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Trekking the Phrygian Highlands (the people of King Midas) – Day 2: more tombs and Midas City


On our second day of trekking through the Phrygian Highlands we were rewarded with bright skies and warmer weather, which made climbing to see even more tombs and ruins/rocks a lot easier.

We started with Doğal Kale, which means Hawk Castle.  We climbed through it, but it’s mostly empty rooms and broken ladders.  Not much is known, except that it’s really old and people used to live here.  The area surrounding it is absolutely breathtaking and nearly free of people.  The sun was shining, trees were budding, bees were buzzing and the birds were chirping – I didn’t want to leave!



Doğal Kale (Hawk Castle)

Doğal Kale (Hawk Castle)


Next up was the Ariastes Monument, which was likely a dedication and not a tomb.  It was another example of the Phrygian Monument style.  The writing around the monument probably says that it is a dedication from a priest to Mater, or the mother goddess, commonly known as Kibele.  It probably dates to the 5th century and is unfinished (look at how the work at the bottom just stops).

Ariastes Monument

Ariastes Monument


Going back to tombs, we stopped at late Hellenistic or Persian tomb that was likely modified by the Romans at some point.  There was original red paint in a pattern.  Like most of the historic tombs dotting the landscape, these were raided long ago, and now inside you just see crevices where the corpse and its things were.

The highlight of the trip was Midas City, which is named for a huge wall monument that shines bright over the whole valley in the morning sun.  At least that’s what I imagine, as we got there in the  afternoon.  Regardless of its natural lighting, the monument is truly impressive.  I couldn’t believe that it hasn’t been restored since the 5th century B.C.

The Midas Monument

The Midas Monument

You can see how tall it is with the person scale.

It’s called the Midas Monument because the name is mentioned on the inscription at the top, although the archaeologists thinks that it was more likely built by the conquering Persians as a way to legitimize the new ruler by appeasing their new subjects with mention of the subjects’ hero (Midas) and gods (Ates and Matar).  Matar statues were found inside but are now displayed at the Afyon museum.  Midas probably became a name for King, the way Caesar became a noun after Julius’s illustrious career.  Moreover, there were at least 2 other Phrygian King Midases.

Of course, there’s more to the city than just the wall, although spotting most of the ruins really required the archaeologist to point them out to us.  I thought we were just walking by rocks and enjoying the fresh air!

Earlier in the trip, we waited out some of the rain by visiting the Eskisehir Archaeology Museum.  Here are some of the Phrygian items that have been found:

The scenery was just amazing! Here are a few parting shots:


the village on the way to Midas City

the village on the way to Midas City


another old rock dwelling

Trekking the Phrygian Highlands (the people of King Midas) – Day 1


Last weekend I joined my archaeological group, FARIT, on a trip to the Phrygian Highlands.  Who are the Phrygians, you might ask?  Good question – they’re best known, historically, for King Midas, whose mythic touch turned everything to gold.  Their capital, Gordiom, is also famous for its local knot, which after centuries, mythically, Alexander the Great was able to untie.

The Phrygian empire spread across central Anatolia in the 8th century B.C., and collapsed to the Cimmerians sometime in the 6th century, with parts of the civilization lasting into the 5th or 3rd centuries B.C., depending on who’s making the claims.  The Cimmerians didn’t last long, and they fell to the Lydians and then the Syrians.  Dating in archaeology is really difficult, especially when multiple civilizations are built on top of one another, as is the case all over Turkey.

The Phrygian Highlands contain mostly cultic sites.  It’s located in sheep grazing land between the current Turkish cities of Eskisehir and Afyon.   After over 2 millennia, not that much is left, but some of the sites are truly stunning.  It was great to come with archaeologists, as some of us walked right by some of the ruins, thinking that they were just rocks.  Of course, sometimes recognizing ancient works is like using your imagination to find animals and scenes in the clouds – we all see them differently.

Our first stop was a group of tombs carved into soft volcanic rock.  The area has been used since Phrygian times as a gravesite. An early Christian church and modern graves sit alongside the ancient cliffside tombs.

The church has been long abandoned, and was probably used for sheltering animals over the years.  If you look at the interior, you can see that some of the carved columns have collapsed or been removed.  Archaeologists think that the churches were carved from the top down.  First they did the dome, then worked their way down into the nave.  As the interiors of the carved buildings are usually symmetric, they probably worked with some kind of plan vice free-carving.

Along the Phrygian Road we saw several shepherds tending their flocks.  All of them were incredibly friendly and excited to share their favorite rocks or tombs with us, especially when they found out that we had some archaeologists amongst us.

My favorite site along the Phrygian Road is the lion tomb.  Nobody knows who was buried here, but the guesses are that it was a local wealthy guy who wanted a tomb in the current international style (late 7th century B.C.)


Here are few more close-ups and part of another collapsed tomb nearby:

Next is what’s known as a shaft monument.  Behind this facade, there’s a huge shaft, nearly 40 feet deep (by my eye’s guess).  So this monument was once that tall as well.


There are two theories about how these shaft structures were used.  One is for animal sacrifices, where the blood was allowed to run down behind the monument.  The second is as an oracle structure, where the priest or priestess would descend the shaft, smoke something, and then work themselves into a frenzy and prophesize.  For entertainment value alone, I like imagining the second option.

Look at the carved patterns on the facade of the monument – more exciting examples are coming up!

Our last stop of the day was the village Kumba.  It seems mostly deserted, but after we started wandering around a hill for a few minutes, some villagers came out to greet us.  At the top of the hill is a ruin that looks like it was probably a lookout or military post of some kind, as you can easily see the surrounding countryside from the perch.

Slightly down the hill and over some rocks, we found this tomb.  It’s actually connected on its right to a village home, and the archaeologists think the locals are using the pits from the old tombs as trash containers now.  Not all of Turkey’s sites are well-preserved or cared for.   They also think that the tomb itself dates to the 6th century B.C., but that the carvings of the lion, the lioness, and the urn are from the Roman era.  If you look closely, you can see how the upper portion is actually indented quite a bit from the original tomb.  The original decoration probably fell off in an earthquake.

For more recent history, Kumba has a small tomb/church with lots of spolia (stones taken from other buildings) built in.  The stone mausoleums are still inside, and covered by lots of brightly colored and embroidered cloths.

By far my favorite part of visiting Kumba village were the locals and decaying village scenery.

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