Saturday, July 28, 2012

Turkey's Marcahuasi: the mysterious City of Midas

Midas City - The intricate facade of Midas monument is elaborately carved into a square and crosses pattern. The entire structure is now covered in a 7-storey high scaffolding as the monuments is threatened by rain and wind erosion - (Photo by Author)
The “City of Midas” occupies a vast plateau in Central Anatolia close to modern Afyon and Eskisehir. Strange rock formations shaped in ancient times into monumental rock facades and unexplainable stairways and tunnels create a sense of mystery as if dominated by some kind of supernatural power. This is a place of power, where one truly feels the pulse of the Earth in a place which has been since time immemorial the sacred centre of Anatolia. In modern times, the plateau of Midas has been called “Yazilikaya”, which means the “inscribed rocks” – a very appropriate name indeed –

The “City of Midas” is by no means a city in the classical sense. It is a city of the Gods and spirits, not the dwelling place of ordinary people.  There are no houses nor buildings whatsoever. Even though the “City of Midas” is often called a fortress, there is not even a strip of wall to justify such a claim.
Everything there is made of rock and cut into the living rock, as if the rock itself was home to some kind of divine beings. As in Peru’s famous Marcahuasi plateau, odd rock formations take the shape of monstrous beasts and human forms. 

The most famous monument is the so called “Tomb of Midas”: even from a short inspection it is however clear it was never a tomb. The monument takes the shape of a giant rock-cut façade measuring over 16 meters in width and some 20 meters in height. There is a large portal in the façade, which however terminates in a false door which has been partly destroyed by robbers looking for some hidden treasures or chambers. This was most likely a doorway to the spirit world, bearing a close resemblance to other similar monuments in other parts of the world, most notably the famous Peruvian gateway of Aramu Muru close to lake Titicaca (which we also visited in 2007).
A large, yet undeciphered inscription occupies the top portion of the monument, where one clearly reads the name of Midas. It is not clear whether this Midas is the same as the legendary king of the Phrygians which is otherwise supposed to be buried in a large tumulus near Gordion. The inscription, in Phrygian alphabet, closely resembles the ancient Etruscan and runic writings.
The decoration of the façade is a very simple, yet strikingly beautiful geometric pattern made of crosses, triangles and squares. This is an extremely refined composition, which sharply contrasts with the otherwise crude character of Phrygian figurative rock sculpture. 
There is also an unfinished monument, very similar to Midas’, located a few hundreds meters from the main monument on the same rock cliff.

When reaching the top of the “acropolis”, one finds the most unexplainable features of Midas. There are hundreds of meters of stairways cut into the rock and leading nowhere or deep into the Earth, giant stepped altars and thrones. These stairways were clearly intended as ceremonial pathways, and one can sometimes find the fainted remains of reliefs and depictions of pilgrims and robed figures carved into the rock in a very crude and archaic style which  is likely Hittite or pre-Hittite.

Some of these stairways end abruptly on the edge of a cliff, or simply lead nowhere stopping in front of inaccessible rock walls and crevasses. But there are also stairways leading to tunnels deep into the ground of the plateau: these tunnels are of extremely accurate workmanship and have a vaulted ceiling similar to Hittite gateways and tunnels one also finds in Bogazkoy-Hattusas.  In some cases these tunnels intersect at vast underground chambers which, though often called “cisterns” or “underground reservoirs” were surely never used as such. Unfortunately the extensive deposits which have accumulated on the bottom of the tunnels and chambers do not allow to find where they ultimately lead or whether they were intended to serve some other yet unknown purpose.
Turkey is a place of many underground cities, so I will not be surprised if the “City of the Gods” of Midas was in fact another underground city which could only be reached by way of these monumental dwindling tunnels. Phrygians believed their Gods lived deep beneath their mountains: perhaps Midas was held as the original homeland of the Phrygian people and of their national Goddess Cybele whose name literally means “Mother of the Mountain”.

