Cradle Of Culture:

On one side monumental tumuli, giant rock-carved reliefs, altars and cave dwellings, on the other fairy chimney formations like works of art and the thermal springs that have warmed the lofty steppes of the Anatolian plateau for centuries.

While wandering in the valleys and highlands, you grasp more easily the place in human history of the Phrygian civilization and its rich cultural heritage. The region that includes the provinces of Afyonkarahisar, Kütahya and Eskişehir, where the monuments of the Phrygian civilization are located, is known today as the Valley of the Phrygians.

Three cities still preserve their historic links with this magnificent geography, which illumines the present with the light of the past. Countless local riches, such as Afyonkarahisar’s marbles, Kütahya tiles and Eskişehir’s alabaster, are the touchstones of this cultural journey.

Every day at dawn, first the castle perched on the colossal rock mass that rises behind it is illuminated at Afyonkarahisar. Then, spreading across the lower reaches of Afyonkarahisar Castle, the light reaches the historic texture of a house close to four hundred years old.

This region, where you can find vestiges of traditional Afyonkarahisar life, is among the finest living examples of Anatolian civil architecture. Strolling about here, a person is astonished to encounter old-fashioned grocery stores with their characteristic smell that brings back childhood memories.

Situated at the point of intersection of the inter-city highways to Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, Afyonkarahisar is always alive and humming. The hotels and large shopping centers that have spread to the province keep the region ever vibrant. Like a virtual continuation today of the ancient trade routes, this junction and its dynamics are a major contributor to the city’s economy.

Another city center exhibiting vestiges of history in the Phrygian Valley is Kütahya, which stands out for its mosques, baths, mausoleums, fountains, old mansions and museums. It is easier to get a handle on the city’s magnificent past on Germiyan Sokak, which is lined with old houses. You can also find rich examples of the local handicrafts all over the city. The pottery that dates al the way back to the Phrygians and the tiles that symbolize the city are among the branches of industry that contribute to the local economy.

To understand the place where one lives and to appreciate its beauty, sometimes one has to look at it from another angle. To be able to say that one has seen Eskişehir, which could be considered the modern face of the Valley of the Phrygians, one should pay a brief visit to Kent (City) Park, which has been dubbed the ‘lungs’ of Eskişehir, or survey the city’s skyline from Şelale (Waterfall) Park.

Watered by the Porsuk River, this progressive city is Anatolia’s rising star with its green cover, its transportation net that functions like clockwork, and its refreshing parks. Eskişehir also boasts a young and highly educated population, in which the university and its extensive campuses undoubtedly play the largest part. You’ll encounter young lovers on almost every street here, or students on an outing by gondola on the Porsuk, livening up the atmosphere with their cries of glee.

An historic venue adorns modern Eskişehir’s backyard. We are talking about the quarter of Odunpazarı with its narrow winding streets and gaily painted, wood-frame row houses. Regarded as choice examples of traditional Turkish architecture, these houses were reclaimed for tourism in the Odunpazarı Houses Preservation Project launched in 2005 by the local municipality. Like those at Beypazarı, Safranbolu and Şirince in other parts of Turkey, the historic houses at Odunpazarı are involved now in the branding process.

And if you venture outside these three city centers into the valleys and steppes, you will encounter splendid Phrygian monuments at almost every kilometer. Dating back to the 12th century B.C., this civilization exhibited a mastery ahead of its time in architecture, carving, pottery and metal working.

And Midas, who signed the first political alliance at Gordion, was the Phrygians’ most famous king. This culture, which inhabited dwellings cut into the rocks, left behind extraordinary and refined monuments in the valleys of Yazılıkaya, Yapıkdak, Kümbet, Asmainler, Zahran, Porsuk, Ayazini and Göynüş. To see all this and more, you need to take a tour to the Phrygian Valley. If the traveler inside you is keen on an exciting adventure of discovery, now’s the time.

One of the best things about Anatolia is the juxtaposition of traditional values with everyday life in complete harmony. After finishing their routine chores, housewives go to each other’s houses to visit. Served with the traditional tea or ayran (buttermilk), savory pastries such as ‘ağzıaçık’ and lentil-filled ‘bükme’ are carried amidst peals of glee by the children of the house to the local bakery, where they are baked in the oven.

A colorful figure in traditional Turkish folk humor, Nasreddin Hodja was born at Hortu in the Eskişehir township of Sivrihisar. He went to school in Sivrihisar and served briefly as an ‘imam’ before moving to Akşehir.

One of the sages who contributed to the cultural ferment of these lands, Yunus Emre springs to mind at the mention of Eskişehir. And International Yunus Emre Culture Week is held every year in the city.

The legendary King Midas and his ears are still remembered as well. And the International Eskişehir King Midas Short Film Festival is being held May 11-15 this year.

Art and tradition make their presence felt in the cities along the border of the Phrygian Valley. The tiles made by the late Sıtkı Olçar, one of the world’s leading tile producers, provide clues to Anatolia’s past. And starting from the 13th century, the grandsons of Mevlana Jalalladdin Rumi in Afyonkarahisar and Kütahya ensured the propagation of a new philosophy that would enlighten mankind.

Occupying a special place among the handicrafts of Kütahya and Turkey in general, the art of the tile has achieved an international reputation. Bird, fish, flower, plant and human motifs are generally used on the tiles, which are mainly in shades of dark and light blue, white and bordeaux. Çinili Cami (the Tiled Mosque) at the city center and the shops that line the main street are proof of the importance given to tile-making         in this region.

Life flows at its usual pace in the lower reaches of Karahisar Castle, which is immortalized in Turkish folk songs. Around the hour when mothers return from the market, the children come home from school and fathers wrap up their work for the day, things become quieter and everything returns to normal. Modernizing by the day, Afyonkarahisar, which is also a major inter-city hub, is acquiring a structure in keeping with today’s conditions.

Despite the proliferation of supermarkets, people in the cities of the Phrygian Valley still meet their needs from the traditional grocery stores, which supply staples like village bread, water buffalo ‘kaymak’ (clotted cream), and poppyseed flour. Gold meanwhile is still sold as the primary form of investment and, especially in summer, gold jewelry is traditionally given as a wedding present. The local alabaster is used in souvenir items such as necklaces, bracelets and pipes.

Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Eskişehir flights in both directions. For timetables: www.thy.com

You can acquire in Kütahya a large variety of widely priced tile accessories produced for different purposes and exhibiting the characteristics of the art of the tile that has been practiced here for centuries.

When speaking of Afyonkarahisar, the first that leap to mind are poppies, sucuk and of course that inseparable duo, the city’s trademark shredded ekmek kadayıf pastry with clotted cream.

A university city today, Eskişehir offers visitors a children’s amusement park as well as newly opened shopping centers.

Kütahya is a resort area that attracts tourists summer and winter with spas like those at Yoncalı, Dereli, Ilıca-Harlek, Hisarcık-Esire, Simav-Eynal, Tavşanlı-Göbel, Ilıcasu and Muratdağı, Yeşil and Kaynarca.

A group of artists, among them portrait painters, that work in the open air attract wide interest among the Eskişehir’s residents. Sellers of handmade jewelry, caricaturists, and musicians take pleasure in entertaining visitors.

Herbs known to have beneficial effects on everything from health and beauty to food and medicaments are processed at Afyonkarahisar to extract their oil, which is sent to numerous countries around the world.

Dating to the 2nd century B.C., the Apamea Sarcophagus is one of the most prized artifacts in the Afyonkarahisar Archaeological Museum. Its value is due not only to its rich reliefs but to the depiction of an opium poppy that adorns it.