From Ankara, Turkey’s capital, travelers mostly head south to take a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia or enjoy a dervish whirling dance in Konya.
However, few look to the west of the capital – on this plateau in Anatolia lies the glorious past of countless kingdoms. The ancient country I am looking for is Phrygia, whose capital Gordion is still sleeping on the western edge of Ankara Province.
The bus from Ankara passed through the small town of Boratler, and a few locals who got off the bus quickly disappeared into the surrounding streets. The travel guide at hand made no mention of Gordion, the old capital of Phrygia, and the digital map did not include public transportation to the ruins. After asking a few locals who didn’t speak English, I thought this trip would probably end in failure.
It wasn’t until I plucked up the courage to ask the locals for the last time that it finally came to light. He led me to the door of a supermarket and told me that the bus to Gordion left from here, but there was no sign of the bus in the parking lot at the moment. For me, who can’t speak the language, even if I can’t confirm it, I can only choose to believe.
After a long wait, the minibus to Gordion finally arrived late. I estimated the time required for the round trip, and it seemed that it was too late to catch the long-distance bus that left in the evening, but I had already paid such a long wait that I was not willing to give up. The minibus driver told me that Gordion has a gendarmerie team. If you really can’t come back, you might as well go there and ask if there is a ride. Although I was at a loss, thinking that as long as I can go, I will definitely be able to come back, and with this unreasonable confidence, I still set out for Gordion.
Pottery in the Gordion Museum
There are even historians who believe that it was the Phrygians who ended the long reign of the Hittite Empire.
The ancient capital Gordion, located on a highland by the Sakarya River, was once the most important city on this plateau. In an oracle passed down by word of mouth in classical times, the “Gordian Knot” was a mysterious knot with no external end, and it was said that whoever could untie it would rule Asia. When Alexander the Great was on his eastern expedition, he split the knot with a sword, and his prophecy of becoming king also came true.
Today Gordion has a museum, a city ruin and nearly a hundred large mausoleums. In the museum’s presentation, Gordion was called one of the most important archaeological finds in the Near East, which I suspected for a while was the museum’s boast. Now, this deserted museum is nothing compared to the crowds of Troy, Ephesus or Nemrut.
Phrygia does have a proud capital. In the 12th century BC, the great Hittite Empire collapsed, and its main political stage, Anatolia, became a political vacuum for a while. Many small states emerged from it, and Phrygia was the most striking one. There are even historians who believe that it was the Phrygians who ended the long reign of the Hittite Empire. This ethnic group from the Balkan Peninsula moved into Asia Minor one after another, and established a kingdom named after its own ethnic group here.
But Gordion seems obliterated by a long history. In the entire museum, there were only two local tourists besides me, who frolicked and took pictures in front of the exhibits, laughing from the crevices of ancient pottery and mosaic murals. When they met face to face, they asked me to take a group photo, and when they turned to leave, I saw “Jandarma” on their clothes, which is the Turkish word for “military police”.
Among the kings of Phrygia, the most famous must be Midas. His mausoleum is located opposite the museum.
This circular giant tomb is amazing in scale, with a diameter of 300 meters and a residual height of 53 meters. It is one of the largest ancient tombs in Turkey and is quite eye-catching on the flat plateau. There are nearly a hundred tombs scattered around the museum, which are reminiscent of Guanzhong or Mangshan in China.
Murals inside the Gordion Museum
The mausoleum of Midas can be visited inside, which still preserves the coffin of the 8th century BC, which is one of the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world.
In Greek mythology, Midas was the most frequently played Phrygian king. According to legend, he once judged a music competition and awarded the victory to the god of the forest. Apollo, the sun god who was defeated, was so angry that he turned Midas’ ears into donkey ears, so that the king had to wear Ephraim. Regia-style beanie hides ugliness. This conical hat with a curved tip gradually evolved into a symbol of the “Eastern” in the Greco-Roman cultural system. Many non-Greek characters in Greek mythology often wore Phrygian hats to indicate their “oriental” attributes, such as Prince Paris in the Trojan War.
