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Precious stone, intricate wall paintings in hidden churches

The beautiful Tokali Kilise, or «Buckle Church,» has numerous examples of refined art of the highest order. The Buckle Church was the main sanctuary of the big monastic center of Byzantine Cappodocia. This cave church, cut into the soft volcanic stone of the area, was decorated with frescoes between the mid-9th and mid-10th centuries. It has one of the broadest and richest ensembles of wall paintings to survive from the Middle Ages. According to various accounts, the paintings may have been created by an artist named Nikiforos who was likely bankrolled by the Byzantine emperor Nikiforos Fokas or some other similarly wealthy person of the time, since the benefactor even brought the precious deep-blue, opaque lapis lazuli stone from Afghanistan for the church. Tour guides often list the most impressive monastery in Cappadocia as the Eskigumus Monastery, the most southerly of the monastic buildings. The bland entrance to the monastery was designed to shield the monastery complex from passing invaders. The ploy was so successful that the monastery was not discovered until 1963 – safe, too, from the vandalism that had destroyed so many other churches and monasteries. Turkey has had vigorous success with tourism in this area of Cappodocia, which has been good for the preservation of the Christian monuments in the region.