Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Phrygiae: Midas City

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

After arriving in the village of Yazilikaya (Eskisehir), I managed to find the entrance to Midas City (and an empty site office), and there I was greeted by a young man in his 80s, who was carrying two twenty liter bottles of water from within the ancient city.  Hmmmm!  I greeted him in Turkish, and he replied in perfect English, and enquired where I was from, to which I answered, 'America' ('U.S.A.' as a reply is not usually understood).  I would find out later that he was Circassian, and group of Sunni Muslims, many of whom later converted to Christianity, who were forced leave the Russia during the mid-19th century, with over two-million settling in Ottoman Turkey (see map below).
He proceeded to tell me that he was living in New Jersey with his wife, and was visiting his home village during the summer.  He then invited me to his family home for tea, to which I accepted, but only after I had investigated the site.  He then gave me some rough directions, then picked up his containers of water, and continued on.  I turned to this mysterious place known as Midas City.
In the photo above, you can see the Midas Monument rising above the village of Yazilikaya.  Yazilikaya is a very pleasant bike ride from the village of Kumbet (ancient Vegum), as the road passes through some of the most beautiful green rolling landscapes I have seen . . . , it is extremely peaceful.  
Yazilikaya means, 'Inscribed or Written Rock', and there above the village of the same name stands a sculpted masterpiece with its bright yellow (dare I say, golden?) geometrically engraved facade, called the Midas Monument.  Archeologists date the site to around the 8C BC, though it may be older, and the site appears to have been more of a Phrygian religious center, as there is no evidence of city dwellings having been constructed.  
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Phrygians were not a native people of Anatolia, and the linguistics of the ancient language appear to support this, in that, the Phrygian language is related to the family of languages located in the Southern Balkans, and further, the written script bears a very close resemblance to ancient Etruscan.  That being said, the Phrygians were most likely Thracian Brygians.
Though the name 'Midas' plays a significant roll in the mythology and imagination of Western cultures, it may not be a name at all, but simply a title, meaning 'King', or 'Royal'; furthermore, 'Gordias' may be a title as well, and is most certainly connected with the capital city of the Phrygians, Gordium, located roughly 150 kilometers to the northeast.
The site was named 'Midas City' by W. M. Ramsay in the early 19C, as the Midas Monument has the name/title carved into it.  Following a publication on the site in 1824 by Colonel W. M. Leake, who examined the city and its monuments while on a military expedition from Istanbul to Egypt, Midas City gained great interest among European travelers.
As mentioned above, the word 'Midas' is most likely a title that means 'King' or 'Royal', and further, the infamous character in the myth of 'King Midas', he of the golden touch, probably stems from the cape or cloak worn during ancient Phrygian rituals, as the fabric was dyed with certain chemicals (this coming from tests done on the burial cloth in the 'King Midas Tumulus' near Gordion, as recent research has uncovered), that gave the appearance of gold or golden. Thus, there were perhaps many 'Midai', or 'Midases' during the reign of the ancient Phrygians.  
The 'Midas Monument' takes its name from the inscription written above the left side of the roof, which contains the word in Paleo-Phrygian, "Midai" (pictured below in an engraving by Charles Texier).
The monument stands 17 meters high and 16.5 meters wide, with a central door measuring 2.32 x 2.41-2.51 x 1.02 meters.  The facade of the monument is a masterpiece in motif decorations, that include: concentrical squares and rectangles, intersecting geometrical patterns, crosses, lozenge patterns within the representative wooden beams, a triangular pattern along the roof, and the acroterion being capped with two circular spiral discs that appear to have been damaged by some natural occurrence.
Speculation has it, that the structural purpose of the Midas Monument was to capture the Vernal Equinox, as discussed in the post on ancient Pessinus.  As a solar temple complex, the March celebration would coincide with the god Attis, whom Cybele desired, but was not to have, as Attis found love with another, who he intended to marry.  Pictured below, a late Roman era statuette of Kybele, flanked by the lions who represent her connection to the untamed nature of the world.
When Kybele discovered his intent, she drove the handsome young god insane, and eventually, he castrated himself. An inscription on the monument reads 'Ates', and is believed to refer to the god, and further, to mark the monument as his sacred resting place.
On the Vernal Equinox, which falls on or around March 20, day and night have approximately the same length, (March 15th to March 27th were the dates emperor Claudius introduced as holidays for the Vernal Equinox), which signals the coming of Spring, warmth, and the rejuvenation of plant and animal life.  On this occasion the sun passes through the niche at the top of the monument, where it is speculated that a sculpture of Attis would have been placed during the ceremony.
The door of the Midas Monument most likely contained a sculpture of Kybele, the mother goddess, similar to the Aslankaya monument in nearby Doger (pictured above).  There are three levels of depth to the elaborate design of the door.  On the facade and sides of the deepest level, inscriptions were written in red pigment (pictured below). 
These lengthy inscriptions, with some inscribed in red pigment, while others having been etched into the surface, can still be seen today, some two and a half thousand years later.  Pictured below, a close-up of the top of the facade of the inner door.
Though I have not yet located a source for the translations of these inscriptions, I will update this post as such information is found.  Pictured below, a close-up of the top right side of the inner door.
Further, if any readers of this blog happen to know where such information can be found, please comment at the bottom of this post.  Your help and assistance is always welcome!  Pictured below, a close-up of the top left side of the inner door.
Pictured below, a close-up of the facade of the top right side of the outer door.
Pictured below, a close-up of the facade of the top left side of the outer door.
These various inscriptions are in consort with the ongoing battle both then and now within the minds humanity; the ancient Phrygians upon their arrival in this new land, as they sought protection from the forces of nature that wields the power to destroy all that is human.  Foucart describes this elegantly:
