Category Archives: ASIA

Land of Fairy Chimneys in the Heartland of Anatolia

While working as a teacher I always used my summer holidays for study trips, and when my work colleagues went on holidays by the seaside or up to the mountains to relax with their families after the whole school year, I usually went digging, measuring churches or cataloging its inventory. Always non-profit. Anyway, it was my choice and the only chance I could entirely dedicate my time to my passion.

One trip after another

After one week trip to Tri-City (Pomerania, Poland) in July, organised by Wrocław University, some of my school mates prolonged their stay on Hel Peninsula to enjoy its long sandy beaches (see: Travelling from ‘Hel’ to the City of Saint Mary). Contrary to others, I decided to grasp another opportunity for getting closer to archaeology and I left for … Turkey.

… ruins of some great and ancient city … Copyright©Archaeotravel.

After travelling across the whole Poland, I finally reached my hometown, where I repacked my stuff from my backpack to a suitcase, and two days later I was already at the airport, waiting for my flight to Antalya.

Land full of archaeological treasures

Turkey is famous for its archaeological treasures. I joined there my friends who had chosen Anatolia for their holidays. After visiting together Istanbul and Ankara, “we found ourselves suddenly lost in a forest of cones and pillars of rock … like the ruins of some great and ancient city” (W.F. Ainsworth in Harpur, Westwood 1997:58). We had just reached Cappadocia …

Abstract art of Cappadocia

Lying southeast of Ankara, it is one of the most remarkable area in Turkey and most frequently visited places in the whole world.

Caves and corridors … Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Since the early eighteen century, its magical moonscape landscapes have astonished travellers and writers – so unusual are its rock patterns (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58). Cappadocia looks like “a phantasmagorical world where rocks shaped like stepped ziggurats, towers, spires, minarets and cones jut upward into the blue sky” (Ibid:58). Some of these formations grow out of the ground individually or in a few and are characterized by more erosion-resistant basalt caps in the upper part, which gives them the shape of cones imposed on slender like chimneys trunks of soft tufa. Some even compare the latter to penis heads (Pyrgies 2015:31). Clustered together, the rocks sometimes look like an army of crouching dwarfs wearing pointed hats, others – hill-like formations – resemble more “sandcastles melted by an incoming tide” (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58). Such a diversity of shapes became an inspiration for Bronze Age discs – an excellent exemplum of abstract forms of a human body in art (Pyrgies 2015:31; see Noble 2003:40-42).

Grotesquery of the region

Geologically, Cappadocia is millions years old. It was formed as a result of eruptions of the volcanoes: Hasan Dağı and Erciyes Dağı.

Their lava mixed with thick layers of ash changed with time into soft rock, called tufa (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58). Then an artist came and sculpted a grotesquery of the region. Its name was natural erosion. A painter – natural light – added the pink flush of dawn or dusk and magnified natural colours of stone valleys, vibrating under its subtle touch (Ibid:58). Then people appeared in the valleys, especially in the area of today towns of Göreme, Ürgüp, Nevşehir, Zelve and Avanos. They gauged and “hollowed out the tufa [formations] into honeycombs of rooms for everyday living […]” (Ibid:58), and with the fourth century, hermitages and monasteries for worship (Ibid:58).

Place for religious retreat

Greek Christians who chose Cappadocia for their retreat followed the monastic idea promoted by Basil, the Great (330-379 AD.), a hermit and the bishop of Caesarea (Kayseri) (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58).

Russet-coloured Christian symbols. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Considered the father of monasticism of the Byzantine Church, Saint Basil (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58), likewise the Fathers of the Egyptian desert, believed that a monk’s life should be filled with work and contemplation. Nevertheless, Cappadocian monasticism was based primarily on coenobitic life (community life), which Saint Basil considered the only proper monastic way, unlike the Egyptian anchoritism (recluse) (Telepneff 2001:24-26, 36; Rops 1968:606-607; Zarzeczny 2013:39-40).

Rock-cut Christian churches

With Christian communities’ grow in the Middle Ages, rock-cut Cappadocian churches developed out of early monastic dwellings and there had been over 300 of them by the end of the thirteenth century (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58-60).