During Roman times, those freed slaves were also required to wear Phrygian caps. While this hat became a status shaming, it also derived a symbol of “free status”. In modern times, this Phrygian hat has been reinterpreted, and in the French Revolution, the red Phrygian hat was extended to true “freedom”. In the famous oil painting “Liberty Leading the People”, the Statue of Liberty in the center of the picture is wearing a Phrygian hat. The most familiar image for Chinese travelers must come from the cartoon Smurfs, whose hat also represents the spirit of freedom.
Another myth about Midas has to do with geography. Midas once rescued the teacher of Dionysus, and in return, Dionysus fulfilled Midas’s wish and made him have the super power of turning a stone into gold. This legendary skill, known in English as “Midastouch”, turned out to be an accidental disaster for the person involved – the food he touched turned into gold, and the daughter he embraced became a golden statue. He finally released this superpower only by putting his finger in a river – this Paktoles River, a famous gold mine in history, became Phrygia’s successor and rival – Lydia’s economic lifeline.
Freedom and captivity, wealth and imprisonment, seemingly diametrically opposed propositions, are unexpectedly unified in Midas’ mythology. When the tomb was excavated, many people attached it to Midas based on its enormous size and similar dating, but from rigorous archaeology, this is not without controversy. It’s just that when people walk in the long and narrow corridors, they still hope that they are going to the king with donkey ears, round-pointed hat and touch of gold.
From the museum and the royal tombs area, I will go to the ruins of the capital Gordion, which is about two kilometers away and can only be reached on foot. After walking a short distance, an oncoming car stopped beside me, and two military police officers who had just met in the museum waved to me and asked if I was going to the ruins, and they could take me for a ride. This is obviously not the way to go. They have already seen the ruins area and are about to return.
View of the Mausoleum of King Midas from Gordion
However, under the invitation, I am naturally happy to take less of these many roads, and I am glad that my effort has also exchanged for the kindness of others. Soon we arrived at the ruins area. They asked me how long it would take to see it. I said, “Maybe 40 minutes. Can you leave the backpack in your car?”
”Of course.” They agreed. But when I just got out of the car and closed the door, two people laughed loudly from the open car window, the car started immediately, and immediately disappeared at the end of the dirt road in the ruins area.
I thought they would wait for me to visit at the gate of the ruins area, but when I woke up suddenly, I didn’t even have time to write down the complete license plate number, let alone judge whether it was a scam. The computer, luggage, and cash are all in the backpack. Fortunately, the most important passport, camera and a few credit cards are left in the small bag that I carry with me. I consoled myself that even if I became such a “lonely person”, I would definitely be able to return to China.
Many non-Greek characters in Greek mythology often wore Phrygian hats to indicate their “oriental” attributes.
I almost bravely walked into the ruins area, the camera still kept shooting, but I didn’t have the heart to read any introduction. I was thinking about how to call the police and how to describe my predicament. Climbing to the commanding heights of the site, the Midas Mausoleum not far away is like a small volcano, and there are many flocks of sheep on the boundless grassland below. This kind of beauty has inspired me to feel a lot of remorse. I’m sure I won’t be so arrogant when hiking the Midas Mausoleum!
It was only over 20 minutes until my brain came out of the ruins after walking around the ruins. It was not until I rearranged the photos that I found that the ruins seemed to have never existed in my memory. In the next ten minutes of waiting, I became more and more desperate and angry with myself. How could I, who have always been cautious, make such a stupid mistake?
I looked at the end of the dirt road, looking forward to the billowing dust and smoke rising again, and finally felt what it was like to “look through the autumn waters”.
Luckily for me this time, though, this later scene impressed me more than all the monuments – the faint sound of a motor came, and I saw their car turn off the main road, the exhaust and dust like a cloud of rising Then there was the sound of music and laughter from the open car window.
”Let’s go, let’s go back to Boratler.”
I greeted them with a smile, as if all the panic, remorse, and resentment just now had never happened.