Seben’s Phrygians living life on the edge
Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
The climb is steep; there is no fancy cableway to bring you to the top. You are on your own and you have the whole place to yourself.It is fun to travel around in the smaller areas of Turkey. That’s when I have the feeling that I am really alive; that I am a “modern” Evliya Çelebi – the Ottoman traveler extraordinaire who lived 400 years ago. This time I found myself in Seben, 55 kilometers away from the center of the northwestern province of Bolu. The remarkable thing is that there is so much to do and to see in the area but hardly anybody visits Seben. During ancient times, Seben and its surroundings used to be a very important area. It was home to the Phrygians, a very old civilization that started around 3,000 years ago.
I can strongly recommend you go and visit Seben, but I have to warn you: don’t expect any fancy restaurant; you will go hardcore and sober. There is of course a place where you can have some nice food, but you will find yourself among locals. For me that also adds to the color local, but it might be a bit too much for some people. So what can you do or find in Seben?
On my way to Seben, I came across some interesting caves called the Solaklar Rock Houses that were made thousands of years ago by the Phrygians. They made those caves to hide from their enemies, and it is interesting to see how they did it. While in Cappadocia, the people living there had built cities under the ground, the Phrygians decided to carve their protective hideouts into the mountains.
Narrow, steep tunnels connect you to four floors inside the mountain, and there was always a kind of window to look outside. The Phrygians obviously wanted to keep an eye on the whereabouts of the enemy. Nowadays, a very basic ladder made of steel helps to ease the climb up but during the old days, the people used carved-out footsteps that would bring them to another floor. Now warmed up, it’s time to do the real thing. There is a place nearby that is called the Muslar Rock Houses and to see what the “freaking” Phrygians were able to do, you need the condition of a lion… The climb is steep; there is no fancy cableway to bring you to the top. At the summit, there is no small buffet selling cold water, ice cream or chips… You are on your own and you have the whole place to yourself (especially when you go during late autumn or very early spring when it is still freezing cold…). So let’s start at the bottom of this adventure. You approach the Muslar Rock Houses and look up. A huge mountain waits in front of you as it has been doing for thousands and thousands of years. At the foot of the mountain, there is a very rusty sign with some information, unfortunately only in Turkish, erected by the district governor. For me, it was just guessing which way to go and while looking around, I found something that looked like a path leading to the flat top of the mountain. With almost no breath left, I finally made it to the top, but when I got there, it was as if I had won the Tour de France (but without doping).
This place was effectively unconquerable. The mountain slope is so steep, long and high and, above all, it has a clear panoramic view of the surrounding area. I thought I reached the top but when I walked a bit around I saw that there were still many more mountaintops from which rooms had been carved out.
One of the most interesting things, though, was a big hole in the ground with steep walls. According to some people, this used to be a prison, and I could imagine how it was to stay in such a place. It was freezing cold when I visited the Muslar Kaya Evleri, and during the time of the Phrygians, I think the people didn’t wear too many clothes. If you didn’t die from falling, the elements would certainly have helped bring you to an early grave.
On the mountaintops, 500 meters further away from me, were more rooms carved into the rocks. Some of the rooms were connected to each other and wherever I looked, I saw those kinds of rooms. So much work had been put into this place; it was fascinating to see it, to walk around in this history. It must have been a very hard life that those people were living. Standing here looking around with “romantic” eyes is, of course, nice but at that time it was the survival of the fittest. And looking at what those Phrygians had created here, it looked as if they were really very fit indeed. For me, it was time to return to my hotel. Thanks to Luna, my dog, the way back was easy to find. Acting as a scout 50 meters ahead of us, she started the walk back to the car, and within one hour, I found myself in a nice, warm car.
Going hardcore is nice but I have to admit that luxury is not a bad thing either.