Saturday, January 12, 2019

Metropolis Ayazini: Christian Phrygia

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

The highlands of Afyon can be a cyclists' dream, however, if a wrong turn is taken it can also become a nightmare.  Knowing that I was about to glide down the beautiful slope pictured above, into the deep open lowlands, I stopped to take this photo, as I thought the cycling community would truly appreciate it.  As I reached speeds of 50-60 km/h, and a distance from the peak of about three kilometers, I passed a sign that pointed to a far off village named Bostanli.
With the picturesque village nestled into the distant hills, I spotted two women working hard in there fields.  I yelled out to them the name of the village I was looking for, and they simultaniously pointed in the same direction, back up the road from where I had just descended.  Uh-oh!  Wrong road!  It took me 45 minutes to cycle back up the slope, and it was hot.
After retracing my tracks, I was able to locate the correct path through the highlands that would take me to Metropolis Ayazini.  As the evening approached I found a nice campsite, and needless to say, I slept like a champ.
Along the way to Metropolis Ayazini, I began to see outcrops of tuff or tufa rock with ancient tombs (that eventually became Medevil dwellings) carved into them.  The rock tombs/settlement pictured above and below is located just outside the village of Selimiye (Saricayir).  
The rooms and grave troughs of these tombs were carved for both single and family occupancy, and are thought to date from the early Byzantine period.  
The names of some of the occupants was written in red paint above the entrances, and the facades are adorned with early Byzantine reliefs.  The tall wheat stalks kept me from closer investigation (and I didn't wish to be shot for trampling down this farmers livelihood), but this field is a testament to the value of this fertile landscape, which for centuries has fallen under the control of those who were strongest.  
From the Hattians, to the Hittites, to the Phrygians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and many others in between and since, all have desired the production that this rich highland has to offer.
The twists and turns through the tufa chimneys of the steep walled valley that is home to Metropolis is an easy relaxing ride back in time.
I had just leaned my cycle up against a more modern wall next to the sign that points the way to the ancient city, when I was greeted by a local man who appeared out of nowhere to water his garden, which sits next to a spring that gushes crystal clear water in abundance (pictured above).
When Metropolis is compared with other major ancient cities in the area such as Amorium, Pessinus or Docimium, there are no marble temples, theaters, colonnaded streets or the like.  Most likely, the soft rock provided ample building material/space, and with an abundance of fresh spring water this place must have seemed an oasis for the ancients, not to mention a way station for travelers crossing the high plains.  The numbers of those who settled here ranged greatly over the millennia, and when there were cultural shifts, the structures that had been sculpted out of the tufa cliffs remained as evidence of a previous occupation/s.
Though there are numerous Roman and Byzantine era churches carved out of the surrounding cliffs, the size and scope of the Byzantine church pictured above and below is much grander than all of the others.  Though now massively worn down by time, the huge round apses that protrude from the building offer a glimpse into the majesty of this structure.  This is Metropolis.
The citizenry, soldiers and monks who carved the churches, tombs and dwellings out of the cliffs at Metropolis were most likely expanding on and often defacing the monuments that had existed prior to the arrival of christianity.
In this rural location, the soft tufa stone provided the inhabitants the opportunity to carve a fortress of tunnels and hidden rooms, where sanctuary could be sought during attacks, similar to Cappadocia.
Perhaps in an attempt to bring down the ceiling, or merely as the result of quarrying, the columns of the largest church are no more; and further, the high dome and arched ceilings of the cathedral have been blackened with soot over the millennia by the heating and cooking fires of transients and/or inhabitants.
There is little specific written information on Metropolis, so its history is left to the archeological remains to shed light and answer questions.  Unlike Amorium, there doesn't appear to have been any great investment in building projects by the Byzantine rulers.  There may have been a garrison for the Anatolic Theme, but nothing so major as was provided for the regiments that protected Pessinus, Dorylaeum, or even Catiaeum (modern Kutahya, 27 km to the northwest).
As one reads through the lengthy and deeply rich drama of the Byzantine state, Metropolis would appear to be the perfect setting for: the exile, and eventual strangulation or decapitation, of a weak Byzantine emperor who, was cheated on by his wife with a general, both of whom wished to install her infant son as emperor in order to seize power, her for herself, and the general for his family, who had fallen out of favor at the hand of some similar occurrence in some previous situation of chaos!  Wow, this was where the emperor met his fate. hmmmm?!
Pictured above and below, the pediments of the Roman/Byzantine tombs hang above the more recent burials from the village surrounding Metropolis.  Still an active cemetery, I find it very interesting that this particular space has not lost its purpose after the passage of more than two-thousand years.
With Jesus (top center of the stele pictured below) looking over his flock of cattle, this burial stele on display at the Kuhutya Archeological Museum is a perfect example of a rural Byzantine era sculpture, with a depiction of a land that was (and still is) rich in farm production.
Though Jesus has been decapitated in the stele pictured below, he holds his hands in prayer for the deceased, who was most likely a farmer, and who is depicted below Jesus in hierarchical display, followed by the beasts of burden.  The sentiment and style of Byzantine era sculpture had obviously supplanted the perfection sought in visual representation of such things as the human body by earlier Greek and Roman artists.
Just beyond the gates of the cemetery, the acroterion can be seen protruding from the sima of the pediment of this temple tomb (pictured below), that was once supported on both sides of the entrance by free-standing columns.  This style of archetecture has such beauty and staying power, it should not be surprising that Greek and Roman style temple tombs are still being built in cemeteries around the world today.
As I road my bike along the sculpted cliffs, I came to the magnificent Phrygian temple tomb pictured below.  This, the Lion Tomb, may have been allowed to keep its unique features out of respect for the beauty it offered.
This was a tomb fit for a king, or, perhaps a warrior of great distinction.  I suggest royalty, because of the scale in size and the intricacy of the work performed by the artist.  Furthermore, below the roof of the pediment, two distinguished lions can be seen on either side of a warriors shield, which hints at the glory most likely gained in battle by the deceased.
The decorative features of the Lion Tomb probably wish to reflect the rich and honorable life of the patriarch for whom the tomb was constructed: however, this was a tomb built for more than one person, and when we look deeper inside the chamber, we can see that this was a family tomb, as multiple levels of burial niches and troughs can be found.
These individual burial troughs were robbed many millennia ago, and further, they were probably reused multiple times, with old bones (and treasures) being removed for a new inhabitant to be laid to rest.
Protective lions are also carved in the ceiling of the inner chamber just above the arches (pictured below).
Though they are now protecting a gaping hole in the ceiling, perhaps they once guarded an image of the patriarchal urn, similar to the Tomb of Solon at Kumbet (pictured below), which is about 40 km east.
The road that runs along the bottom of the cliffs of Metropolis is T-boned by the head of an extensive valley that shoots off into the distance, and which houses a riverbed that reaches up to a waterfall that drops from the plain above (pictured below).  I followed the seasonal river to the dry waterfall, and camped the night in a silence so rarely heard, I even forgot my tinnitus.
Pictured below, this small church was one of many that served the people and monks that once populated the city.  Perhaps the more ancient rituals had adapted to a christian theme, in that, different churches would be dedicated to specific holy observances, days and dates, i.e. this or the other saint.
The arched niches are still in an extraordinary state of preservation, and would have held some sort of relic or dedication in their day.  I was the only patron on this day, and I only prayed that the boars would not come around my tent later that night.

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

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