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The Land that Midas Touched

A walk on the wild side in the Phrygian Highlands

Phrygia, in western Anatolia, was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the Near East – home to Midas, Gordius and Alcibiades. Today the remnants of their lives litter this forgotten landscape, abandoned by all but a few villagers who still tell stories of the unfortunate king who lived to regret his golden gift. David Barchard heads to the Phyrigian highlands to explore a land of myth and mystery. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • The Altar of Midas known as Midas's throne (Fritz von der Schulenburg)

The landscape is green and idyllic. It might be the backdrop in a Renaissance oil painting of some myth from the ancient world – which, in a way, is exactly what it is. The kings and princes of this land turned to dust long ago, and now many of the villagers are leaving, too. A sense of timelessness hangs over the land. Everywhere along its roads, one sees monuments and fragments, chunks hewn from a past that has almost assumed the status of legend: the times of Midas, Gordius, Alcibiades, and Seyyit Battal Gazi, the Romans, Seljuks and Ottomans.

This is Phrygia, one of the most beautiful and historic regions of Turkey, but a genuine case of a land that time and modernity have so far forgotten. Although the first ominous stirrings of tourism and development can be detected, as yet the bulldozers and construction machines have shown no signs of moving in.

The name Phrygia, a purely historical and geographical label, comes from the Phrygians, a people who dominated western central Anatolia during most of the gap between the fall of the Hittites, just before 1150BC, and about 690BC, when they were conquered by the Cimmerians. For a while they were one of the most powerful kingdoms in the Near East, and the beauty of their little-known monuments and artefacts suggests that, had the dice of history rolled more kindly, they might have been an powerful influence on world art.

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Issue 39, 2008 Diplomatic Secrets
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 39
  • Birth of a Nation

    How the diplomatic world dragged itself away from Istanbul and settled in the new capital. By Norman Stone

  • The Sweet Taste of Summer

    Colourful mountains of melons are a common sight at weekly street markets. Connoisseurs examine them, sniff them, weigh them in their hands. The stalk should have dried slightly, the bottom yield gently if pressed and the fruit should feel heavy and full.
    Also see Cornucopia 47, Watermelons
    More cookery features

  • Crockery and crocuses

    In Turkey the tireless George Maw was able to indulge in both his loves. He found inspiration for the decorative tiles made by his family pottery. And he discovered the plants that inspired his magnificent book on crocuses.

  • Ankara’s Palaces of Diplomacy

    A new capital called for new architecture. Ankara in the 1920s and 1930s produced a fascinating diversity of styles as the foreign powers dragged themselves away from the Bosphorus and settled reluctantly on the Anatolian plateau

More in the Guide
More in the Guide
Buy the issue
Issue 39, 2008 Diplomatic Secrets
£8.00 / $10.16 / 327.32 TL
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