The so-called Dark Church as very little light reaches its interior. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The internal architecture of freestanding churches was copied by carving out all the features out of soft rock: “domes, apses, barrel-vault ceilings, and columns, arches and even tables and benches” (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58-60). Supporting functions of such elements as columns seem so realistic that it is still surprising to see a stalactite-like column hanging from the ceiling since its base “has been worn out completely away” (Ibid:60). The churches, especially their interiors, are also richly adorned with Byzantine wall paintings representing Christian symbols: from early russet-coloured various patterns drawn directly on the rock to more elaborated and colourful biblical depictions and portraits of saints (Ibid:60). The latter had appeared in Cappadocia since the tenth century onward and were made already on dry plaster (secco) (Ibid:60).

Open air museum

Most famous churches are still visible in Göreme, known for this reason as an “open air museum” (Harpur, Westwood 1997:60). Most famous are the Elmalı Kilise (Church of the Apple), the Yılanlı Kilise (Snake Church – because of the looking like a snake, dragon being killed by Saint George), and the Karanlık Kilise (Dark Church) (Ibid:60).

In the course of the fourteenth century, when Cappadocia was already under Turks, the range of Christianity began to shrink and eventually, in 1922, the Greek were expelled from the country (Harpur, Westwood 1997:60). Nevertheless, Cappadocian “houses” have continued to be used by local communities (Ibid:60).

Going underground

Apart from Christian dwellings, archaeologists encountered other earlier constructions but deep underground (Kosmiczne opowieści 2019). In total there are 36 known subterranean cities in central Anatolia but only four of them are open to the public, like Kaymakli and Derinkuyu (Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:253). The most extensive and intriguing of all is definitely Derinkuyu, which means in Turkish a deep well (Dunning, Ogun 2018).

The deeper you go down, the more uncomfortable you feel. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Likewise the Hypogeum in Malta, it was uncovered by accident in 1963, at the occasion of refurbishing one of local houses. A demolition of one wall opened the entrance to the tunnel going deep down to the underground, and branching into multiple corridors and chambers (Dunning, Ogun 2018; Kosmiczne … 2019). After wide excavations, it turned out it was just a part of a huge honeycomb city located on more than eight successive levels and reaching underground up to sixty metres down. Underground cities could once have been connected as one of the tunnels inside Derinkuyu (nine km long and extremely narrow) is said to lead to another underground complex (Dunning, Ogun 2018).

The deeper, the narrower the tunnels become. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Derinkuyu was inhabited in the past by thousands of people (possibly up to 20.000) and their livestock. They seemed to lead a typical life but underground. In their mysterious city, there were spaces of different everyday conveniences: dining rooms, wine presses, cellars, warehouses, animal enclosures, schools and places of worship (Dunning, Ogun 2018; Kosmiczne … 2019). For lighting, in some parts people are believed to have used olive lamps, which could have been placed in special niches (Kosmiczne … 2019). Still such niches are missing elsewhere, and on deeper levels torches or lamps would not work due to limited air sources and so the question of the lighting system inside the city has not been entirely answered. It Is obvious, however, that without any artificial light the underground would be just pitch-dark (Dunning, Ogun 2018). The access to fresh water was provided by the well built under the lowest level and taking water from the river flowing under the surface of the city. In order to prevent the water being poisoned, the river’s flow was checked at the level of the lower floors and in the event of danger, the access of water to the upper floors was cut off (Kosmiczne … 2019). Moreover, the city was constructed in such a way that it was impossible to force people to leave it either by means of fire or water (ibid). There were three main entrances to the underground, which in case of danger could be closed only from the inside with round basalt boulders (one meter in diameter, up to 500 kg in weight) (Ibid.). Such megalithic doors were placed on rollers and also led to subsequent levels, thanks to which each of them could be closed separately (Ibid).

