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ALAHAN

Mountainside monastery

alah1Was it a monastery? Was it a shrine that attracted pilgrims?

Whatever it may have been, Alahan, signposted as a church two km east of the main Karaman-Mut road, is a particularly awe-inspiring Byzantine archaeological site.

It’s a steep climb up from the main road without much shade, but the views of the cedar-covered Taurus Mountains get more and more thrilling with every turn in the road until at least you emerge in a scruffy car park above which the site stands serenely undisturbed by modernity.

Alahan used to be thought of as a monastery although these days some prefer to think of it as a site of pilgrimage, something that its linear layout and the many small incised crosses on the stonework tend to bear out.

You come first to the western basilica whose most striking feature is a gateway that still bears elaborate carvings. These include the symbols of the Four Evangelists, and images of the archangels Michael and Gabriel trampling symbolic images of the cults of Mithras and Kybele, the Mother Goddess.

Beyond the basilica lies a baptistery, the font a remarkable structure in the shape of a Maltese cross with three steps down on each side to a space barely wide enough for a person to stand up in.

A processional way leads to the eastern basilica, still impressively intact apart from its roof. This way appears to have had a portico on the side facing out over the mountains with a fountain-like decorative structure at one end. Sarcophagi were placed inside niches carved into the rockface behind it. Most are now destroyed but one remains intact.

The basilica stands two storeys high and was built against the rockface so that it had no need of a northern wall. It is approached through three elaborately carved doorways although carved corbels above them suggest there was probably originally a narthex in front of them.alah2

Inside, the building is stunning, its walls built from different-sized stones without the need for cement. Many capitals carved with acanthus leaves survive; the most interesting has spread-winged owls carved into them.

The building ends in an apse with a synthronon. Above the crossing area in front of it there was once a square tower supported by elaborate squinches. 

Travel info

Buses from Karaman to Mut pass within two km of Alahan Monastery.

To avoid the steep climb you may want to take one of the taxis that wait at the end of the road near a small cafe. 

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=258556 

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