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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    x0x THE HIDDEN LANGUAGE OF ANATOLIA By Kemal Ozdemir In their attempts to understand the natural world and make themselves understood, human beings developed
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 27, 2003

      By Kemal Ozdemir

      In their attempts to understand the natural world and make themselves
      understood, human beings developed systems of signs and symbols as one
      form of communication. Symbols come in countless forms in many cultures,
      and today are still widely used as shortcuts for expressing concepts of
      many kinds, as in the case of company emblems and logos.

      Many symbols were originally inspired by the creative and destructive
      aspects of nature, and came to embody complex religious, magical and
      spiritual ideas. The ancient settlement of Catalhoyuk near Cumra in the
      central Turkish province of Konya was the most sophisticated town in the
      world when it was built in the Neolithic period, and marks the beginning
      of civilisation. The people of Catalhoyuk who dwelt here around 7000-6000
      BC vividly depicted man's struggle with nature and beliefs in wall
      decorations , and made figurines showing the mother goddess giving birth.
      The eagle which came to carry people into the heavens appears in these
      wall decorations as a symbolic reflection of their religious beliefs.

      A two-head eagle perched on a tree of life guarded by a pair of lions is
      carved in relief on the facade of Yakutiye Medrese, a monumental Seljuk
      building in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. The symbolic meaning of
      this relief can be traced back to shamanist beliefs of Central Asia,
      representing the journey into the sky up the tree of life made by the
      shaman, and the eagle which guides him.

      The Ivriz relief carved on rock near the town of Eregli near Konya date
      from 700 BC and depict the Luwian king Varpalavas worshipping Tarhun, the
      god of the skies and fertility. In his left hand the god holds ears of
      wheat, and in his right a vine branch with bunches of grapes. Multiple
      grain fruits such as wheat, grapes and pomegranates symbolised fertility
      and abundance for almost all the civilisations of Anatolia over the ages.

      From the Neolithic age onwards, all the civilisations of Anatolia, as in
      Egypt, Mesopotamia and the rest of the Near East, have left behind symbols
      and signs, including the Hittites, Trojans, Urartians and Galatians (who
      established a state close to modern Ankara). With the development of sea
      trade in the

      Mediterranean, the use of symbols to indicate origin became widespread
      among the peoples of the region.

      One of the objects on which symbols are most commonly found are coins,
      which were first invented by the Lydians who inhabited an inland region of
      western Turkey around 600 BC. The symbol of the Lydian kings was a lion.
      The statues of lions found at the Lion Gate of the Hittite capital city of
      Hattusas (Bogazkoy) were guardians of the city and symbols of power.
      Statues of lions and eagles are found on the eastern terrace of the burial
      sanctuary of the Commagene king Antiochus I on Mount Nemrut in
      southeastern Turkey. The role of both animals was as protector. In
      mediaeval times, Anatolian Seljuk reliefs featuring lion figures
      representing absolute power were carved on kervansarays (caravanserais),
      castles, palaces and other buildings.

      Following the Lydians, Anatolian city states minted coins bearing symbols
      or devices representing the city, which appeared on inscriptions, pottery
      and metal ware, weights, and even as tattoos on the bodies of slaves. The
      symbol might be the deity who protected the city, or a temple dedicated to
      this deity.

      In some cases the symbol became the city's name, as in the case of Side,
      an ancient Mediterranean city whose name, pronounced 'seeday', means
      pomegranate; and Aigai, meaning goat, an animal whose horn had
      mythological associations with the cornucopia or horn of plenty.

      The lion was the symbol of Miletus, the deer and bee of Ephesus, the seal
      of Foca, the eagle of Abydos, the cockerel of the Dardanelles, the sphinx
      of Chios, a winged horse of Lampsakos, the goddess Athena of Priene, and
      the eagle of Byzantium and Rome.

      With the spread of Christianity in Anatolia, new symbols appeared. The
      lily represented the Virgin Mary, a fish and a lamb Jesus Christ, and a
      triangle the Holy Trinity. These symbols appear frequently in the early
      rock churches of Cappadocia. During the Crusades, the Latins and other
      westerners were influenced by the more highly developed Byzantine
      symbolism, and the use of the cross was adopted by the West. In 1096, the
      Byzantine empress Anna Comnenos noted that the shields of the Crusaders
      bore no symbols at all. The symbols on the shields of the Seljuk armies
      who fought against the Crusaders in Anatolia were the crescent, symbol of
      Islam, the sword, the name of Allah in kufi script, the eagle and lion,
      symbols of sovereignty, and vertical bands. Most of these symbols came to
      be widely used in Europe on shields and standards following the Crusades.
      Latin armorial devices seen at Enez, Amasra, Bodrum Castle and in Izmir
      Archaeological Museum, and French armorial devices on Saint Pierre Han on
      Eski Bankalar Caddesi in Istanbul can all be traced back to the middle
      ages. The colourful patterns of Turkish carpets and kilims are also rich
      in symbols which have their roots in the ancient cultures of Anatolia, and
      are kept alive today by weavers. Interpretation of these motifs reveals
      the fascinating stories of symbols deriving from past ages.

      * Kemal Ozdemir is a researcher and author.
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