Then some time last year they were tentatively unlocked and a man was positioned across the street to collect a ticket toll from potential visitors. Since there was absolutely nothing to look at inside the building, most made do with hovering in the doorway, snatching a picture of its elaborate facade and then hurrying away before he could corner them.
I’m talking, of course, about the Church of Sts. Constantine and Helena, now renamed the Eleni Church. This magnificent edifice with a stone grapevine running in picturesque style around the doorway was originally built in 1729 when Sultan Ahmed III’s grand vizier, Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Paşa, encouraged the repair and construction of many churches in Cappadocia. As it stands today, however, it’s mainly a rebuild carried out in 1840 after the new equality ushered in by the Gülhane Decree (1839) sparked a rash of new church building. Once upon a time, its interior would have been as thickly painted with frescoes as the region’s much older rock-cut churches. Today, only some stenciled decorations and vague, dusty outlines survive.
How do I know that if I managed to dodge the ticket collector? Well, because last week the church served as the venue for the opening concert in this year’s Klasik Keyifler Cappadocian music festival. It took place on a day when the heat lay heavy over the valleys and most of us had spent the afternoon either spread-eagled on our couches or hopping from patch of shade to patch of shade as we made our way about the village. In Mustafapaşa it was, if anything, even hotter than in Göreme and after a few minutes on the verandah of a fine house given over to the welcoming festivities most of us were forced outside in a desperate search for air.
All that was forgotten, though, the minute the music began. The program started with a Debussy composition that sounded as if it had been designed to be performed just here. But that was as nothing to the glory of the Fauré. Here was a French composer about whom I confess to having known nothing at the start of the evening and now here was his superb piano quartet soaring and swooping and carrying me back with it to a very different past when this, perhaps, would have been the music of choice for many of the locals. Closing my eyes, I could feel the ghosts of lost Sinasos gathered around me, the Greeks who before 1924 had lived here and used the proceeds of the Constantinopolitan trade in salt fish to embellish their town. I could hear the rustle of their long skirts settling on chairs more elegant than the plastic ones provided by Mustafapaşa Belediyesi, the swish of their fans as they too struggled to beat the heat, the polite clearing of throats in the intervals. It was an illusion, of course, but an illusion as vivid as if they had been sitting beside me.
Returning to Göreme, the heat, the litter, the night-time noise, all was forgiven and forgotten in the sheer joy inspired by the magic mingling of perfect music with a perfect venue.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.