Vandals destroy history in Phrygian Valley
The Phrygian Valley, located within the borders of the Aegean provinces of Kütahya and Afyonkarahisar and the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir, has suffered heavy destruction by treasure hunters. Targeting rock tombs, churches and castles in the region, the vandals also destroyed the walls of the rock-hewn Ayazini Church built a millennium ago with dynamite.
Due to the collapses, some of the entrances to the church, which carries monastery features, were closed. The inner walls of the church bore writings and swastikas.
“In our investigations, we found that treasure hunters had punched holes in soft-structured walls with a special tool and then placed dynamites in these holes. We even found some tools and their parts. Explosions damage many structures. Of course, we are also responsible for this process. The archaeological excavations here are not enough. Some areas, unfortunately, were left unconfined,” Ümit Emrah Kur, the deputy head of the archeology department of Afyon Kocatepe University, told daily Hürriyet.
Mevlüt Üyümez, the Afyonkarahisar Museum director, said they were working together with state institutions in what he called a “struggle against illegal excavations.”
“The gendarmerie forces and other institutions put great effort together to prevent illegal excavations. We came to a point in which drones are flown at night in the area. We act against the detected illegal digs immediately,” he said.
Stating that the Phrygian Valley was dubbed the “second Cappadocia,” İhsaniye district Mayor Şaban Çabuk said, “There are many important king tombs and churches here. Of course, this is what draws treasure hunters the most. We take all measures necessary. But it is true that there has been destruction.”
Ayazini village head Sami Karakaya said protection efforts were not enough in the historical area, adding, “We report illegal diggings as soon as we detect them. Despite all our efforts, there is destruction in some structures, especially the Ayazini Church.”
Ayazini village is known to have been a settlement since the Phrygians era. The structures in the village are rock-carved ones because the land is convenient. There are family or single rock burial chambers from the Roman and Byzantine eras, as well as Byzantine-era churches and rock settlements.
The village is also home to burial chambers with lion-columned burial chambers and rock-carved churches along with the Avdalez Castle, which has a water cistern in it.
The Phrygian Valley has been home to a number of communities since ancient times. Open-air temples that were dedicated to Cybele, the Phrygians’ main goddess, and other structures built for defensive purposes are among the most striking features in the region, although it is also home to various shelters carved into rock faces during Roman times, as well as burial chambers, sheep-herding pens and barns, cisterns, warehouses, churches and chapels.
The area, which covers three provinces, was dominated by the Phrygians between 900 and 600 B.C. but was dealt a fatal blow in 676 B.C. by the Cimmerians, who came from further east, beyond Anatolia. Later, the area would fall under Roman control.
The Phrygians experienced a golden age during the reign of King Midas, who ruled from Gordion – close to present-day Ankara – and is thought to have lived between 738 and 696 B.C.