Dovecotes of Cappadocia
fascinating landscape of Cappadocia with its rock hewn churches, monasteries and
underground cities has another feature which few visitors are aware of. These are the
dovecotes carved into the rock pinnacles and high valley sides.
In ancient Greek mythology the dove represented Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, and figures in the
holy books of the major monotheistic religions. The earliest reference is in the Old
Testament, where Noah releases a dove to seek land, and it returns with an olive branch
showing that life had been restored following the deluge. From then on the olive branch
and the dove became symbols of friendship and peace. In the New Testament, when Jesus is
being baptized, the Holy Ghost alights on his head in the form of a white dove, which is
why in Christian iconography the dove represents the Holy Ghost. In the Koran, when
Mohammed is fleeing from the Qureysh, he hides in a cave. Spiders weave webs over the
entrance and a dove makes her nest, so his pursuers do not bother to look inside and he is
saved. In consequence, the generality of Muslims regard pigeons and doves as sacred and do
not hunt or eat them. From the same motive buildings in Islam countries often incorporate
The earliest examples of nesting houses for birds in Turkey date from the
16th century and can be seen in mosques, bridges, libraries, and other public buildings in
Istanbul, Edirne, Amasya, Konya, Kayseri, Niğde and Nevşehir.
Since doves and pigeons need to drink water frequently in order to digest
the grains with which they fill their crops, dovecotes were usually built near sources of
water, and the birds themselves were regarded as protectors of springs.
In Cappadocia the dovecotes carved into the upper parts of cliffs or
pinnacles almost always face east or south across the valleys. Most of them date from the
late 19th or early 20th century, although there are a few from the 18th century. From the
point of view of the art historian they are interesting for the rare examples of Turkish
folk painting which usually decorate the façade.
Cappadocian dovecotes attracted the attention of western travelers to the
region from the 18th century onwards, and there are engravings of them in the travel
accounts of Charles Texier and William Hamilton.
consist of a carved chamber with one row of three or four apertures, or two rows of three
apertures by which the birds enter. The chamber measures from 5 to 10 square metres with
four or five rows of niches for the birds to perch and nest in, and sometimes wooden
perches fitted across. Where the façades have collapsed this interior arrangement is
clearly visible. Even the smallest dovecotes could accommodate over one hundred birds.
The largest dovecotes in Cappadocia are to be seen in the Üzengi Valley
and at Soğanlı, where there are sometimes seven or eight
dovecotes one above another.
In some cases the entrances and windows of Byzantine period rock
monasteries or churches were closed up to form dovecotes, the best examples of this type
being the Çavuşin (Nicephorus Phocas) and John the
Baptist churches near Çavuşin, the Kılıçlar (Kuşluk) Church of the Virgin Mary in
Göreme, the Durum Quadra and Yusen Koa churches in the Karşıbucak Valley, and Halloo
Monastery in Ortahisar.
Free standing dovecotes made of cut stone are also seen in some places.
Architecturally no different from the local one or two-story cottages, such dovecotes are
common in the Güvercinlik Valley near the town of Uçhisar and in the Üzengi Valley near Ürgüp.
did not go to the trouble of building dovecotes merely out of respect for their sacred
character however. The dovecotes provided a source of fertilizer, almost as rich in
nitrogen as guano, consisting of 20-25% organic substances, 1-2% nitrogen, and 0.50-1.5%
phosphoric acid. Fertilizer was much needed in this region where farming land was scarce,
so as to obtain maximum harvests from fields, vineyards and orchards. To collect the
accumulated droppings access to the dovecotes was provided by narrow tunnels carved down
from the cliff top or doors reached by ladders from the valley floor.
Dovecote façades were usually painted by local artists using pigments
obtained from trees, flowers, roots, earth containing ferrous oxide, and a local red earth
known as yoşa. Walnut shells and leaves provided four tones of green, buckthorn
yellow, raisins dark red, onions pink, pennyroyal tones of grey, and Tussilago farfara
and alder bark brown; while cows urine lent gloss to the colors.
Local people explain that a mixture of plaster and egg white spread on the
façades makes it harder for animals like martens, foxes and weasels to get a grip and
climb into the dovecotes. But more often tin or zinc sheets have been nailed beneath them
to serve the same purpose.
In the Soğanlı Valley almost all the dovecotes have been decorated in
white only, since it is believed that the pigeons are attracted to white and find their
way back to roost more easily.
Sunray motifs in red ochre are mostly found in the valleys of Ortahisar
where farming is not intensive.While the most common designs are kilim motifs or
figurative motifs executed in brown or black on a white ground, we also find many floral
and abstract motifs. They are sometimes placed randomly and sometimes form a symmetrical
Figurative motifs are to be seen in the greatest numbers in Kızılçukur
where the Ortahisar and Çavuşin valleys meet. Figures dancing the sword and shield dance
are a reminder that this folk dance was once performed here, although it has been entirely
forgotten in Ortahisar today. Stylized pictures of people riding or hunting on camels or
horses are also significant documents for the historian.
As well as the
motifs described above, some of the dovecotes bear inscriptions in old Turkish, giving the
date, formulas like Maşallah-Allah (May God protect), or verses from the Koran
used to give protection from the evil eye, and in some rare cases the name and occupation
of the owner.
The places to see the most dovecotes in Cappadocia are the valleys around
Uçhisar, the valleys of Kılıçlar and Güllüdere in Göreme, the Üzengi Valley in
Ürgüp, the Balkan river and Kızılçukur Valley at Ortahisar, the Çat Valley near
Nevşehir, and at Gesi and the Soğanlı Valley in the province of
- Dovecotes in Cappadocia