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Mount Harşena and the Rrock-tombs of the Pontic Kings

Date of Submission: 13/04/2015
Criteria: (iii)(vi)(vii)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Province of Amasya
Coordinates: N 40 39 17 E 35 49 34
Ref.: 6039
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Description

Amasya is located in the north of Anatolia, in the inner part of the Middle Black Sea Region, at the junction point of the roads which connect Black Sea Coast to the rest of Anatolia. Amasya has been founded in a deep  valley  formed  by Yeşilırmak  River  which  flows  between  two-thousand-metre-high mountains extending in the east-west direction.  

The limestone stack which is shaped as a pointed cone and 272 metres in height, located in the north of the basin separated by the River is called Mount Harşena. It is dated to Geological Jurassic Period (205M–142M). The word “Harşena” is believed to come from the phrase “Harşuwana-Arşuawana” in Hattian language which means “pretty, blessed river city”.

The mound in the southern slope of  Mount Harşena and Amasya Fortress have been interruptedly inhabited for more than five thousand years, from the Early Bronze Age to the end of the Ottoman Empire. The city has hosted many civilizations such as Hittites, Phrygians, Cimmerians, Scythians, Medes, Persians, Pontic  Kingdom, Romans, Eastern Romans, Danishmends, Anatolian Seljuks, Ilkhanids, Eretnids and the Ottomans.

In 301 BCE, the Persian Satrap Mithridates I Ktistes established the Pontic Kingdom and determined Amaseia (Amasya) as the capital city. The Kingdom’s lands were expanded to the current borders of the countries such as Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria and Greece under the rule of Mihridates VI Eupator. During the Pontic Kingdom period, Mount Harşena and Amasya Fortress had their most magnificent days; walls around the fortress and monumental rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings were built.

Pharnakes II, the son of the Mithridates VI, was defeated by the Roman General Caesar in 47 BCE in Zela (Zile) War. At the end of the war, Caesar said his famous dictum; “veni, vidi, vici -I came, I saw, I conquered-”. In 1386, Amasya fell under the Ottoman control. The city kept its “administrative centre” mission during the Ottoman period due to its strategic location at the eastern borders. The City was organized as Shahzade District In 1402 and twelve shahzades served in the city seven of whom ascended the throne.

Amasya Fortress (Upper Fortress/ Harşena Fortress) which has undergone many renovations by the civilizations mentioned above has three main sections and eight levels of defense. It was built at two plane areas for the defense of the summit. The fortress walls surrounding the Mount Harşena are approximately two kilometres and were built in the Ancient, Middle and New Ages. In addition to the fortress walls, there are cisterns that bear the traces of different civilizations, Dungeon Tunnel (186 m) and the ruins of an Ottoman Period neighborhood which are underground, in the Upper Fortress. It is also believed that there are three churches underground which belong to the Eastern Roman Period.

The Middle Fortress (Maiden’s Palace and King Rock-Tombs Area) is located at the southern slopes of Mount Harşena below Amasya Fortress. In the Middle Fortress, there are five monumental rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings, two Ottoman public baths (14th and 15th  centuries CE), Maiden’s Palace Ceylan Road, Cilanbolu Cistern (300 m), Ceylan Tunnel and Hellenistic period fortress walls.

A portion of the Hellenistic walls in Amasya Fortress and Maiden’s Palace Area still exists. These izodom braided walls have been built with smooth, thick and embossed cut stones. 300-metre-long Cilanbolu Cistern, 186-metre-long Dungeon Tunnel and Ceylan Tunnel that reaches the River are monumental cisterns opened in the 1st century BCE through rock tunnel technique in the form of vault into bedrock and they have stone steps. The Maiden’s Palace was used as a military base by Candaroğulları Beylik and served to Ottoman Shahzades and district governors for more than 150 years. The ruins of the Maiden’s Palace are still underground. 

When Amasya became the capital city of the Pontic Kingdom, monumental rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings were carved on the surface of limestone bedrock formations in the south hillside of the Mount Harşena. There are 5 king rock-tombs in the Maiden’s Palace area which belong to Mithridates I, Ariobarzanes, Mithridates II and III and Pharnakes I. The number of the rock-tombs within the boundaries of the Amasya Fortress walls is 9 and the total number of the rock-tombs in the valley and surrounding of the city is 21. 

