Photos by Jack A. Waldron
When cycling to ancient cities, or anywhere for that matter, there are certain circumstances that may limit one's mobility. These limiting factors might consist of a lack of funds, time constraints, the distance involved, and so on. In the case of exploring ancient Comana Chryse (Cappadocia), all three of the fore mentioned came into play. Working as a teacher through the winter in order to support my cycling mission means that for 9-10 months out of each year I am mostly unable to reach ancient sites that are located in secluded far away places. Comana Chryse is one such place.
When I first discovered the existence of Comana (Chryse), I knew immediately that I had to explore this mysterious site. Normally, I would have added Comana (Chryse) to my summer cycling route, but in this case, there are no major ancient sites close enough to add to an itinerary. With such a short cycling season, it is imperative that as many ancient sites as possible are explored in as short of a time frame as possible. So, on a sunny early winter weekend day I rented a car and headed to the village of Sar, where ancient Comana (Chryse) is located. Pictured above and below, the three major peaks rising over ancient city (modern Sar) are topped with colossal tumuli, while in the foreground, a more modern Roman mausoleum can be seen along the ancient western entrance into the city, which lay just beyond the gap, where cloud of smoke is rising.
Comana Chryse was built on both banks of the Sariz River (the ancient Sarus River), which descends from the Taurus Mountains as it makes its way to the Mediterranean Sea. This ancient city was an important stopping point along the North/Northwest-South/Southeast road connecting ancient Caesareia/Mazaca (modern Kayseri), Sebasteia/Megalopolis (modern Sivas) to the southern trade routes, and to the major Eastern city of Melitene (modern Malatya).
As in the case of ancient Pessinus, which was also a temple estate, and a city of pilgrimage due to its keeping of the Cybele stone/meteorite goddess in its temple of her patronage, Comana Chryse too was a site of pilgrimage (the addition of 'Chryse' to the name did not occur until the the 6C AD under Justinian I in order to distinguish it from Comana Pontica). Here, the goddess Ma (early Anatolian mother goddess, and moon goddess), Enyo (the Syrian Moon goddess), also identified with Men (the Anatolian moon god), and Cybele (later Anatolian mother goddess), were the deities invoked at the center of worship in this temple estate. Interestingly, the sister/brother city of the same name, Comana Pontus, that is said to have been founded by settlers from Comana Chryse (Cappadocia), sits on a nearly direct north/south line between the 36/37 longitudinal lines.
According to texts, Comana Pontus is located near an ancient temple dedicated to the moon god Men-Pharnakou in Ameria (location unknown to me, as I could not find the site during my 2019 cycling tour), near Cabiera (modern Niksar). It is said, that the Temple of Men-Pharnakou in ancient Ameria was established as a counter balance to the Temple of Ma-Enyo (Ma, Anatolian language), (Enyo, Syrian moon goddess) in Comana Chryse.
The 4C AD Roman Mausoleum pictured above and below is located at the western entrance of the city. Serving as a church under late Roman and Byzantine rule, this is the most well preserved structure within the city today.
Comana (Chryse) was given the status of temple estate between the 3C-2C BC, meaning that, the estates surrounding the city paid tribute to the temple and the ruling priest/s, all in support of the rituals, rites and festivities, as well as their slaves, in the service of the mother goddess Men and Ma, respectively. Comana Pontus also functioned as a temple estate.
The name Comana Chryse most likely derives from the Hittite 'Kummanni', under which name the city was referred to prior to the arrival of the Greeks. Though we can't be certain where the rites of Ma originated . . . with regard to the biennial festivities that took place within the city, the usual circumstances may be applicable, the Winter and Summer celestial solstices, as well as older cultural circumstances, referring to the sacred sexual rites of the Hittites.
The sacred prostitution practiced by the Hittites is believed to have worshiped the mating of two deities, the bull and the lion. And, as we will see later in this article, the Temple of Ma-Enyo, located in the center of Sar, is decorated in high reliefs of lions and bulls entwined in battle.
