Do not be deceived by the photos of rock-carved houses and churches, similar to the structures in Cappadocia and the Phrygian Valley. Here we will be talking about the tiny village of Gökyurt, located off the main roads, about 45 kilometers southwest of Konya. In this site, forgotten by tourists and by the majority of Turks, there are the remains of the ancient settlement Kilistra. It is the settlement carved in rocks, which was reportedly once visited by St. Paul.
Even from a distance you can see that Gökyurt village is a unique place. From the access road, you can admire the settlement, located on a stony hillside, surrounded by natural stone spires instead of defensive walls. However, the biggest attraction of Kilistra is hidden from the eyes of passers-by. These are rooms carved into the rock, which are still used by Gökyurt residents.
Kilistra was most probably founded in the Hellenistic period, in the 2nd century BC. Its development was boosted by the favourable location, right on the so-called Royal Road. This ancient highway was built by the Persian king Darius the Great in the 5th century BC to facilitate communication throughout his empire from Susa to Sardis. This road led through Kilistra to the west, to Antioch of Pisidia, which was visited during the first missionary journey by St. Paul. Because of this fact, some researchers speculate that he also visited Kilistra. However, these speculations have not been confirmed so far, and the distance between both places (over 150 km) makes the spontaneous visit of the Apostle in Kilistra very doubtful.
The settlement flourished during the Roman period. An epitaph from these times was found in the area of the village, cleverly used by modern residents as a threshold of the house. Thanks to this finding the researchers were able to confirm the ancient name of the settlement. In the Byzantine era in Kilistra, the system of houses carved into the rock was expanded, connecting the rooms with the system of corridors into an underground city. This system is reminiscent of similar settlements, which existed in Cappadocia.
The remains of the ancient Kilistra are scattered throughout the area of modern Gökyurt village. To get them you have to look carefully around the village. The builders of rock dwellings were the masters of camouflage and some entrances to the premises are well hidden. Only when you get closer, you can see the entrance holes. Some of the rooms have been adapted by villagers and are still used as stores, warehouses, barns and, unfortunately, garbage dumps.
Among the rock rooms, it is possible to trace both living quarters and the buildings that once performed religious functions (churches and chapels), and public tasks (water cisterns, military barracks, watch towers and wineries). All rooms have ventilation systems and holes ensuring their lighting.
While wandering through the village use the help of residents who will be happy to indicate two most interesting rock churches. The first one is called the Chest Church (tr. Sandıkkaya Kilise). It was cut into the rock on a cruciform plan and resembles Belli Kilise church from Soğanlı Valley in Cappadocia. The second one is the Hyacinth Church (tr. Sümbül Kilisesi). It is often associated with the alleged visit of St. Paul.
Some Turkish sources ensure that organized groups of tourists can spend the night in Kilistra, in a local homestead, adapted to the needs of travellers. However, the most sensible decision is to find accommodation in nearby Konya and visit Kilistra during a daily tour around the area. It is also a good idea to bring along a picnic basket and a supply of drinks because restaurants and grocery stores are hard to find in Gökyurt.
By car: Kilistra is located just off route D696, connecting Konya and Antalya. If you come from the center of Konya, drive 33 km and then turn south (left) just before Erenkaya village. After driving further 13 km, you will reach Gökyurt. Drive carefully as the road is not in the best condition.
By taxi: a return taxi ride from Konya, including some waiting time, costs around 120 TL.