The Alacahan (Alahan) Monastery is one of the most important monuments of the Christian period in Anatolia. It lies a little before Mut on the Karaman-Silifke highway and is situated on a terrace excavated from the side of the mountain.
Alahan commands a magnificent view of the plain and would appear to have been approached in former times by steps leading up the slope from the plain below. A number of hermits’ cells and an apsidal burial chapel hewn out of the rock would seem to have formed the original place of pilgrimage, and may well date from around 450 AD.
A little beyond these caves lies a basilica containing two rows of columns with Corinthian capitals. After this church had fallen into ruin a small chapel was constructed by roofing the central nave and apse of the original basilica.
The most interesting feature of this basilica is to be found in the reliefs on the side jambs and lintel of the door leading from the narthex into the main body of the church. At the sides, the archangels Gabriel and Michael are to be seen trampling some figures underfoot. Under one of the archangels is a bare-headed man with an ox and a bull, while under the feet of the other are two women with bare breasts wearing Phrygian head-dresses.
These may be symbols representing the old polytheist religions of Anatolia, or they may simply symbolize the forces of evil. On the lower face of the lintel can be seen the lion, bull, and eagle representing the Evangelists, with an angel above them. At each end, there is a tree with a human figure beyond it, one of them representing Isaiah and the other Ezekiel. In the center of the outer face of the lintel, there is a bust of Christ with two flying angels. On the corniche, there is an ornate decoration composed of acanthus leaves, vine tendrils, grapes, and fish.
To the east of the basilica there is a large courtyard and to the south of this a gallery 115 m. long with arches and columns. Remains of the steps leading up from the plain are to be seen beside this gallery, and it seems probable that it was here that visitors to the monastery arrived and performed a religious ceremony.
Immediately opposite the steps, there is a double baptismal pool. The plan of this baptistery, with its two symmetrical chambers, is quite unique in Christian art.
The most magnificent of this group of buildings is the great church, one of the most outstanding examples of Anatolian Christian architecture. It is in a reasonably good state of preservation considering the fact that only the roof had collapsed. One of the most interesting features of the buildings is the square tower resting on four arches supported by piers and columns. The squinches in the upper part of the tower from a transition to an octagon which probably supported a stone pyramidal roof with a wooden roof inside it.
Here too one finds very rich decoration around the doors consisting of early period motifs such as beads, leaves, and rows of palmettes. The small doors are surrounded by sacred leaves and bunches of grapes, as well as fish, another Christian symbol.
The natural beauty of the Alahan alone would make these ruins one of the most interesting and attractive of all ancient sites, while at the same time the artistic taste displayed in the unusual, rather ornate but distinctively regional stone decoration gives Alahan an outstanding place in the history of art.