Emily Ellyatt goes back 3000 years exploring the ancient kingdom of Phrygia. Many of us have now visited the Turkish coast and walked the Lycian Way, floated on a balloon excursion over the fairytale landscape of Cappadocia or have seen many photographs of beautiful coast scenery, Roman ruins or the magnificent monuments in Istanbul. Having spent a time exploring the more well known sites we wanted to find out a bit about the hidden and unvisited corners of Turkey. A friend mentioned the ancient Phrygian kingdom and stories of King Midas with his asses ears and golden touch roused our interest.
By shear coincidence a week later a friend from Ankara, a university professor and walking enthusist contacted us and invited us to join him on a trip organised to visit and walk sections of the Phrygian Way. This 300 mile long route was recently completed for walkers taking in the best of the ancient Phrygian sites and magnificent scenery. The trail takes you through a great variety of landscapes many resembling the fairy tower landscapes of Cappadocia – again owing their origin to erosion of thick volcanic ash deposits.
If you wish to complete the walk then you have to be prepared to camp along the way as accommodation is scarce. We were spoilt by being based at two magnificent boutique hotels and our trip was finished off wallowing in thermal baths and pools in a thermal hotel near Afyon. A minibus took us to start of each days walk and then picked us up at the end of the day. This was the best way to do the trip to avoid walking too much on dirt or tarmac roads. On some days we had a packed lunch but generally we would stop in village restaurants.
Our first night was spent in the opulent splendour of a restored government house enjoying a three course supper. The fresh morning air and a good breakfast set us up for the first section of the walk that day. Soon we were walking up a valley through forests and meadows. On more than one occassion we met a shepherd with his flock, always friendly and curious to see foreign faces. Always smiling these tough people spend most of their lives out in the open air either during the snowy cold winters of in the heat of the summer. Later crossing a high forested mountain ridge we walked along ancient roads cut into the volcanic tuffas. On a hilltop a rocky knoll had been carved into numerous caves for storage, accommodation, defence and at a much later date a church carved out of the soft rock. Exploring further we found a long, beautifully carved sloping tunnel going down into the ground as far as we could see. A local shepherd said it went several kilometers to another fortified hilltop several kilometers away. Later in the trip we stayed at a converted farmhouse run as a comfortable boutique hotel by two retired archeology professors. We exchanged our experiences and they did correct the tunnel theory – it was a very long shaft going down to reach water – some 600m long.
One of the trip highlights was to see the ancient Midas City with the famous Yazilikaya or carved rock, This is arguably the most masgnificent of the Phrygian monuments, a beautifully carved and very well preserved sheet of rock some 17m high with Phrygian inscriptions. Apart from several other features such as burial tombs a feature to look out for here are the water tunnels and the cisterns they lead to. Our archeologist host also told us to look out for the rock carving of a cow walking down to water in a very big tunnel.
Near Yazilikaya an old water mill has been converted to a pleasant restaurant, we stopped here for a relaxing lunch before continuing on our tour. Generally the longer walks – some up to twelve miles were in the cooler period of the morning when you felt fresher anyway, afternoons and evenings were more relaxed and exploratory.
We all wished we had brought with us some books on birds. We had expected a wide variety of flowers and here we were not disappointed but we were not prepared for the wide bariety of birds of prey and aquatic birds. (Although we did manage to identify the stork on top of the magnificent Selcuk mausoleum in Kumbet.).
All too soon we had to leave the ancient kingdom of Phrygia with its magnificent lions guarding the tombs of ancient kings and royalty and we had a last night in a luxurious hotel near Afyon, where thermal waters fed a variety of pools and hammam. What a pleasure to relax and stretch out after the walking days.