These rites, and this cult, may explain the establishment of Comana Pontus, a temple state of Men (male moon god associated with the moon goddess), as a counter balance to Comana (Chryse), the temple estate of Ma (mother moon goddess)?
According to myth, Comana (Chryse) gained its name from Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, who with his sister brought the sacred rites of the temple of Tauropolis in Tauric Scythia to the banks of the Sarus River, clipped a lock of his hair in celebration of his deliverance from suffering, and the name Comana came to him.
By the time this magnificent Roman era mausoleum was constructed, the history hidden in the multi-layered myths was mostly, well, just more myth.
The slot shown above punctures through the top of the arched ceiling pictured below. I am not an architect, but I can speculate that this slot may have served drainage purposes. On a more mystical note, I can imagine family members gathering above the arched burial vault below to celebrate the life of the deceased, and with the slot allowing access to the vault, communicating with the dead, or perhaps even passing messages to them. I'm sure these cannot be the valid reasons for the slot!
The picture below is of the information sign board at the site. I hope it helps, though the English used was most likely put through a very early version of Google Translate, from Turkish.
The niches seen in the walls of the arched vault may have served as placements for urns containing the remains of deceased family members.
Directly next to the mausoleum is a space with numerous columns scattered about and piled atop each other. A number of these columns are inscribed with dedicatory inscriptions made in the name of those who provided monetary assistance to the construction of the building they once belonged to.
Pictured above and below, we can see half of the inscription on this particular column. As this extended area of the city was a very large necropolis, which extends all the way to the cliffs rising in the distance of the photo above, there were undoubtedly numerous mausoleums, tombs, and sarcophagi that once occupied it, and further, still remain to be excavated.
As you can see in the photo below, the ancient Necropolis is still being used today as a burial place.
The tombs in the cliffs are from ancient times, and have probably been reused by different families throughout the millennia, not only as tombs, but also as living quarters.
Now heading into the village of Sar, it becomes very apparent that the modern houses and farm buildings are not only built on top of the ancient structures, but that some of the ancient structures are still in use today, such as the marble block building pictured below, which serves as an animal holding pen.
The stoutness and strength of these ancient buildings still amazes me, and that so many of these structures are still in use is absolutely unbelievable!
Moving on to more elaborate structures, we come to the a beautiful temple located in the center of the village, that I will refer to as the Temple of Ma-Enyo (pictured below). Though I have not read the archeological survey on Comana Chryse, there are some indications that this is the Temple of Ma-Enyo, though more thank likely, not the original.
The temple pictured above and below dates from the Roman period, and is a temple of Roman design, as indicated by the lack of a stepped stylobate surrounding the temple.
Pictured in the late-1800s, nothing but the remains of the temple itself, and a wide open expanse of hills with no modern construction at all on them. Today, the site is overrun with houses and farm buildings. As will be seen further below, even the ancient theater stage building is being used as a foundation for a modern day house.
Focusing for now on the intricate marble sculptural relief that adorns the whole of the temple, we can understand that this was a well funded temple state, that lay on a very important junction.
Pictured below, a view of the southwest side of the temple, its base, remaining blocks of its cella wall, and the massive door at the front of the building.
With closer inspection of the base, we can find a few ancient inscriptions etched into the blocks (pictured below).
The Temple of Ma-Enyo is not a large temple, and with a quick look at the remaining building members on site, it would seem very possible to reconstruct a large percentage of the building.
If Comana Chryse were to be added to a Kayseri-(Comana Chryse)-Malatya (Arslantepe/Melitene)-Nemrut tourist run, I think the value and beauty of the site would not be lost on visitors.
Pictured above and below, sections of cornice on grand display with intricate ornamentation still visible after nearly 2000 years.
The site was surveyed and lightly excacavated between 1965-1967, and an archeological report is available through the Cambridge University Press.
Along with the Mausoleum, and the door of the temple pictured here, some reconstruction work has taken place. That said, the Theater is in dire need of preservation measures.
