Avanos, located on the Kızılırmak River (literally Red River), is a town famous for its beautiful pottery that has been produced there for millennia. The production process uses the clay extracted from Kızılırmak, with a characteristic reddish hue. However, Avanos is not only a ceramic workshop but also a charming town where it is possible to stroll along a riverside promenade. It is also an alternative accommodation base for exploring Cappadocia.
The oldest traces of human settlement in the area of Avanos have been found in the Zank Höyük mound, located 4 km north-west of the village Sarilar. This mound rises 30 meters above the surrounding plain, and its diameter is 300 meters. The excavations were made at Zank Höyük by a team of H. Sever, and they led to the discovery of the remains of pottery from the time of the Assyrian trade colonies that is from the middle Bronze Age. Further archaeological work reached ever older ceramics, dating back to the early Bronze Age. On the surface of the mound, objects dating back to Phrygian and Hellenistic period were found.
The first written mention of the city, now known as Avanos, is dated to the Hittite period i.e. the second millennium BCE. Emile Forrer, a linguist, read one of the three thousand clay tablets, which were discovered in 1926 in the archives of the Hittite kings in the Royal Citadel in Hattusas. It contained the name of Zu-Winasa that the French archaeologist Nicole Thierry linked to the later names of the city - the Roman Venessa and modern Avanos. Michel Condoz managed to read a tablet inscribed in Assyrian, found around Avanos, in which the town was called Nenassa.
According to Strabo, during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Venessa it was the third most important city of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, after Mazaka (Kayseri) and Tyana (Kemerhisar). This kingdom existed until the death of its last king, Archelaus in 17 AD. Then it came under the control of Rome as a province of Cappadocia. Strabo writes about Avanos also using another name - Ouenasa. It was derived from the massive temple of Zeus Ouenas standing nearby. The temple priests were being supported by the revenue generated by agriculture. Yields were extremely abundant in the area because of the fertile volcanic earth on the banks of the Red River.
The possible location of the Zeus Temple is the Avanos tumulus, located 7 km west of the town centre. It is mentioned in an article by Nicole Thierry Le tumulus d'Avanos et la ville sainte du Grand Zeus Ouranos, as a place where the processions in honour of the Heavenly Zeus of Cappadocia were held. Avanos tumulus has not been thoroughly explored by archaeologists yet. However, it is sometimes associated with the burial place of one of the kings of Cappadocia. It has a regular conical shape, and the stairs led to its peak from the west and the east sides.
In the pamphylian dialect, derived from the Luwian language, ouenasa apparently meant a queen, and in the Cappadocian dialect the word venasa described the mother goddess. Some researchers have associated these words with the worship of the Anatolian mother goddess, widespread around Avanos. These religious practices were later Hellenized, and, as a result, the cult of Zeus with a female nickname Ouenasa developed.
A sarcophagus, found in 1971 in the area of the necropolis, is a delightful reminder of the Roman period of history of the city. It was discovered by accident, and what makes it even more valuable, is the fact that it is the only sarcophagus found so far in the central Cappadocia.
There was a large Christian community in Venassa, already in the Roman times. The earliest memorial of its activity is Dereyamanlı church, dating back to the 5th century AD. If its dating is correct, it is one of the oldest Christian churches in Cappadocia. In Byzantine times the name of the city was transformed into a Vanote.
The current name of the town - Avanos - is a corruption of the name Evranos. It was the name of a Seljuk commander who conquered Cappadocia in the 11th century. The memento of the Seljuk period of the history of Avanos is the nearby Sarı Han caravanserai, built on the orders of the Sultan Kaykaus II in 1249. Another building from that time is Alaaddin Mosque, located in Avanos.
It is known that there were 56 households in 1750 in Avanos. In the second half of the 18th century, the ornate mansions with the reliefs on the façades were erected in the town. Further development of the town, in the 19th century, its inhabitants owed to the Bey of Avanos named Kurena Arif, who was sent to the area on the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. At that time, a large part of the population of Avanos were the Greeks and the Armenians. As a result of the tragic events that took place in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, their presence in Avanos belongs to the past. Some of their great houses have been restored and adapted for boutique hotels, but the others stand forgotten and ruined.
In the centre of Avanos
Numerous pottery workshops are the most important tourist attraction in Avanos. They represent a local tradition of making pottery from red clay collected from the Kızılırmak river. This tradition has been practised in Avanos area for several millennia.
