local and global society that lives in the tourist presence an extraordinary economic opportunity but also a great danger for the integrity and a possible future of the common goods of the humanity subject to protection.

In a context of rapid changes, of evident abandonment of traditional landscapes, of emergence of new uses and settlement forms connected to mass tourism, among the flourishing of studies and discoveries of this immense historical heritage, stands out the presence of an Italian group who works in particular in the direction of the recovery of the precious pictorial cycles hidden in the rock churches, establishing important human and cultural relationships and restoring legibility and value with this work to an entire landscape. A work that embodies the sense of citizenship, the measure of belonging and care for a place that crosses every national border.

For these reasons, the Scientific Committee of the Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche has decided to entrust the “seal” designed by Carlo Scarpa, symbol of the thirty-first edition of the Award, to the art historian Maria Andaloro, creator and coordinator of the research mission that belongs to the University of Tuscia, and which since 2006, straddling Italy and Cappadocia, has developed a work capable of combining the development and constant transmission of attention and knowledge with the growth of an outlook on the landscape in terms of belonging and responsibility.

This thirty-first edition is exceptionally “biennial”, 2020-2021, as a consequence of the restrictions imposed by the health emergency, which have determined a new articulation of the public stages of the project, an articulation that began on the penultimate weekend of October 2020 and ended in May 2021, taking the opportunity to build several opportunities for further study.