Koramaz Valley

Date of Submission: 14/04/2020
Criteria: (v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Province of Kayseri
Coordinates: N38 48 9.83 E35 41 2.42
Ref.: 6473

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Koramaz Valley is situated within the boundaries of modern Kayseri Province in central Anatolia. The valley is an earthquake fracture which is 12 km long and sweeps from the east and to the west. The base altitude of the valley is 1500m in the east edge and 1665 m in the west edge. Some of the surface waters form their own valleys and the others soak into underground and rise to the surface in the form of fountains. All the waters of these streams and fountains slowly met each other and form Koramaz Stream.

Kayseri Province is covered with pyroclastic rock that was erupted by the Mount Erciyes and other surrounding volcanoes since Upper Miocene Period, and these rocks are mostly of easily-eroded, cellular structure such as tuff and ignimbrite. These soft rocks structured the valleys by eroding.

Today, there are seven residential areas and some abandoned settlements of ancient period in the valley. Pigeon lofts, columbaria, mausoleums, tumuli, underground defense structures, caves, temples and churches, sheepfolds, observation points are still seen in the valley.  These structures date back to the first millennium especially during which Pagan-Christian struggles emerged in Roman Empire. The typical structure of the valley and people’s daily lives continues harmoniously.

There have been determined 42 rock churches so far in the thereabouts and in the seven different settlements in the valley.  The biggest of these churches is 1,5 by 4 meters.  They are dated to the middle of the first millennium. Some of the churches were converted into store houses and pigeon lofts later. Only four of them have fresco and some others have ceilings with tunnel vault and apsis in the shape of horseshoe.

The watercourse flowing in valley bottom, the plant structure, and dry farming all together fed the ecosystem of pigeons. As a consequence, there have been hundreds of pigeon lofts in Koramaz Valley and its neighbor valleys.  The waters flowing from inside the valley feed the Engir Lake which is located in the west exit of the valley and protected as a natural site. The common pigeon loft culture in the valley is thought to be strengthened by the ecosystem in this lake. While some of the pigeon lofts were made directly as pigeon loft, some others were converted from columbaria to pigeon lofts by adding pipes.

Koramaz Valley was quite an ideal place for graves because of their location on outbound route and their ideal distance to the city center. Accordingly, 21 columbarium - the mass graves where the ashes of the non-elite Roman citizens used to be kept in special ceramic bowls after incremation- were determined in Koramaz Valley so far. Of these columbaria, 14 carry domed architectural features. There is at least 100 bays and 200 bays uttermost in each columbarium and they are easily distinguished from the other grave structures thanks to the grave niches operated on the walls.  They are known to be generally managed by an organization called collegia as social clubs. Collegias’ most important function was burial operations. However, these group burial places lost their importance with the transition of the Paganism to Christianity. These structures later started to be used as pigeon lofts by opening pipes on the ceilings.

Both in the villages and around the villages in Koramaz Valley, there are lots of defense structures (underground cities) carved in the rocks. The characteristic feature of these defense structures is that they are connected with each other through tunnels and that these tunnels are protected against external attacks with circular rock doors. Although their exact construction date is unknown, it is generally accepted that these structures were carved by Christians for protection purposes from the Arabic raids.  There are lots of small “underground cities” in the valley  but out of 15 underground defense structures only five big underground cities in three settlements have been certified, measured and mapped.  The tunnels of underground cities in the two villages are thought to be covering all the settlements, of which some have come to a deadlock and the others have been blocked by stuffing rocks and stones.

Since the valley has been in use for thousands of years, there are hundreds of historical stone houses as an example of civil architecture, 6 historical stone bridges, 26 historical fountains, 5 historical watermills, 5 tumuli. Majority of the stone houses were built on the houses formerly used as a cave.

Among some settlements in the valley, it is possible to come across some industrial structures such as linseed oil houses where linseed oil was produced and used for illumination during ancient periods and afterwards. It is known that, the plants such as safflower, rocket seed and quarter are transformed into oil in these houses after agriculturally produced. Until the recent period these houses were used actively and three of them still remain standing.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Koramaz Valley with its volcanic landscape, convenient structure for agriculture, freshwater bodies and the soft structure of rocks has been a life space for different civilizations. It accommodates a wide range of cultural heritage elements with their different characteristic features that has a history of thousands of years.

The alteration and development of civilizations and the change in the architecture can be seen in all layers of the valley.  For instance; the columbaria in the valley were initially built in the Period of the Emperor Augustus. The columbaria built after Augustus gained advanced functions and those built after Tiberius evolved into above-ground structure. The architectural design of the columbaria has idiosyncratic characteristic feature and unique.

The first traces of civilization in the valley belong to the Roman Imperial Period. However; Kanis-Kultepe settlement, which was an important center in the late Hittite Period (1200-700 B.C), Hittite Period (1800-1200 B.C) and Assyrian Trade Colonies (2000-1100 B.C) is located on the west exit of the valley. It is impossible for the people living here to not interact with the valley. Additionally, the west exit of the valley also intersects with the historical trade route which lies on the east-west direction. The disk tracks of the oxcarts and caravans can be seen on the surface. This road was used by trade colonies for silk trade and during Turkish War of Independence.

Criterion (v): Koramaz Valley is an outstanding example of human interaction with the environment and consequently multifunctional use of land with its huge underground cities, columbaria, pigeon lofts, cave churches etc.In some places, the tunnels of underground cities are thought to be covering entire residential areas. Some historical stone houses were built on the houses formerly used as caves. Under the dwellings, sometimes one or two to three-storey caves continue to the lower boundary of the neighboring house.

Different kinds of structure in the valley were used in accordance with the needs of people in the course of time. For instance; a cave carved for the purpose of sheltering were detailed as rock graves later and after Christianity was set free, they were used as church. The churches from the Byzantine period are still seen in the valley. Finally, under the Seljuk and Ottoman dominance some of these churches continue to be used as religious structures. In a similar way, some of the columbaria were converted into churches and some of them into pigeon lofts later but some have survived to the present day as original columbarium. Columbaria used to be built on the itineraries and on the places far from the city center in order to be protected from epidemic illnesses and environmental effects.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The valley is about 21 km away from the city center. This distance has helped to keep the valley free from urbanization pressure. The people living in the valley have preserved the natural and cultural life as an ancestral heritage. All of the historical buildings are either carved into the rock or made of rock. Therefore, erosion has partially destroyed structures over time. The building stock that has survived to the present day is considerably high in number and valuable. No large-scale repairs were made to these structures. The cultural assets in the valley including tumuli, fountains, bridges, churches, historical mansions, underground cities, columbaria, pigeon lofts, necropolises etc. are protected under the National Conservation Law numbered 2863.        

A small area compared to the valley has been declared as a Historic Protected Area and a Conservation Plan was prepared for the area. With the decision of Kayseri Melikgazi Municipality dated 06/08/2018, it has unanimously decided that relevant planning will be initiated and restoration projects will be launched.

Comparison with other similar properties

Despite of some structural similarities between Mountainous Phrygia (on the tentative list) and Koramaz Valley; Mountainous Phrygia only carries traces of Phrygian culture, while Koramaz Valley carries cultural traces of different civilizations. The World Heritage Site of Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia contain structures very similar to those in the Koramaz Valley, but the number, capacity and architecture of the underground cities differ. The cities in Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia were built in mostly vertical architecture. Those in the Koramaz Valley were built in horizontal architecture. The Archaeological Site of Kültepe-Kanesh is located just outside the valley, which can take the history and interactions of the valley to dates earlier than Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia. In addition, the columbaria and the domed architecture of the valley almost exclusively differentiate the two regions.