"Wooded summits, deep oak and pine forests, ivy-clad caverns were at all times his favorite haunts.  Mortals who were anxious to know the powerful divinity ruling these solitudes had to observe the life of his kingdom, and to guess the god's nature from the phenomena through which he manifested his power.  Seeing the creeks descend in noisy foaming cascades, or hearing the roaring of steers in the uplands and the strange sounds of the wind-beaten forests, the Thracians thought they heard the voice and calls of the lord of the empire, and imagined a god who was fond of extravagant leaps and wild roaming over the wooded mountains.  This conception inspired their religion, for the surest way for mortals to ingratiate themselves with a divinity was to imitate him, and as far as possible to make their lives resemble his.  For this reason the Thracians endeavored to attain the divine delirium that transported their Dionysus, and hoped to realize their purpose by following their invisible yet ever-present lord in his chase over the mountains." Foucart 3.
The inscription written above the left side of the roof is written as: ATES: ARKIA EFAIS AKENANO TAFOS: PAFAPa TAEI: FANA Ki TEI: EDAES, which may roughly translate as, 'Attys the archon  Akenano spoke out of the tomb: Media (Midas, or middle) feared/healed the pine-wood: from the Temple grounds of the god thou shall bring out Atai (god of the underworld).'  
Though the deciphering of the ancient Phrygian language is an ongoing project and is up for debate, it very closely resembles ancient Etruscan writing.
The inscription written vertically on the right side of the monument is written as: BABA: MEM EFAIS: PROITA FOST TIPA NA EPOS: SKENEM AM: EL AES, which may roughly translate as, 'Papa (Attis, husband of Kybele, the Mater Goddess) of the breast spoke out of the trunk of the figure on a wall, truly, of the epic poem, I love, like the olives, her bronze.'  
The Kirkgoz Rocks are adjacent to the Midas Monument, and though its importance during the Phrygian period is unknown, the scale and oddity of the outcrop probably held some significance (pictured below).
The 'Unfinished Monument' is located above the trail along the western side of the city, just below the acropolis (pictured below).  The monument measures 7m x 10m, and faces west, which offers an interesting juxtaposition to the Midas Monument, which faces east.
The 'Unfinished Monument' is also referred to by the locals as 'Kucuk Yazilikaya', or 'Little Inscribed or Written Rock', as it appears to have been modeled after the larger Midas Monument.
Pictured below, a grand rock cut staircase descends from just below the acropolis to a passage that takes one deep below the surface.  This too is located along the trail on the western side of the city.  It is thought that the staircase was once covered with a vaulted roof.
If you look closely at the staircase, you can see that one side has been worn down, and that the stairs as a whole have lost their edge; it is speculated that water was collected from the acropolis and channeled to this staircase in order to fill the cistern, which has eroded the stairs over the millennia.  Though this may indeed be a cistern, this whole structure could have served other purposes, such as ceremonial, or perhaps a strategic passageway into and out of the city.
There are some spectacular rock cut tombs around the ancient metropolis, including the Pyramid Tomb, the Triclinium Tomb, and the West Slope Tomb (pictured above and below).  Though difficult to see in the photo above, the rock cut stairs lead down to the rectangular chamber door, which measures 2.4 x 3.9 x 2.1 meters.
This Phrygian tomb is carved out of the bedrock, and the vaulted chamber was sculpted to represent the interior of a Phrygian house, with full log beams, ceiling rafters, wooden posts and supports, as well as klinai or beds/benches (here, two in number), where the deceased were laid to rest.
From such representations of the ancient Phrygian dwellings, it has been possible to reconstruct replicas of these buildings with the intended materials.
Pictured below, rock cut staircases approach a well sculpted vaulted entrance that leads deep below the surface.  These are referred to as cisterns, but that connotation is still being debated.
As you hike around the southwest side of the city, just below the acropolis, one can find several sets of staircases leading down into dark, well sculpted and shaped passageways that have been denoted as cisterns.  Though it is possible that these are in fact cisterns, there is no way to definitively settle this ongoing debate as to their true purpose, at least until resources have been allocated to excavate them.
Some of the gateways are suspiciously similar to those built by the Hittites, and which can be found within the ancient Hittite city of Hattusas, and elsewhere.  There are said to be connecting tunnels deep underground, which due to the filling in of these passageways over the millennia makes it difficult to impossible to investigate thoroughly.  
Pictured above and below, another vaulted entrance to yet another underground passageway that leads deep below the surface.  It is known that the ancient Phrygians believed that their gods dwelled beneath the mountains, and these entrances may very well have been used for ceremonial rituals performed for these gods.  
Pictured above, a sculpture of a young Phrgian man, which can be viewed at the Afyon Archeological Museum.  Pictured below, a set of opposing rock-cut stairs leads down to the entrance of the underground passage.


Rock cut stairs can be seen at numerous locations throughout the site.  Some stairs lead to deep underground passageways, while others lead to the tops of ceremonial altars, and some will have you climb to the top only to find yourself facing a vertical rock face.  This site was very extensive, and I should have camped in Yazilikaya and spent an extra day investigating the area.  Yet again, I find myself repeating what I have said before with regard to my blogposts on this greater area; I must return at a future date in order to complete my coverage of the things I missed the first time around!
As a religious metropolis, rock cut ceremonial altars are among the most promenant remaining structures at the site (pictured above).  The majority of the ancient structures were built of mud brick, and thus, only low remnants can be observed.  The foundations of these buildings, though made of mud brick, have been observed, however, the walls of the structures are lost to time; these buildings were covered with reed and straws that were most likely plastered with mud, and though environmentally sustainable, they could not withstand the forces of the environment over the millennia.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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