Ihlara is a township with own municipality in Aksaray Province, Central Anatolia, Turkey. It is situated at about 40 km (25 mi) from the province seat of Aksaray and near the town of Güzelyurt. The township is famed for the nearby valley of the same name, Ihlara Valley, which is a 16 km (10 mi) long gorge cut into volcanic rock in the southern part of Cappadocia, following several eruptions of Mount Erciyes. The Melendiz Stream flows through the valley.
The Ihlara Valley consists of 14km along the north-south Melendi River, which runs from Selime to Ihlara village. Sixteen of the valley’s 105 churches are open to visitors, and most of these are within 1km of the official valley entrance in Ihlara. The first one you are likely to see is Ağaçaltı Kilise (Church Under the Trees), at the base of the stairs leading into the valley. Spectacular blue and white angels encircle the Christ figure on the well-preserved dome. Another 30m south past the Ağaçaltı (to the right after descending the entrance stairs, away from Belisirma) lies the Ptirenllseki Church, whose faded walls enclose the many martyrs of Sivas. The Kokar Kilise (Odorous Church), 70m farther along, celebrates biblical stories with colorful frescoes and ornate geometrical ceiling crosses.
What makes the valley unique is the ancient history of its inhabitants. The whole canyon is honeycombed with rock-cut underground dwellings and churches from the Byzantine period built by the Cappadocian Greeks. These local people were forced to leave the area and move to Greece in the 1923 Population exchange between Turkey and Greece.
Due the valley's plentiful supply of water and hidden places, this was the first settlement of the first Christians escaping from Roman soldiers. In the Ihlara Valley there are hundreds of old churches in the volcanic rock caves. The best-known churches are Ağaçaltı Church with cross plan, Sümbüllü Church, Pürenliseki Church, Kokar Church, Yilanli Church, Karagedik Church, Kirkdamatli Church, Direkli Church, Ala Church, Kemerli Church and Egritas Church.