The rock-tombs at the Royal Necropolis are 8 to 15 metres in height. There are two groups of tombs in the Royal Necropolis, starting from the right side, I - V. Tomb I, II, and III are situated in the east, close to the well-preserved Hellenistic walls, while tomb IV and V are situated in the west. Tomb I is accessible by a staircase which is cut into the rock. Another staircase leads to the higher level of tombs II and III. The way continues to the northwest through a tunnel. From its end it is possible to climb up to the acropolis, passing a long and deep stepped tunnel used for water-supply, or walk down to the west to the entrance of another tunnel with steps inside and a staircase leading up to the ample terrace in front of tomb IV. Another staircase, cut into the almost vertical rock in the form of a gallery, leads up to tomb V. 

At the time of the construction of the tombs, it was planned to surround all of them with corridors in order to give the impression of free-standing buildings in the rock. But only the corridors of II, III and IV were completely executed. Work on the corridor of I was begun, but soon given up because of the very crumbly rock with many fissures in it. The execution of the corridor of V was also suddenly given up before its completion. This happened evidently when Pharnakes I decided to move his capital from Amaseia (Amasya) to Sinope (Sinop), which he had conquered a short time before, and which as an important sea- port with international connections was much better qualified to be the residence of the kings, in accordance with the increased political and economic role of Pontos. Consequently Pharnakes I wished to be buried in his new capital. 

Another common feature of the five tombs is the high position of the entrances to the grave-chambers; they are accessible only with a ladder. Three of the five tombs had facades with columns: Tomb I had six, II and IV had four each. Tomb III and V with their rounded tops did not have columns. Many other parts of the tombs were made separately and connected with the surface of the rock by means of dowels and clamps of which traces are still visible: parts of the steps in front of the facades, parts of the antae, thresholds and lintels of the doors etc. 

The rock-tomb belonging to Pharnakes I, known as the Tomb V, is the biggest rock-tomb constructed through the unique architectural style developed in the Pontic Kingdom lands, being 15x8x6 metres in size. There is a rock-inscription above the Tomb of Pharnakes I. This inscription tells that the phrourarchos (commander of the castle) (Me)trodoros dedicated an altar and a flower-bed for the king Pharnakes I to the gods. Steps in the rock, today partially visible, led to this place. The development of Pontic rock-tombs was cut off when Pharnakes I made Sinope (Sinop) his capital. 

The Inner Fortress (Enderun Fortress) is located in an area formed by eight terraces parallel to the Mountain between the Maiden’s Palace/ King Rock-Tombs area and the 1200-metre-long fortress walls situated alongside Yeşilırmak River. There is Hatuniye Neighborhood (Inner City) which consists of historical buildings of two hundred years old in the Inner Fortress. These are two or three storey buildings with adobe or bricks filled between wooden frames rising above the basement; they have double leaf wooden doors opening to narrow streets; bay windows and triangular pediment on sash windows. The properties of these historical buildings form the traditional Ottoman street pattern in the neighbourhood. Besides, there are Yalıboyu Houses (Riverside Houses) in this area which have been constructed in the mansion form. There are also remains of the Hittite period underground.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Mount Harşena, which is located in the north of the basin separated by the Yeşilırmak River is unique due to various reasons; it has been inhabited interruptedly for more than five thousand years by many civilizations since the Early Bronze Age, it consists of cultural properties such as Amasya Fortress, the Middle Fortress, the Inner Forteress, the rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings, monumental cisterns opened in the 1st  century BCE and Yalıboyu Houses (Riverside Houses) besides offering a unique and enchanting landscape together with Yeşilırmak River and its valley.

The monumental rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings which were carved on the surface of limestone bedrock formations in the south hillside of the Mount Harşena are the most impressive archaeological remains of the Kingdom of Pontos and nearly its only preserved remains at all. The Royal Necropolis including the tombs of the five Pontic Kings is the first and the only necropolis of the royal family in the world and the rock-tomb belonging to Pharnakes I, also known as the tomb V is the biggest and lastly built rock-tomb of the Pontic Kingdom. The tradition of building rock-tombs ended in Amaseia (Amasya) and did not continue in the second capital of the Pontic Kingdom, Sinope (Sinop). Together with some other tombs in and outside Amasya, they represent the most recent group of rock-tombs from the Archaic to the Hellenistic age in Anatolia, following their forerunners in Urartu, Phrygia, Lykia, Karia and Paphlagonia.

The King rock-tombs are among Anatolia’s biggest rock-tombs and are among outstanding examples of the rock-tomb tradition in the world due to their monumental sizes (8 to 15 metres in height) and forms and big stone grave-chambers. The Greek influence seen in the architectural style of the rock-tombs in Amaseia (Amasya), pursued a chronological development in opposite direction when compared with other examples in Anatolia. Unlike other rock-tombs in Anatolia which gained an entirely Greek appearance in their later forms, in Amaseia (Amasya), the Greek influence completely disappeared in Tomb V and a new style emerged unique to the region. The rock-tombs belonging to the Pontic Royal family have unique architectural features; with free standing stone grave-chambers, plucked their upper part in the form of vault from the bedrock, with the corridors surrounding these grave-chambers and with round-arched facade designs.

