The Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük consists of two tells with remains from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
This was a large settelement, and the sites were permanently inhabited. Mud-brick houses have been found as well as wall paintings and other decorations. Burials were mostly beneath house floors.
The site dates mainly from 7,400-5,500 BC. A wealth of goods and tools were excavated here, including stamp seals.
The settlement was first excavated between 1961 and 1965. It has a unique level of preservation for a site of this age.
Map of ÇatalhöyükLoad map
On January 2nd and to kick of 2022, I went to look at a mud hill, i.e., Çatalhöyük. A 30min taxi ride from downtown Konya had taken me to a archaeological site in a rural village with gravel roads. And all there was to see was a muddy hill with a large tent on top. Not sure, what that says about my life ;)
The site is free, but guarded. The guard first made me visit the on site museum. He was so kind to turn on the light, but there was little content to illuminate. The exposition reminded me more of an exposition at my high school than of a museum for one of the most important global archaeological sites for early human settlements.
In front of the museum is a replica hut, so I visited that, before making my way up the hill and the tent to see the excavation. The whole hill actually covers the ancient city, but only portions have been permanently excavated. It's strikingly obvious why when you see the open parts: The mud walls are crumbling and the archaeologists are fighting to stabilize them.
The excavated parts under the tent give a good view of the densely populated village. Houses were build wall to wall with garbage dumps in between. And even on top of each other over the centuries. Humans were buried below the houses, possibly in the old houses which is a reason for the rich finds.
You have some sign posting, but I found that the site could be better presented. In addition, the second open component was closed when I came, so I did not see all parts.
Later that day, I went to the Konya Archeological Museum in Konya. The quality of the stuff on display is fine. There are several artefacts from Çatalhöyük. The presentation is (yet again) similar to my high school. I am pretty sure that with more space, better lightening etc. the Konya collection would be quite stunning.
Of the three prehistoric sites I visited in Turkey, I found Çatalhöyük the least interesting. It may have been the cold and wet weather. Or the muddy hill. Or that half of the site was off limit (only one tent was open), but both Arslantepe Mound (for the rock art) and Göbekli Tepe (for everything) impressed me more.
Hub for the area is Konya. They have a bullet train connection to Ankara and Istanbul. And bus connections all over the country. However, Konya is on the Anatolian plateau, so travelling by bus from nearby Antalya to Konya takes five to six hours. And, as is common all over Turkey, the bus terminal (otorgar) is way outside of the town, so you will have to take an inexpensive cab to and from town. For larger distances I recommend flying.
To get from Konya to Çatalhöyük, you have two options:
- Take a cab.
- Take a dolmus to Çumra and walk/take a cab.
Cab's are so cheap in Turkey, I would encourage to take a cab. In my case, I had agreed a price (15EUR?) and the taximeter would have been cheaper.
While You Are There
You will probably pass through Konya (Roman Iconium), the first capital of the Ottomans and a tentative site on it's own. The Mevlânâ Museum (Rumi) and the Madrasas are must sees. Two of the madrasas are also part of a separate tentative site: the Anatolian Seljuk Madrasahs. Best Madrasah is Karatay for the cupola.
I visited this WHS in Spring 2021. Catalhoyuk is a few kilometres away from Konya, which is a great city to base yourself for a couple of days. This WHS has a free entrance which was a very welcome change after the crazy post-COVID lockdown price spikes all over Turkey.
Catalhoyuk was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city settlement in southern Anatolia, which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 6400 BC. As such, it is a very precarious archaeological dig covered with 2 big tents (not as modern as the one in Gobeklitepe, but with a wooden boardwalk through one of them). Most of the remains are still underground even though the site was discoverd in 1958. Most of the mud walls are crumbling or have already crumbled notwithstanding the wooden supports and several sacks which have been placed. According to UNESCO, the site's OUV lies in the important evidence it provides of the transition from settled villages to urban agglomeration, which was maintained in the same location for over 2,000 years. It features a unique streetless settlement of houses clustered back to back with roof access into the buildings.
Catalhoyuk was composed entirely of domestic buildings, with no obvious public buildings even though the larger buildings have rather ornate murals. Unlike Arslantepe, most of these wall paintings have been removed and placed in museums around Turkey, most notably in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. This same museum houses the famous clay sculpture of a seated goddess flanked by two lionesses. The few murals which remain are hard to appreciate apart from a couple of signs here and there which can be viewed from above or from a distance.
Just next to the entrance to this site is a small life-size reconstruction of how the domestic buildings must have looked like. Of the three WHS of Gobeklitepe, Arslantepe and Catalhoyuk, the latter is the one which has less to see but I'm still glad I visited as otherwise Konya would have been a great miss!
Again, a place I went to as a last-minute decision and probably the most fascinating archaeological site I have visited up to date.
Some personal story of the visit: it was back in early August 2012, so the site had just been nominated on the list. In fact, I do not remember if I was aware of its World-Heritage status, but surely my guide book wasn't. I was just curious of the description and, as it happend that we (a group of 5 people) were in Konya and heading to Kapadokia the next day, I managed to convince a friend to set off for Çatalhöyük at 6am, so as to be back at a decent time to continue with the others. And so it was!
I remember that it was very easy to reach the site: we were by car and just took the road to the south-east across the country, and after less than an hour we were there. There is not much else on the way, just cultivated fields and small villages. I don't remember particular signs. At first we thought the site was closed, there were no signs and no indications of opening hours nor any obvious entrance. But it just turned out that it was before 8am and we were the ones to waken the people there on that morning... poor fellows, no peace for them!!! However, the site was already somehow prepared for visitors, since the archaeologist who, before "going back to his bones", blearily greeted us took us to the on-site museum which, though very small and relatively bare, prepared us well to the main visit by showcasing some of the exceptional findings of Çatalhöyük, in particular the "goddess of animals on the throne", and by letting us take a glimpse of life in this ancient settling, so unbelievably remote in time and customs from us. We are talking of more than 7000 years ago! Then, we were taken to the main site(s - I cannot clearly remember all the details). I do not know if by now the site has developed its "touristic infrastructure" to a greater degree, or if there is some new museum. In any case, at that time the experience was great and very genuine: work and research were happening right in front of our eyes, and I suppose it is still so. This makes everything more exciting.