Group tours usually end up in huge ceramic halls, located near the junction with the road to Göreme. However, with enough spare time, it is much more interesting to visit one of the workshops located in the centre of Avanos. Each of them is run by another family, which has been associated with this craft for many generations. These workshops are located near the main square and along the narrow streets leading to the north of the square. The most famous ceramic workshops in Avanos are: İkizler Çömlek Atölyesi, Hitit Çanak Atölyesi, Le Palais du Urdu, Ferhat Pottery and Avanos Çarşı Seramik
All of these workshops are similarly organised. They are located in the basement and deeper underground, in the rooms carved into soft volcanic rock. This method ensures that ceramic objects are protected from the intense sunlight that could harm their beautiful colours. In practice, each visit to a ceramic workshop is simultaneously the exploration of an underground mini-town. The process of pottery making can be seen during frequent demonstrations. The admission to these events is free of charge, and the participation does not commit the visitors to any purchases.
The most famous of the ceramics workshops in Avanos - Chez Galip - is not only known for its pottery, but also for an unusual Hair Museum, located in the cavernous interior. The origins of this strange institution are explained with a local story. According to it, one day a potter was saying goodbye to a friend and asked her for a souvenir. In response, the girl handed him a lock of her hair. The potter put this lock in the workshop and told his story to customers and tourists. Soon, other women also began to offer him their curls, and the walls of the workshop were covered with a thicket of hair. The museum has been officially in operation since 1979. It reportedly has in its collection about 16,000 locks of hair, and it was entered into the Guinness Book of Records. Chez Galip pottery workshop is located in the official district of the potters - Avanos Çanakçılar Bölgesi - to the north of the city centre(38.719685,34.848522) and is open from 10 am to 8 pm.
Güray Museum, also known as Cappadocia Underground Museum of Ceramics, is another museum associated with ceramics in Avanos. It was opened recently, in April 2014, after five years of work carried out by Güray ceramics company, one of the oldest factories in the region. The museum occupies an area of 1,500 square meters, where nearly 500 exhibits are displayed. The facility consists of three sections: the hall of historic objects, the contemporary ceramics room, and the socio-cultural space where temporary exhibitions and meetings are held. The museum is located on the south-west side of Avanos, on Dereyamanli street (38.710372, 34.835014).
Avanos is also famous for its artisans producing sculptures in alabaster and hand-woven carpets. In the carpet workshops, there is the opportunity to observe the process of weaving a carpet, a skill that is passed by local women from generation to generation.
Historic houses from the Ottoman period are another attraction of the town. The most beautiful specimens stand north from the centre, behind the statue depicting the potter working at the wheel. One of them is Tevfik Körükcü Konağı (38.720470, 34.847507), built in 1868 and now the home to a carpet shop. Other historic buildings have been turned into hotels, guesthouses, and shops. Unfortunately, many of them have not been restored and are falling into total disrepair. Another district of historic houses is located along Atatürk street, running parallel to the Kızılırmak River.
Historic houses in Avanos can be divided into two categories: the first one consists of the houses built of stone blocks, completely above the ground. The second category encompasses the buildings partially rising above the ground, and partly - hidden underground, where their vast cellars were carved into the rock. Apparently, some of these underground corridors were created in the times of early Christians and served as a refuge in times of persecution. With time, stone houses were erected on the top of these corridors. During the Ottoman period, their facades were decorated with beautiful bas-reliefs.
The typical interior of a stone house consists of a central hall and rooms decorated with arched ceilings. Stone blocks used in the construction were cut out from the soft volcanic tuff and carefully smoothed. Decorations, carved in stone, were placed around doors, windows, cabinets, and fireplaces. Wooden ornaments decorated balconies, ceilings, and wing doors.
A historic church now known as Dereyamanlı Kilisesi stands on the western outskirts of the town (38.709742, 34.825017). It consists of a small room carved into the rock. This area offers a magnificent view of the valley of unusual rock formations. The interior of the church is decorated with simple geometric designs in red, with one of the patterns resembling the Star of David. Perhaps this structure was also used as a synagogue for some time. As mentioned above, the church was built, most probably, in the 5th century. What's more, it is the only rock church in Cappadocia, where religious services are held.
In the centre of Avanos, where the street Çavuş forks off (38.718995, 34.840373), there is the oldest mosque in Avanos. It is known as Alaaddin Cami, and it is a memento of the Seljuk era, built in the 13th century. Unfortunately, due to numerous renovations and additions of more rooms, the building has irretrievably lost appearance characteristic for the Seljuk architecture.
In the vicinity of Avanos, it is worth to visit Sarıhan caravanserai, built during the Seljuk period. It stands 7 km to the east of Avanos centre (38.711799, 34.909582) and it is difficult to miss while travelling along the D300 road to Kayseri. In the evenings, whirling dervish ceremonies are organised there, for the entertainment of tourists, but the building can also be visited during the daytime. Admission is payable and costs 3 TL.
Aficionados of prehistory can search for two prehistoric mounds in the vicinity of Avanos. Avanos Tumulus is located 7 km west of the city (38.717899, 34.768214) and Zank Tumulus - 4 km to the north-west of Sarilar village.