According to the historian Strabo, who lived during the Roman transitional period of the 1C BC under the rule of Julius Caesar, both of whom it is recorded, visited Comana, describes the rites of Ma-Enyo taking place with the participation of many thousands of guests, including slaves, priests, honorary officials, and so on.
The extravagant festivities were paid for from a rich treasury built on the tribute collected from the estates governed by the high priest of the temple.
In 47 BCE, Gaius Julius Caesar appointed the position of high priest over the temple estate to a Bithynian nobleman of Cappadocian Greek decent named Lycomedes. With the new priest, who succeeded the grandson of the Pontic general Archelaus, also named Archelaus, came a new deity to replace the old, nmaed Bellona, the goddess of war.
Lycomedes would become a supporter of Mark Antony, who, though he enlarged the territory over which Lycomedes ruled, the lucrative partnership came to crashing finish after the Battle of Actium, when he was replaced first by Cleon of Gordiucome, who was in turn shortly after replaced by Dyteutus, the eldest so of Adiatorix, ruler of Galatia.
The story of Dyteutus gets more interesting the deeper we look. Yes, Lycomedes sided with the Roman triumvir Mark Antony in his bid to rule over all of the Roman empire, but, so did the ruler of Galatia, Adiatorix, and his eldest son, non other than Dyteutus. So, how was it possible that Dyteutus would become the high priest of Comana, when both he and his father were sentenced to death by Octavianus (aka. Caesar Augustus, aka. Gaius Julius Caesar)?
Enter the noble younger brother of Dyteutus, who in an attempt to save his older brothers' life, was allowed by his elders to convince the Roman leadership that he was actually the eldest son of Adiatorix. The reasoning behind the deception being, that the the more mature Dyteutus would be able to protect his mother, as well as the position of the family. In the end, the arguement appears to have been sound, as Dyteutus ruled over the temple estate of Comana until his death in 34 AD.
Returning back to the temple, the reliefs may give some background to the myth propagated through the representations shown. In our discussion earlier, we looked at the sacred prostitution practice of the Hittites, that is believed to have been the worship of the mating of two deities, the bull and the lion. Pictured above and below, we can see carved into the underside of a section of the temple architrave, a high relief of a lion and bull entwined in battle of dominance.
The battle of dominance depicted in this relief may certainly represent a psycho-sexual relationship, particularly one in a maturing sense, with the realities of violence and the harshness of life being realized for the first time. For the Hittites, and presumably for those that continued the tradition under the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, the sacred prostitution practice was a ceremony built around the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
In my opinion, these Roman reliefs on the Temple of Ma-Enyo at Comana are a direct descendant of the ancient sacred prostitution rites that were practiced by the Hittites some 700-1800 years before the Romans arrived.
If only more money were dedicated to the restoration and protection of these monuments. Of course, I'm not suggesting a wholesale renewal of every aspect of the building, but, I think the mausoleum was restored in an acceptable fashion.
As you can see in these photos, the elaborately sculpted door jam has been restored with the support of a metal frame. This real does help put the layout of the temple into perspective.
Exploring ancient sites like Comana, ones that are really far off the beaten paths of tourism, is for me about the most exhilarating feeling I can experience. During my online lessons the other day, I explained to my students how I just welled-up with tears when I visited Troy during my first visit to Turkey. They ask me, "Why?" I felt the same when I finally entered Comana.
A narrow residential road runs directly over the northwest side and back of the temple, and as you can see below, large blocks belonging to the base of the temple are covered by this road.
The parallel base wall to the section pictured above, runs directly into and under the road (pictured below). The back of the temple is lost somewhere under the road, which you can see rising above the temple.
In the photo below, we get a great view of the southeast of the temple, its cella wall with the base of the structure further below ground level, and a car parked on the residential drive that covers the other side and back of the building.
The small mountain rising beyond the temple in the distance is the location of the necropolis, where the Mausoleum/Byzantine church is located.
A new house has been built next to the Temple of Ma-Enyo, and piled up between them is a heap of magnificently sculpted marble building members just waiting for the chance to be put back into their intended positions (pictured below).
