While Ankara is not as rich in history and historical monuments like Istanbul, there are several sites that you can visit there. Undoubtedly, one of them is the monumental Ataturk Mausoleum, dedicated to the Father of the Nation. Within the mausoleum, the Ataturk and the War on Independence Museum is the best place to learn about the creation of the modern Turkish Republic. But, another fascinating place and a must see in Ankara is the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations.
HISTORY OF THE ANATOLIAN CIVILISATIONS
I have to be totally honest and admit that, before visiting this museum, I knew almost nothing about the Anatolian history and the people that inhabited that territory. But, just because there is something that I don’t know, it doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant or irrelevant. On the contrary, the history of Anatolian civilisations is vast and complex and it really requires dedication, time and effort to learn about it. Provided that you are interested in having that knowledge!
In my opinion, the most interesting part of the Anatolian history starts with the early Bronze Age. Since that period, various kingdoms and empires existed in the territory of Asia Minor. The more recent ones, that I mentioned in my previous posts, are the Seljuk and the Ottoman Empires.
But, it’s a complex subject and perhaps it’s not necessary to know everything in detail, although some understanding is desirable, especially so that you can understand and appreciate this museum in Ankara.
HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM OF ANATOLIAN CIVILISATIONS
I mentioned earlier that the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations is a fascinating place. First of all, the museum is in two historical Ottoman buildings – the Bedestan (covered market) and Kurşunlu Han.
Both buildings were built by Mahmut Pasha, the Grand Vizier under Sultan Mehmed the Conquerer, between 1464 and 1471.
The Bedestan is the central, exhibition hall area of the museum. The building is covered by 10 domes and the market had 102 shops. Alpaca clothes, unique to Ankara, were sold there.
The second building of the museum – Kurşunlu Han – was built in accordance with the typical Ottoman han architecture, with a series of porticos that open onto a central courtyard.
Both buildings were abandoned after the fire in 1881. However, Ataturk suggested that they could be arranged as a museum. The restoration works started in 1938 and finished in 1968, although the first part of the museum opened in 1943. The museum won the European Museum of the Year award in 1997.
Phrygians worshipped many deities, but only one deity was depicted in human form. This is goddess “Matar”, whose name meant “mother”.
Phrygian goddess Matar is always depicted as standing upright, a mature woman who looks forward. She wears a long dress and an elaborate polos, a veil flows down from the back of a headdress. She holds an object in her hands, showing her divinity. These are drinking cups or bowls, a bird of pray and a round object, probably a pomegranate.
The cult monuments dedicated to Cybele in Phrygia are dated between the 9th and 6th century BC.
KARGAMIŞ ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE
There are many exhibits in the museum and they cover various Anatolian historical periods. This museum opened a completely new world for me. I knew so little about the Anatolian history. Even now, I only have a very superficial knowledge. To know things properly, one has to study in detail. But, I don’t think that it’s necessary to know everything about everything. In fact, that’s impossible. There is so much history in the world, so do we really need to know all of it?
Rather, when we visit places like this museum, we should select things that interest us most and then obtain sufficient information to be able to put what we see in its proper historical context. That knowledge will remain with us forever, especially when it’s supported by the visual presentation in terms of artefacts from that particular historical period.
In my opinion, orhostats from an ancient city of Kargamış, on display in the museum, were probably the most impressive and that’s why I am presenting them in this post. Otherwise, Kargamış is an extensive set of ruins on the west bank of Euphrates River. There are several references to the city in the Bible and also in Egyptian and Assyrian texts. But, its location was only identified in 1876.
The archaeological site comprises of remains of the Neo-Hittite and Neo-Assyrian periods and includes defensive structures, temples, palaces and numerous basalt statues and reliefs. The site opened to the public for the first time in July 2019.
In the context of the classical Greek architecture, orthostates are squared stone blocks, much greater in height than depth, that are usually built into the lower portion of a wall.
ORTHOSTATS OF LONG WALL
Two figures standing over the lion. There is a crescent over the winged god at the front. It is assumed that the figure at the front is moon god and one at the rear is sun god.
