‘Even the blind knows the road to Avanos, by the broken fragments of jugs and cups.’
So a poet summed up Avanos in two lines. You do not have to be a sage to understand this brief description, which is equally apt today. Yes, finding Avanos, which lies in central Anatolia on the former caravan road between Aksaray, Gulsehir, and Kayseri, is not difficult. Avanos has been famous for its pottery for many centuries, and quite literally, travelers in the past did realize that they had arrived at the town from the broken fragments of pottery on the roads. The Kizilirmak River, the ancient Halys, runs through Avanos, which, along with Urgup and Goreme, is one of the central Cappadocia region’s three hubs. The town is situated 18 kilometers northeast of Nevsehir, and nearby is the famous Cec tumulus. At the height of 32 meters, it is one of Turkey’s largest royal tombs, along with such tumuli as Gordion, Nemrut, and Karakus.
A reliable source of water has always been a principal criterion for human settlement and civilization, and it is the Kizilirmak that has brought life to Avanos since antiquity.
The river is the longest in Turkey and winds its way like a great snake through central and northern Anatolia to its mouth. In ancient times the Kizilirmak guided the armies of Alexander the Great on their march eastwards. The earliest traces of human settlement at Avanos date back to the Hittites, who were the first to start making pottery here, using the fine red clay deposited by the river over thousands of years. This clay lends its color to the river water, hence the Turkish name Kizilirmak meaning Red River. Generations of potters have worked the clay into vessels of many shapes and sizes, and the pottery produced by their skilled fingers is sought after all over Turkey and even abroad.
Under the Hittites in the second millennium BC Avanos was known as Zu-Winasa, or according to some historians as Nenassa, becoming Venessa to the Greeks and Romans, and Vanote to the Byzantines. When the Seljuk Turks conquered the Byzantines region, they are said to have named it Avanos after the Seljuk general Evranos Bey.
According to the ancient historian and geographer Strabo (63 BC – 24 AD) in his Geography, Venessa was the third most important political and religious center in the Kingdom of Cappadocia after Kayseri (the ancient Mazaca and then Caesarea) and Kemerhisar (Tyana or Eusebia). Strabo tells us that there was a cult of Zeus and Uranus here. Early Christians fleeing Roman persecution sought refuge in Avanos, as they did all over Cappadocia. One of the oldest churches here, the Yamanli Church, was reopened to worship here a few years ago by Avanos Municipality, at a ceremony attended by a Vatican delegation.
The 5th century Church of John the Baptist carved out of volcanic tuff rock in the village of Cavusin has the most frescos depicting biblical scenes of any rock church in Cappadocia apart from the Tokali church. For example, we can see Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt, Christ’s birth, raising Lazarus and other miracles, and the Crucifixion. The Zelve Valley near Avanos is one of the most spectacular in Cappadocia, filled with the region’s stone pinnacles characteristic. Early Christians hollowed out these as dwellings, and such rock-hewn homes were still inhabited in this region until the early 1960s.
Saruhan Kervansaray is one of the most important Seljuk monuments in Avanos. Once used by merchants and caravans, this building is built of yellow tuff and dates from the 13th century. Another Seljuk building in the town is Aladdin Mosque, which is still in use today.
When you approach the town from the direction of Nevsehir and stand on the bridge over the Kizilirmak, you are struck by the sight of a magnificent house rising out of the yellow tuff rock. This is known after its owner as of the House of Doktor Haci Nuri Bey, dating from the early 20th century and one of the town’s loveliest traditional houses.
It stands in the neighborhood of the town known as Orta Mahallesi. After passing it, you enter streets filled with potteries and carpet shops. Cappadocia is also famous for its wine, made from the high-quality grapes grown here and throughout the region. So when you have finished exploring, take a seat in one of the restaurants on the banks of the Kizilirmak and order a bottle of local wine to accompany a delicious meal of sheatfish caught in the river. This meal will be one of the memorable highlights of your holiday in Cappadocia.