Criterion (iii): The Royal Necropolis including the tombs of the five Pontic Kings is the first and the only necropolis of the royal family in the world. The tradition of building rock-tombs ended in Amaseia (Amasya) and did not continue in the second capital of the Pontic Kingdom, Sinope (Sinop).

The rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings, which are 8 to 15 metres in height, are among Anatolia’s biggest rock- tombs and are among outstanding examples of the rock-tomb tradition in the world due to their monumental sizes and forms and big stone grave-chambers. The Greek influence seen in the architectural style of the rock-tombs in Amaseia (Amasya), pursued a chronological development in opposite direction when compared with other examples in Anatolia. Unlike other rock-tombs in Anatolia which gained an entirely Greek appearance in their later forms, in Amaseia (Amasya), the Greek influence completely disappeared in Tomb V and a new style emerged unique to the region. The rock-tombs belonging to the Pontic Royal family have unique architectural features; with free standing stone grave-chambers, plucked their upper part in the form of vault from the bedrock, with the corridors surrounding these grave-chambers and with round-arched facade designs. The tomb V belonging to Pharnakes I is the biggest and lastly built rock-tomb of this style with 15x8x6 metres dimensions.

The traditional two-hundred-year old wooden buildings that are located in Hatuniye Neighbourhood, Helkis Neighbourhood in the east of the Fortress, in Sofular, Hacı İlyas and Şamlar Neighbourhoods on the other side of the River; were constructed during the last period of the Ottoman Empire. The most attention- grabbing pieces of this precious cultural heritage are Yalıboyu Houses (Riverside Houses) which are located on the fortress walls alongside Yeşilırmak River. The architecture of Yalıboyu Houses has its own unique style; these houses have been built in mansion form in a non-maritime geography, they have bay windows and oriels, they are surrounded by high walls; there is a courtyard with a water-well, a stove and pomegranate, mulberry or jujube trees. The haremlik parts of these houses lean on the fortress walls alongside Yeşilırmak River. These buildings together with Amasya Fortress, Mount Harşena and historical bridges connecting the two sides of River as well as the Darûşşifa (1309), II. Bayezid Complex (1486), Kapı Ağa Madrasah (1488) and Gümüşlü Mosque (1326) located on the other side of the river form a unique composition.

Criterion (vi): Amasya has been an important administrative, scientific and cultural centre throughout the history where worldwide known scientists, intellectuals and theologians, as well as the shahzades of the Ottoman Empire lived.

Strabon who is the first geographer of the world, as well as a historian, philosopher and geologist lived most of his life (64-24 BCE) in Amasya. He got his fame from the book called Geographika- Geography- which is 17 volumes and still used today as an important geography book. Another book he has written is Historika Hypomnemata (Historical Memories) which is 43 volumes. He is also known as the first geologist in the antique age, who explained the cause-effect relationship of volcanisms.

Saint Theodore was born in Amasya in 284 CE and he chose Christianity at a time when Roman Empire put pressure on Christians. Since he chose Christianity he was killed by torture at the age of 22 and he was later honoured as saint. Tuhfe-i Mübârizi (Gift to Mübarizi) which was a medical book written by Hekim Bereket in Amasya (13th century CE) was the first book written in Turkish in Anatolia.

Sabuncuoğlu Şerefeddin, who was born in 1385 in Amasya, is accepted as one of the three greatest surgeons of the Ottoman period. He developed many medical terms in Turkish, which are still used today. His book named Cerrahiyetü’l Haniyye was used as a sourcebook until the 18th century and today one of its three copies is at the National Library of France. This book is the first medical book prepared with illustrations in the Turkish and Islamic world during the medieval and new ages.

Amasya has been home to numerous politicians, scientists and intellectuals such as Şeyh Hamdullah who was born in Amasya (1426/1429) and known as the calligraphist who excelled Islamic calligraphy art; the first female poet of the Ottoman Empire, Zeynep Hatun; the first female divan poet, Mihrî Hatun; the first Halveti in Anatolia, Sheikh Pir İlyas el Halvetî; Gül Baba whose tomb is in Budapest, the historian Tacizade Cafer Çelebi and the Ottoman grand viziers, Bayezid Pasha and Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha as well as the twelve shahzades, seven of whom ascended the throne.

