Belha Monastery is one of those places in Cappadocia, which are not frequently visited by organised tours. Although it is located just 5-minute-drive from a popular underground city in Özkonak, this historical monument remains poorly studied and is still surrounded by mystery. Not much can be learnt about its history, and rudimentary information provided by different sources about this monastery is often contradictory.
The most commonly cited date for the foundation of Belha monastery complex is the 6th century AD, what makes this place one of the oldest Christian centers in Cappadocia. However, other dates are also provided, ranging from the 4th to the 8th century AD. According to some researchers, the complex is even older, and before it became a Christian monastery, it had served as a place of pagan worship.
The monastery complex consisted of a church, a refectory (a dining room), a cellar, kitchens, living rooms, a large hall meeting and burial chambers. Some of the rooms have collapsed, and the travelers look in vain for the frescoes that had once decorated the interior.
Despite its poor state of preservation the visit to the monastery is a great adventure. It is especially rewarding for those who manage to find a 15-meter-long tunnel, connecting two parts of the monastery. One can see holes carved in the walls and floor in the room located at the end of the tunnel. Some guides say that these holes served to chain prisoners or invaders, but the real purpose of these holes remains a secret.
Belha Monastery is not officially recognized as a museum by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, so the access to the building is unlimited and free of charge. Sometimes a person who introduces himself as a caretaker waits in front of the entrance and offers his services as a guide. There is no obligation to take up his offer. If you decide to explore the monastery on your own, remember to prepare flashlights, necessary for the safe passage through the tunnel.
It is impossible to get to Belha Monastery using public transport. The monastery is located near the route connecting Avanos (14 km to the south) and Özkonak (2 km to the north). The road to Belha Monastery, not visible on Google Maps, forks off this route at a point with coordinates: 38.799562, 34.827777. The turn-off is poorly marked an almost invisible signpost. From this junction drive straight to the south, and after 750 meters you will reach the front of Belha Monastery.