The site of Gordion is 70 km southwest of Ankara, in Central Anatolia. The Main Settlement Mound lies on the Sakarya river (Classical Sangarios, Hittite Sahiriya), in the village territory of Yassıhöyük. The site has a long history of occupation, extending from the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BCE) into the Medieval period (12th to 13th centuries CE). Yet Gordion is best known for having been the political and cultural capital of Phrygia and the Phrygians, a southeast European people who probably first arrived at the site in the 12th century BCE, after the collapse of the Hittite Empire. The Phrygian cultural presence continues to be strong going well into the 4th century BCE, until the conquests of Alexander the Great, who came to Gordion in 333. It is, in fact, the later Historians of Alexander who link the site with King Midas and relate the famous episode of the Gordian Knot.
The first excavations at Gordion were carried out in 1900 by two German Classicists, Alfred and Gustav Körte, under the auspices of the German Archaeological Institute. In 1950 excavations were resumed under the sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania, with Rodney S. Young as Director. Young and his colleagues conducted 17 excavation campaigns through 1973. After Young’s death the following year, excavations did not resume until 1988, with Mary M. Voigt serving as Field Director. Her excavations continued periodically through 2005. Resumption of excavation is planned for 2013.
The Main Settlement Mound of Gordion covers an area at its base of13 hectares, rises16.5 m. above the flood plain of the Sakarya River, and is approximately one-half a kilometer in east-west measurement. The extensive excavations of Young were carried out primarily in the eastern half of the mound, where the ultimate goal was the uncovering of a monumental Iron Age citadel dating to the 9th century BCE, the Early Phrygian period. The massive entry complex at the southeast stands to a height of10 m. and is a premiere monument of the Anatolian Iron Age. Within the citadel, three principal districts have been uncovered. Two open-air courts separated by a dividing wall are flanked by large-scale buildings of megaron type, consisting of a main hall and antechamber or porch. One of the megarons was particularly distinguished by having in its main room a patterned mosaic floor made of multi-colored pebbles; the floor is the earliest of its kind known anywhere. The two courts together are thought to have been the administrative and perhaps religious center of the Phrygian state. To the immediate southwest of the courts, two long row-buildings face each other across a broad street. As known from the artifacts found in them, these buildings were the centers of state-run textile and food production on a massive scale. Much of the Early Phrygian citadel was destroyed in a great fire that occurred around 800 BCE. The numerous and varied contents of the burned buildings give a vivid picture of material culture on a particular day in Phrygian history. A selection of the items is on view in the local Gordion Museum, together with artifacts belonging to other periods. The buildings of the citadel have been the focus of an active program of architectural conservation, aimed at returning the structures to the condition they were in at the time of their unearthing.
Over the course of the ensuing 8th century, the Phrygians rebuilt their citadel at a considerably higher level. This would have been the citadel of King Midas, who is known to have been an active and powerful monarch of the later 8th century. It may have been during this same time that an extensive fortified Lower Town was erected around the main settlement mound, with elevated fortresses at north and south, about a kilometer distant from each other. The new Phrygian citadel appears to have remained operational until the coming of Alexander in 333 BCE. During the course of the long history of the new citadel, Gordion and Phrygia came first under the domination of Lydia in the west; then, in the 540s, Gordion was taken by the armies of Cyrus the Great of Persia and remained part of the Persian Empire until the coming of Alexander the Great. Not much can be seen today of the new Phrygian citadel except for its fortification walls, including an impressive stretch of a stepped retaining wall (glacis) in front of the gate complex.
In the vicinity of Gordion are approximately 150 earthen burial mounds or tumuli, by far the largest concentration in Central Anatolia. Those that have been excavated range in date from the 9th century BCE into the Hellenistic period (3rd to 2nd centuries BCE), yet the great majority are no later than the 6th century. Marking the final resting place of Phrygian royalty and other elites, and often prominently situated, the tumuli blend with the stark natural beauty of the region to create a landscape unique to Gordion. Most of the tumuli range in height between 3 and12 m., yet others are considerably larger, the highest of all being the so-called Midas Mound Tumulus, with a present-day height of53 m. This tumulus covered an intact wooden tomb chamber dating to around 740 BCE; the tomb is the oldest standing wooden structure in the world and, as such, is in itself a unique cultural property. The majority of the tumuli are within a3 km. radius of the Main Settlement Mound; they and many still farther away are in view of the administrative center, as though to maintain visual contact with the center of Phrygian power.
Gordion was the political and cultural capital of the Phrygians, an important people of antiquity. It is one of the principal centers of the ancient world. It is the index site for understanding Phrygian culture. The buildings of the Early Phrygian citadel constitute the premiere showcase for the Iron Age architecture ofCentral Anatolia. The large concentration of tumuli in the vicinity of Gordion creates a unique landscape. The largest of the tumuli contains the oldest standing wooden structure in the world.
Criterion (iii): Just as Gordion was the political and cultural center of ancientPhrygia, the site is today by far the best testimony we have for assessing Phrygian civilization. Although some Phrygians were literate, the inscriptional evidence is limited and for the most part not understood. Other ancient sources tell us relatively little about Phrygian civilization. It is, therefore, primarily through archaeological evidence that we gain a picture of the Phrygians, and Gordion is the key site for this purpose.
Criterion (iv): The fortifications and monumental buildings of the 9th century BCE Early Phrygian citadel are unequaled for the period in Anatolia. Nowhere else for the time do we see such an architectural statement of royal power and command of human resources. The landscape of the area is made uniquely distinctive by the large concentration of tumuli; the Phrygians left their mark on the land for all time. The intact wooden tomb under the Midas Mound Tumulus has no parallel anywhere.
Criterion (vi): The site is directly associated with the episode of the Gordian Knot described by ancient historians such as Arrian (Anabasis Alexandri – considered one of the most complete sources on the campaigns of Alexander the Great), Quintus Curtius, Justin’s epitome of Pompeius Trogus and Aelian’s De Natura Animalium. As a result of the profound and widespread influence of the legend being used as a metaphor – Gordion and the famous episode has provided, and continue to provide lasting inspiration for literary and artistic works.
In 1990, the Main Settlement Mound of Gordion, its general environs, and 110 individual tumuli were registered as immovable monuments and I.-III. Degree Archaeological Sites according to the Act No.2863 by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. An active program of architectural conservation has been in place for several years. The intact wooden tomb is constantly being monitored for shifts in temperature and humidity. A site and regional management plan is in advanced stages of development.
The 9th century BCE Early Phrygian citadel has no close parallels. Other excavated citadels of the Central Anatolian Iron Age include Boğazköy/Hattusha in Çorum and Alişar in Yozgat. In both cases, however, the Iron Age buildings were not nearly as great in scale as at Gordion. At Kerkenes Dağ, also in Yozgat, monumental buildings of the general period are known, but they are few in number. Tumuli occur across Anatolia but nowhere in as great a concentration as at Gordion.