Around Midas’ mysterious city extends the sacred heartland of the Phrygian empire, in the so called “Phrygian valley”: there hundreds of rock-cut chambers, tombs, altars and stairways create one of the most elaborate ceremonial landscapes in the ancient world. This was clearly intended as a sacred and ceremonial space, which was as such deliberately avoided by permanent human settlement.
In some places, like at Aslantaş and Yazilikaya-Midas itself, one has the feeling that some obscure, yet devastating cataclysm ravaged the entire region turning it into a kind of barren and lunar landscape. Giant crevasses opened into the ground, collapsed stairways and tunnels are all evidence of sudden destruction and impending catastrophe. In Aslantaş one wonders at the powerful force of nature that cracked the rocks and made a ruin of the giant rock cut monuments and sanctuaries…

The city of Midas is conventionally dated to the VIII to VII Century B.C., but it may be of any antiquity. The style is somehow reminiscent of pre-Hittite and bronze age construction, but there are also elements such as rock cuts and cup marks which are mostly found in Neolithic sites. Also, when one considers the level of erosion on the facades and the badly eroded rock formations one can only guess at the real age of this mysterious monument…    

Midas City - A rock honey-comb with ancient chambers and passageways located at the entrance of the City of Midas. Thousands of years of wind and erosion have concealed any ancient carvings and structures - (Photo by Author)
Midas City - The facadeof Midas' monument as it looks now, completely covered  by modern scaffolding - (Photo by Author)

Midas City - the "small Yazilikaya", a Phrygian unfinished monument located a few hundred meters from Midas' monument and also shaped as a giant rock-cut portal- (Photo by Author)
Midas City - the pathway to the acropolis is closely similar to the ancient cart-ruts one finds  on the Maltese islands and the Caucasus: two parallel grooves run for many meters from the valley floor to the top of the plateau - (Photo by Author)

Midas City - Various views of the rocky and barren countryside sorrounding the plateau - (Photo by Author)

Midas City - A view towards the ancient tunnels and stairways leading deep into the ground on the flanks of the acropolis. The monumental character of these tunnels, which may be followed for well over 300 meters undeground suggests some highly important, yet unknown function. These may well be an access to some underground vaults similar to the subterranean cities of Cappadocia. There is no element to suggest these tunnels and the underlying chambers were ever intended or used as cisterns and water reservoirs - (Photo by Author)
Midas City - One of the many thrones and rock-cut stairways one finds on the top of the acropolis plateau. There is no clear theory as to the exact purpose of these enigmatic rock-cut structures - (Photo by author)
Midas City - The famous "animal rock" resembles a prehistoric animal or a crouching sphinx. This gigantic rock, located just on top of the acropolis plateau, was clearly the object of a very peculiar cult in ancient times - (Photo by Author)
Aslantas - The vast rocl-cut tomb known as Aslantas resembles a huge cube of rock. The facade is intricately carved with the depiction of two roaring lions around a small entrance door - (Photo by Author)
Phrygian Valley - located close to Aslantas rock tomb, these giant collapsed stones are the sole remains of a vast rock-cut santuary as if destroyed by some kind of cataclysm or sudden catastrophe
Phrygian Valley - A monumental rock-cut tomb carved to resemble a temple facade is located a mere 4 Km from the "City of Midas". This is likely the result of a phrygian portal monument turned into a monumental tomb in hellenistic or early Roman times - (Photo by Author)
Phrygian Valley - One of several rock-cut chambers and passageways located in the valley. This window-shaped structure is likely the result of erosion over some rocl-cut structure. One wonders at how many thousands of year were necessary to completely erode away all the rest of this structure - (Photo by Author)

Kumbet (Phrygian Valley) - Near the hilltop village of Kumbet one finds several rock-cut structures, including  a monumental Phrygian tomb facade depicting lions and eagles - (Photo by Author)


  1. Hello,
    I don't know why the blog templates or words (I don't know what they're supposed to be called) are in Italian. ?
    Anyway, the last image shows a triangle, with dentile carving.
    Would you explain to me how you came to the conclusion that the stones of the Incan temple are vitrified, please?
    Thank you.

  2. Ancient modern art, mostly focusing on the controversial post stone impressionistic era.

  3. Phrygian people was just another tribe OfSerbian people in ancient times. That was just one part of territory thay lived in. There are monuments written in old Serbian language in today Turkey