Anyway, the bigger of the (if I remember correctly) two excavations is remarkably extensive and is placed under a protective shelter. At first, it may not be so easy to distinguish what one is looking at from the walkways, but then, gradually, the structure of these primitive houses becomes clearer, and one notices many small details, such as wall decorations (many have been brought to museums and academic institutions, but some are still on the site), and finally one realizes that the whole hill (= höyük in Turkish) was a city made of one small house over the other, that went on for centuries and stratified into many layers. The greatness of Çatalhöyük, to me, is that once you more or less understand its structure, you are looking directly in the life of these so ancient forebears of ours, and this has made a great impression on me. The site is very unique in its composition, and the excavations highlight this uniqueness very well. One does not need to be nostalgic of the cult of the Great Mother, nor a professional archaeologist to appreciate Çatalhöyük! For the more curious, I can recommend the book The leopard's tale by Ian Hodder, one archaeologist that conducted research on this site.
And as we went back to the city to have a sip of çay before leaving for Kapadokia, we became aware that much more time had passed as we had planned, and our friends were impatiently waiting for us. But honestly, we couldn't care less, as we were extremely happy and satisfied with our choice: even my friend, who is not properly an archaeology geek, was left impressed by the visit. So, I highly recommend a visit to Çatalhöyük. It tells something from the very mist of our prehistory in a vivid way and deserves its status as WHS. It is also quite easy to reach and to include in a trip through Anatolia, which by the way harbours other extremely ancient and interesting sites of that era which I hope will become more accessible in the future: together, they tell the story of our beginnings.
Çatalhöyük is one of the World’s great “iconic” archaeological sites – not because of any monumental remains but because of the light it shone and is still shining, on daily life in the Neolithic age. What is “on show” is basically an archaeological dig which has uncovered a series of houses dating back around 9000 years and covering occupation across 2000 years. The walls, floors and features (e.g House graves) are presented largely as they were uncovered. Indeed the dig is still in progress with researchers carrying out further digging each year. One particularly famous discovery was made as recently as the 2011 season – a wall painting which, one theory suggests, may have been “a map showing brick pathways across the rooftops of Çatalhöyük”
The site has yielded significant artifacts and artistic work (particularly figurines. wall paintings, obsidian mirrors etc) but, understandably, these have been removed. The discoveries have also led to the development of a number of hypotheses about social organization and religion in the Neolithic age. The dig itself has adopted and developed new archaeological approaches and techniques Anyone interested in Catalhoyuk should really make sure that they visit the “Museum of Anatolian Civilisations” in Ankara where many of these are on show - and very fine they are! I personally would try to go there before seeing the site.
At the entrance to the site (but outside the core zone) are an experimental reconstructed house with reconstructed decorations and artifacts and a small museum. I am pretty sure that all the articles in the latter are copies but it is an excellent display and should not be missed. The displays are in English and Turkish and appear to be something of a labour of love created by committed archaeologists working on the site. We only visited it after having seen the dig and I would suggest that it could be good to visit it (and the experimental house) both before and after.
The site is in a very rural location around 40kms SE of Konya. We approached by car and I don’t know how easy it would be to get there by public transport . It might be worth mentioning that if you are driving west on the 330 towards Konya (we had previously visited the T List Caravanserai at Sultanhani and cut down to Karapinar) and want to take the minor road south to Cumra which leads to the site then it is not possible to turn left on the dual carriageway. Indeed the road is only signed going west and you will have to find a gap after a few kms and make a U turn! The site is situated “off a turning off a turning” but the route is quite well marked with UNESCO logo signs The area is very flat so the distant sight of a large mound would signal the site anyway – but its significance is enhanced by the presence of 2 large white plastic covered buildings at the top of the mound. These have been constructed to preserve the remains on the East mound and constitute the “North” and “South” shelters. A visit consists of a passage through the North shelter following a boardwalk, crossing the top of the mound and doing the same in the South shelter. There is also a “West mound” where digging is taking place but without a shelter - but there was no indication that this was open to visitors.
Amazingly the site is free to enter! It seems to be run by the “Çatalhöyük Trust” which manages the archaeological work. A notice at the site entrance says that entry to the shelters must be accompanied by a guide. There only seemed to be one guy present who emerged from a “guard house”. He did walk around with a Turkish family which went up before us but let us do our own thing and there were very few other visitors. His English was very limited, but the site is well signed with boards at each significant point inside the shelters. There was no problem for us to return through both shelters for a “re-visit” rather than exit after the second. With the Museum and Experimental house we spent about 2 hours at the site. The guide also presented us with a copy of a nice little booklet in English produced by the Trust. It might be worth mentioning that, although the site is of course under control of the Turkish authorities, and involves researchers from Turkey and several universities around the World this dig has had and still has significant British input. The initial archaeologist in the 1950s and 60s and the man credited with its “discovery” was James Mellaart working for the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara. A scandal regarding allegations of artifact smuggling led to his banning but some years later the dig was taken over by one of his pupils, one Ian Hodder, then of Cambridge. The on site guide indicated that, although Hodder is now at Stamford, he is still active at the site and Director of the “Çatalhöyük Project” whose objectives include investigating, preserving AND presenting the site to the public. Several British Universities are among the list of active organizations together with that of “Thames Water” among the list of sponsors!
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