Goddess Kubaba. Goddess is depicted from the profile. She holds pomegranate in her hands, on her chest. She carries a one-horned headdress on her head. Her braided hair hangs down to her shoulder. The text in the hieroglyphics is not understood.
Chariot. One of the two figures in the chariot holds the horse’s headstall, while the other one throws arrows. There is a naked enemy, with an arrow in his hip, lying face down under the horse’s feet. Additionally, that figure is depicted smaller than the other figures since it is an enemy soldier. The lower part of the orthostat is decorated with braiding motifs.
ORTHOSTATS OF PROCESSION
Nuns of the Goddess Kubaba. The relief depicts three marching female figures in long dresses, with a high headdress on their heads. The figures in the front and in the back have a bunch of spica in their right hand, while the figure in the middle has an empty right hand. They all carry an object similar to a scepter in their left hand.
Young male servants of Kubaba carry sacrificial animals on their shoulders.
Musicians. Two musicians with short arms, wearing long dresses and wide belts. One plays saz, a stringed musical instrument with tassels on the handle, while the other one plays flute. The third, small figure holds castanets in his hands. The figure on the right wears a short skirt, contrary to the others. She dances over her toe tips, with her hands over her head.
ORTHOSTATS OF WATER GATE
Stag. With his large and many-branched antler, he walks towards the right.
ORTHOSTATS OF ROYAL BUTTRESS
Queen and her youngest son. The hieroglyphs located above read: “… and this is Tuwarsais. The prince desired by the ruler, whose exclusiveness has been exposed”. While the queen carries her son in her lap, she holds the rope of the colt coming behind her, with her other hand. The muscles of the colt are schematic.
Children of the King. The scene shows 8 out of 10 king’s children. The hieroglyphs reads: “Malitispas, Astitarhunzas, Tarnitispas, Isikaritispas, Sikaras, Halpawaris, Yahilatispas”. Above, there are three figures holding knucklebones (astragalus) and one figure walking by leaning on a stick. Each pair of figures below is playing knucklebones and turning whirligigs.
Warriors. Three figures, each with a long dress, a thick belt and curly hair. The figure in the front holds a spear with a broken tip in his left hand. The figure in the middle made his left hand into a fist and he carries a tool with his right hand, at the level of his head. They are followed with a figure holding a scepter in his left hand. All three have a long sward at their waist.
ORTHOSTATS OF HERALD’S WALL
Military parade. Three helmeted soldiers in short skirts carry shields on their backs and spears in their hands.
Gilgamesh – the Master of Animals. In the middle, a kneeling bearded figure is holding the bull’s horn with his left hand and lion’s back leg with his right hand. Below this lion is another lion whose chest and head are missing. Below this second lion is another smaller lion. A deer stands behind his head.
Lion. On the right, there is a bearded human figure in a short skirt and with a dagger in his right hand. He is stabbing the lion, which is standing on his front legs, while holding the lion’s tail with his left hand. On the left, there is a bearded god figure with a horned headdress grasping lion’s back legs while holding an ax over his head, with his right hand.
Winged Griffin Demons. Bird-headed, winged figures of human body. Embossing is symmetrical. Their hands are above their heads, presumably carrying the heavens.
Chimera. Three-headed sphinxes. Winged lion, with the bird of pray’s head at the end of its tail, also has a human head with hair in plaits and a conical headdress. Details in his feet are very distinct.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS MUSEUM
All this is very fascinating, especially when you see it for the first time. I am glad that I visited this museum and that I’ve learnt something new. But, I would also like to visit the Kargamış archaeological site. I will certainly do it if I ever happen to be close to it. There is so much to see and explore in the eastern part of Anatolia and especially at the border with Syria.
For the time being, I have these photos and whenever I feel the need to look at them again, I will be able to refresh my memory.
Finally, whoever happens to visit Ankara should make sure to visit this fantastic place. Even if you don’t know very much about the ancient Anatolian civilisations, it doesn’t matter. Simply have a look at phenomenal works of art, produced so many centuries ago.
Additionally, these strange images reveal a lot about beliefs and customs of people that lived at that time. You can also get a glimpse into their fashion. Perhaps you’ve noticed, men used to wear mini skirts!