In the district of Avanos there are also two places extremely popular among the tourists - Özkonak underground city (38.8068, 34.8414) and Çavuşin village (38.6735, 34.8395). In Çavuşin, there are ancient rock churches. Less well known but also very attractive sight of the district is Belha Monastery (38.790599, 34.823799).
Avanos is divided into two parts - the northern and the southern ones - by Kızılırmak River, flowing through its centre. The areas located on the banks of the river are the very centre of Avanos, with hotels, guesthouses, offices, and ceramic workshops. The banks of Kızılırmak are also a great place for evening walks or a photo session with ducks. An interesting idea for tourists is the possibility to cruise on the river in a gondola in the Venetian style.
The route D300 from Nevşehir to Kayseri is the southern bypass of Avanos, and the road to Göreme through Çavuşin leads to the south from Avanos.
Surprisingly, it is relatively difficult to find a tasty meal in the restaurant in Avanos. Based on the observation of Turkish tourists we can conclude that the most popular eateries in town are McDonald's and Mado. McDonald's does not need further elaboration, but its popularity in Avanos is amazing - at lunchtime it is practically besieged. It is the only McDonald's restaurant in Cappadocia, and it is located on the northern bank of the river, on Atatürk Street No. 53.
On the opposite bank of the Kızılırmak River, in a large park, there is Mado café. This Turkish network began its career as an ice cream parlour, but over time its menu has been extended not only to other desserts but also to breakfasts and lunch dishes.
We have personally tested two restaurants serving Turkish cuisine in Avanos. The first of them was Urfa Sofrasi, boasting the preparation of typical dishes of the south-eastern Anatolia. Unfortunately, in our eyes, it fared very poorly as the portions were modest, the prices - unexpectedly high, and placing an order - very problematic because of the lack of dishes listed on the menu. The restaurant is located in the centre of Avanos, on Atatürk Street.
The second restaurant we tested - Restoran Zelve (38.719214, 34.847806) - fared much better. The spacious interior, an elegant design and a waiters bustling about made a slightly intimidating impression. Meanwhile, it turned out that it was worth a look. We welcomed plates of appetisers, especially cheese and hot bread, served while we waited for the main course. The star of the menu is so-called Cappadocia kebab, pared by the local chef. These are succulent cuts of beef roasted with vegetables in a clay pot.
Tourist Information Office is located in a renovated house from the Ottoman era, situated opposite the main bridge in Avanos (tr. Taş Köprü), on Atatürk Steet. The official opening hours are 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, but sometimes you can find a locked door, even at these hours.
Several ATMs are located around the main square, a post office is situated on Atatürk Street, in the vicinity of Zelve restaurant (38.719194, 34.848449). Next door, there is a discount grocery store of Bim network.
By car: Avanos is situated on the D300 route that connects Nevşehir (17 km to the west) with Kayseri (65 km to the east). The road to the south, to Göreme (8 km) via Çavuşin (4,5 km) starts in Avanos.
With public transport: the coach station in Avanos is situated on the southern side of the town, on Kapadokya street (38.712037, 34.842670). The coaches go to Nevşehir (every half an hour), and to Çavuşin, Göreme, Ürgüp, and Uçhisar (every hour).
Minibuses stop along Atatürk street. They go to Ürgüp, through Zelve, Çavuşin, and Göreme (every two hours, from 9 am to 5 pm). Additional minibuses go to Özkonak underground city (from Monday to Friday, every hour from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm).
By plane: there are daily flights from Istanbul to two airports of Cappadocia, in Nevşehir and Kayseri.
The travelers seeking accommodation in the cave hotel will be disappointed in Avanos - these cave dwellings are much easier to find in a nearby Göreme. In Avanos, you can find many hotels and guesthouses of various standards and price ranges. Here are some of the most attractive options:
- DoubleTree By Hilton - the most luxurious hotel in town, and perhaps even in Cappadocia. It is located on the west side of Avanos, on Kızılırmak Street No. 1. The guests can use indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a sauna and a Turkish bath. The prices reflect the standard of the hotel - a double room with breakfast costs at least 105 euros.
- Kirkit Hotel - located in a renovated stone homestead with an inner courtyard filled with antiques. Located in the heart of Avanos, on Gençaga Street No. 40. Guests can take advantage of a restaurant, located in the basement of the hotel restaurant. The hotel is also an economical choice as a double room with breakfast costs 40 euros.
- Kavuncu Pansiyon - this guest house offers basic conditions at a reasonable price. It is located near the centre, on Atatürk Street No. 14. Guests can enjoy a fresh breakfast with local ingredients, served in the garden. Expect to pay 35 euros for a double room with breakfast.
- Ada Camping - the camping site on the bank of Kızılırmak River, on Jan ZakariSteeet No. 20. Its biggest attraction is the large swimming pool with water slides. Price-wise it is not competitive with the cheapest B&Bs in Avanos because the tent for two people costs 35 euros per night and the breakfast is extra.