It shouldn't be surprising to those who have researched the origins of the Roman and Greek style temples, that the house pictured here also displays remnants and features of the early ancient temple structures.
First, that the first classical temples were constructed of wood, mud bricks, and plaster. Second, that the balcony feature with its columns and porch is a design that comes from these early temples, and often encircled the entire building.
Now, having completed exploring the Temple of Ma-Enyo, we are ready to move on to the rest of the city, which is quite big, and is laid out on both sides of the ancient Sariz River.
Pictured below, the remains of the Roman Baths. No doubt, she was stripped of her protective marble plating over the millennia, and left to weather the harsh elements of this 1400 meter high city, which is amongst the highest of cities in Asia Minor.
This lone arch in the middle of the farmers field no longer transports one through the maze of rooms stretching from the cubicle filled apodyterium, to the frigidarium for a swim, to the caldarium to sweat out the toxins of old age, to the tepidarium for a rest and a chat, before heading back to the apodyterium to get dressed and ready for the rest of the day.
Finally crossing the ancient Sariz, I was not able to locate the ancient bridge. I was pressed for time, and the late afternoon was approaching. It would be a long drive back to Malatya, and quite treacherous as it turned out . . . , as mountainous roads are darker than dark, and the drivers lights so deceiving!
In the photo above, the Theater is located a bit beyond the house that can be seen at the head of the river. The Theater Stage Building holds a similar position as this house, with river running up to its lower back wall.
Pictured above, we are obviously looking at the south end of the Theater Stage Building structure. The continuation of the wall beyond the end of the house is of the same construction as the entire wall to the other end, or north end of the Theater Stage Building.
The top of the back wall is of Roman brick and mortar construction, while the bottom of the wall is built with large shaped stone blocks. The stone block portion of the wall was constructed to protect the building from the torrents of the river, which rises and falls against the lower wall.
A look under the house reveals large blocks of stone that form the base of the Theater Stage Building (pictured below). The story behind how this house came to be, on the site of the Theater, and on the Theater Stage Building foundation itself, must be a fascinating story, and probably partially explained by the remoteness of the ancient city, which until relatively recently was quite difficult to find, let alone access.
In the photos above and below, if you look at ground level just beyond the north side end of the Theater Stage Building, you will see an arch protruding from the ground. This is the north side entrance to the Theater, and by the depth that it sits, we can see that an intriguing excavation awaits.
After exploring over three-hundred ancient cities, I think I can honestly say, that Comana (Chryse) is among the largest un-excavated ancient city I have visited. Another such city, which remains yet un-named, is the Hittite city located in the village of Karakiz, in Yozgat.
Mind you, Comana (Chryse) too, was most likely the Hittite city known as 'Kummanni', and for certain, Hittite remains are still waiting beneath the surface to be excavated. It cannot be expressed enough, just how important the location of Comana was to the ancients, as its position on the main pass through the anti-Taurus range secured its relevance from pre-Hittite times, through its conversion into a chief route of the Roman military by Septimius Severus during the 3C AD.
In the view above, you can see across the whole of the cavea to the southwest entrance to the Theater, with the Theater Stage Building and river to the right of the photo. In the photo below, I simply turned to my right from the same position to snap a picture of the top northeast corner of the seating.
If you look closely in the photo above, you will be able to see the entrance tunnel, or Diazoma Entrance Tunnel, that leads to the diazoma, or, the horizontal passage/walkway that separates the lower cavea from the upper cavea.
As you can see, the seating has sagged on either side of the entrance tunnel, which is due to a combination of two things, the weight of the blocks, and water saturation of the hill that the Theater was constructed on. Basically, the whole of the cavea has embarked on a long slow journey down the face of the hillside.
The erosion of the soil covering the hillside also explains the depth to which the Theater Stage Build and the side entrances to the Theater have been buried.
The north entrance to the diazoma is at least half filled with soil. I imagine a full restoration, minus an over-the-top cosmetic renewal, but a reconstruction that puts the pieces soundly back into place. Whis such a restoration, Comana could boast of a magnificent Theater attraction to draw tour companies in.
