The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Catalhöyük, founded 9,000 years ago, is well worth seeing if you want to view the remains of an ancient city. But what is so remarkable about it? At the time, Catalhöyük was the first city found around the globe. Here, the surrounding villages consolidated into one spot and gave rise to the type of urban civilisation that today rules the modern world.
What we witness at this fantastic site is a vast metropolis (upwards of 10,000 people at its height) where humans joined together, and we can see how the roots of art, religion, and culture developed as our species became more accustomed to a settled, sedentary lifestyle. The city’s unrestrained success is just as astonishing. Its survival as a city for more than 2,000 years in various incarnations is unique compared to today’s modern cities, which have, in most cases, lasted only a short time. So, what precisely is Catalhöyük? Let’s look more closely.
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Most of Catalhöyük’s inhabitants lived there between 7500 and 5700 BC. The Turkish meaning of the name is “forked hill.” A river once flowed between the two hills that make up Catalhöyük, and the settlement was built on riverbed clay, making it particularly conducive to cultivation. It is unknown why this location was chosen (or why it was finally abandoned).
Due to the lack of public structures discovered so far, the city has been primarily residential. The population probably ranged between 5,000 and 7,000 individuals, peaking at 10,000. Mudbrick homes are tightly spaced between, and neighbours are likely to have traded, married, feuded, helped, and shared meals just as we do in contemporary societies.
No streets or paths were linking the dwellings; instead, they were packed closely together to mimic a honeycomb, with staircase openings in the ceilings or doors. One could cross the rooftops between homes, which served as both functional streets and a source of ventilation along the open roofs of the houses.
Surprisingly, the homes’ interior spaces are clean, and the middens of garbage are outside the ruins. No dwellings appeared to have been associated with the nobility, which suggests that the society was equal. The tasks of ritual, artwork, farming, hunting, and cooking have been shared by males and women, who have been mainly on an equal basis.
As the town grew, so did its agricultural ability, undoubtedly due to greater efficiency and technology discovered over time and creative harvesting and storing strategies established.
The evolution of art paralleled that of farming methods. The houses of Catalhöyük are covered in pictures and scenes on the walls. Many of these patterns are found in more modern kilims, showing how far back in time these patterns may be traced. Stages of a hunt, a dance, stars, leopards, birds, deer, and more are shown.
The room’s walls were decorated with mounted heads of various animals, primarily cattle. It is effectively the world’s oldest map because it depicts the village.
Even though it is now unknown what the local religion may have been, several animal figurines may have been inspired by it. For instance, many homes have a sitting goddess image strikingly like the Mother Goddess Kybele, who emerged in Anatolia much later. Shrines and numerous additional graves reflect a rich faith, even if time has blurred the details.
What you can see when you visit
A museum and a tourism office are among the 14 hectares of space open to the general public. The other pyramids can be seen, but the Western one is locked. You can unwind in the pleasant café there as you take in the magnificence of antiquity.
As you enter, a little model is present to help you get a feel of the scale of everything you’re about to see. There are copies of the wall paintings found and examples of what they would have looked like.
Diverse mounds may occasionally be off-limits to tourists while excavation work continues today.
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