Criterion (vii): Amasya has a unique cultural landscape formed by Mount Harşena, Yeşilırmak River which flows through the city and the rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings carved on the surface of the Mount Harşena.

Yeşilırmak River which flows between two-thousand-metre-high mountains extending in east-west direction influenced the city’s development. Yeşilırmak is a meandering river which flows up to the east and merges with Tersakan Stream in Amasya forming a wide basin.

The limestone stack in the northern part of this basin which is shaped as a pointed cone and 272 metres in height has been known as Mount Harşena for thousands of years. Mount Harşena offers a unique and enchanting landscape together with Yeşilırmak River and its valley. At the summit of Mount Harşena, there are two plane areas and there are precipices until Yeşilırmak River in the south of the mountain. The eastern and western slopes of the mountain are also very steep and cliffy. This topographic formation of the mountain, almost a natural fortress, has offered defense advantage to the ancient city.

The rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings carved into the lime stone rock formations of the Mount Harşena in the Maiden’s Palace area are among Anatolia’s the biggest rock-tombs and among outstanding examples of rock-tomb tradition in the world; due to their monumental sizes and forms and big stone grave-chambers. Pontic Royal family rock-tombs, with properties worth of the glory of Pontic Kingdom which was the largest state founded in North Anatolia during the Hellenistic period; have drawn attention for hundreds of years and the region is also known as the “Valley of the Kings”, due to these monumental rock-tombs.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The protection of Mount Harşena, Amasya Fortress and the rock-tombs of the Pontic Kings is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry of Environment and Urbanism. Mount Harşena has been registered as the 1st Degree Natural Conservation Site and 350.000 m2 area consisting of Mount Harşena, Amasya Fortress, the Maiden’s Palace area and the Inner Fortress (Enderun Fortress) including Hatuniye Neighbourhood has been registered as the 1st  Degree Archaeological Site by the related Regional Conservation Council.

Hatuniye Neighbourhood has been registered as Urban Conservation Site and 64 of the 137 registered historical buildings in the city are within the boundaries of Hatuniye Neighbourhood. Helkıs Neighbourhood which is located at the eastern slopes of the Mount Harşena has also been registered as Urban Conservation Site and there are 16 registered traditional wooden buildings in this neighbourhood. The archaeological and urban conservation sites are under protection by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863.

The survey, restitution and restoration projects of the Amasya Fortress walls were prepared in 2007 and a large part of the fortress walls has been restored. Archaeological excavations were conducted in the Maiden’s Palace area and in Amasya Fortress between 2006 and 2008 through the fund provided by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Since 2009, archaeological excavations in Amasya Fortress have been conducted by the Department of Art History of Istanbul University.

In addition to these, financial support has been provided by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for the preparation and implementation of restoration projects of the historical buildings in Hatuniye and Helkis neighbourhoods. The street rehabilitation project of Müftü Kamil Street in Sofular Neighbourhood has also been prepared through the fund allocated by the same Ministry.

Comparison with other similar properties

At the time of the construction of the Pontic Kings’ rock-tombs in Amaseia (Amasya), it was planned to surround all of them with corridors in order to give the impression of free-standing buildings in the rock. The prototypes for structures like this can be found in the 4th  century BCE Karia, in Kaunos, Telmessos and other places.

Another common feature of the five tombs is the high position of the entrances to the grave-chambers; they are accessible only with a ladder. It is very likely that this position was chosen according to Iranian rules of purity. The high entrances of the royal tombs can be compared to the entrances of the tombs of Achaemenids from Dareios I to Dareios III in Naqš-e Rostam and Persepolis.

The Royal Tombs do not follow a linear, logical development: Hexastyle portico with pediment (tomb I), portico without columns and with round top (tomb III), tetrastyle portico with pediment (tombs II and IV), and finally portico without columns with stone revetments and archivolt at the top (tomb V). This development – rather a change between two forms – looks very unusual when these tombs are compared with the rock-tombs of other areas in Anatolia. In Phrygia, Lykia, Karia and Paphlagonia the local forms disappear gradually; they are first enriched with some imported Greek forms and later replaced by an entirely Greek appearance. However, in Amaseia (Amasya), there is a development in the opposite direction. The form inspired by Greek temple architecture is finally replaced by the un-Greek form of Pharnakes’ Tomb V, which set a new standard for rock-tombs in Pontos. It was imitated in and near Amaseia in the Tomb of Tes with its original large inscription and a second one from its later reuse and in some minor rock-tombs, but also in the huge tomb of Hikesios near Laçin, Province of Çorum, about 80 km west of Amasya, the biggest (nearly 13 m high) rock-tomb in Anatolia.