Since the entrance is blocked, I headed over to the backside of the Theater in order to see the outer entrance to the diazoma.
Reaching the analemma, I snapped the photo below showing the northeast corner of the cavea, with river below, and the houses on the other side.
Pictured below, a view over the arched entrance to the diazoma seen from the analemma.
Pictured below, we can see the outer arched entrance to the diazoma, now filled with soil and debris.
Now moving outside the Theater and up the hill, we can see the north outer support wall (pictured below). In this photo we can see the complete Theater from end-to-end, including the Theater Stage Building.
From here, I walked over the back of Theater to the south side entrance to the diazoma, which can be seen in the upper left-hand corner of the photo above.
Reaching the arched diazoma entrance on the south side of the Theater, we can see that the seating above the passage has either collapsed down the slope, or, has been removed and repurposed.
Sar is one of those villages that you wish you had a few extra weeks to explore the greater surroundings. The site is so ancient, and with its unique geographical landscape, that includes cliffs, gorges, high and low mountains, of which three have Tumulus' on top of them, and just an endless assortment of hidden ancient architecture around every corner.
Pictured above is the southwest end of the Theater, while below, end of the southwest end, where it meets the road, and where a section has collapsed and is now elsewhere.
A small residential road/path follows the the curvature of the southwest outer support wall up the slope to the top of the Theater. However, as you can see below, the support wall is not visible due to livestock holding pens that have been constructed out from the wall to the road.
After entering the labyrinth, we can now see the outside of the arched diazoma entrance of the southwest side of the Theater. The passage has been blocked off for the purpose of keeping the animals in their pen.
Continuing through the rooms of the labyrinth, we can follow the outer wall for quite a distance until the obstructions become to great.
Finally, we reach a point where these old structures, that probably date further back than the establishment of the republic, completely block any investigation of the outer wall.
Returning to the Theater Stage Building, it's now time to explore the back of the structure, and where the wall meets the river.
Now that the river is low, it's possible to carefully walk the full length of the back of the structure. Pictured below, a view of the back wall from the northeast end looking to the southwest.
There appears to be a channel cut below the base of the wall that feeds pond further down. I can imagine that this channel dates from ancient times, with the purpose of feeding water to the Theater, and any fountains that were once located below the Theater.
Here is about as good of a view as possible of the whole of the back wall of the Theater Stage Building. I am actually standing on a marshy island that sits between the river and the water channel.
As stated above, the lower section of the wall is constructed of large stone blocks, while the upper portion of the wall is brick and mortar.
One thing is for sure, complete examples of a Roman era Theater Stage Buildings are rare, with Aspendos, and a few others being exceptions.
Leaving the Theater and heading to the southeast of the city, the wall you see in the photo above simply rises from the roadside. My best guess is that this a section of building, and further, to my untrained eye, I want to say that this may be a cella wall, to a temple, or at least, that these blocks came from such a building. The blocks seem too finely cut, and the building length in perfect symmetry to form a cella. It appears obvious that the wall currently serves the purpose of a support wall for the terrace that the house above is standing on.
Turning away from the wall and looking across the river below, at the base of the house in the photo you can see a long curved wall. This wall too appears to be constructed with very finely sculpted blocks of the highest quality. Unfortunately, I did not have time to investigate this wall further, but, I suspect this may have formed the base of a large building, or, a defensive wall.
There is just something strange about this wall that tells me it was not just a simple defensive structure. For one, if you look at the left end of the wall, it suddenly breaks from its finely cut curvature and forms a square right angle shape with blocks of a lesser quality. Strange. I have also thought that perhaps the river was prone to flooding, and like the lower wall of the Theater Building, this too was built to keep the water at bay.
Comana needs plenty time to explore. I really do hope I have the opportunity to return there in the future. I also hope some lengthy excavations will take place, including the publishing of some regular survey information and updated mapping. This truly is a city worthy of the mother moon god/s.
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