Cappadocia is one of the most beautiful places in the world and a must-see for every explorer. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

City residents could also communicate with each other at a distance, using miniature shafts with a section of 10 cm (Kosmiczne … 2019). The entire ventilation system consisted of thousands of long vertical shafts (52 known in total) that supplied air to the deepest and most distant rooms (Ibid). What is quite interesting, the shaft chimneys sticking out on the ground resemble the shape of bull’s horns (Dunning, Ogun 2018). The builders (whoever they were) also took care of the air conditioning: in the summer, there was about 15 °C in the inside, and in the winter the temperature did not fall below 7 °C (Kosmiczne … 2019).

Nobody knows who built this intricate subterranean complex, why and how.

Who built it and and when?

This matter is still very controversial and there are many hypotheses about who was the author of Derinkuyu (Kosmiczne … 2019). As other stone structures, Derinkuyu cannot be dated, which is why archaeologists usually attribute similar structures to cultures having inhabited a given area (Ibid).

Derinkuyu was inhabited in the past by thousands of people (possibly up to 20.000) and their livestock (Photo posted by Jackson Groves, 2019)

Academics generally claim the construction of Derinkuyu was built either by the Phrygians (the twelfth – seventh century BC) or by an earlier culture – the Hittites (1600 BC – the twelfth century) (Ibid). Although the Phrygians are mostly considered as the authors of the city, and the construction itself dated back to the eighth century, the finds of Hittite artefacts (the thirteenth – twelfth century) in the city’s tunnels leave this question still open (Ibid).

Cappadocia’s honeycombs of chambers. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Moreover, there are also much older Palaeolith tools excavated that date back to around 10 000-12 000 (History 2018). Irrespective of these finds, some scholars suggest that some part of the complex was just started by one of these ancient cultures but then widely expanded only by Christians who were forced to protect themselves underground in great numbers (Dunning, Ogun 2018). Such an explanation is, however, less possible as the whole complex is architecturally consistent. And even if Christians had found there their long time refuge and adapted it to their use by creating (or just modifying) rock-cut spaces, such as the so-called “cathedral”, they could not expand the city to such a degree as it is known today (Ibid). The oldest identified account of underground cities in Cappadocia comes from 370 BC and was written by a Greek historian from Athens, Xenophon (Kosmiczne … 2019). His account comes from the work of Anabaza, where the author mentions people living in large, underground houses, along with their livestock (Ibid).

After historians, the city was already used during the Roman Empire, and then by Christians as a place of refuge during invasions of Mongols and Arabs (Kosmiczne … 2019). According to an alternative theory, the builders of Derinkuyu were representatives of a lost, highly developed civilization, which was destroyed about 12,000 years ago by a huge cataclysm (Dunning, Ogun 2018; Kosmiczne … 2019; see Hancock 2016).

Why was it built?

Derinkuyu, like other similar constructions in Cappadocia, is believed to have been built as a war shelter for thousands of people looking for a hide from Arab invaders (Kosmiczne … 2019; Chabińska-Ilchanka et al. 2015:253). However, these are only speculations, not facts.

The primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta (in the Wendidad part), mentions the first king of mankind who was warned by the god Ahura Mazda of the coming catastrophe of long-time and evil winters (Kosmiczne … 2019; see: Hancock 2016).

Basalt caps on top of tufa cones. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Thus, the god recommends building a great Vara (in Persian mythology an underground shelter) and let in a pair of seeds from each animal and plant on earth, as well as a number of carefully selected people who would re-populate the land when winter passes away (Kosmiczne … 2019; see: Hancock 2016). With some exceptions, the story is remarkably similar to the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark, and other myths about a great cataclysm and a god saving the earthly life (Ibid; see Hancock 2016). Supporters of the theory of the lost ancient civilization relate the description of harsh winters to the last Ice Age (younger dryas lasting from around 10 850 B.C. to around 9700 B.C.) and associate Derinkuyu with the ancient Vara  (Ibid; see Hancock 2016). For these reasons Persians claim such multi-stored subterranean cities were built by their ancient ancestors (Dunning, Ogun 2018).

How?

First of all, Derinkuyu construction amazes with its craftsmanship and highly functional, architectural elements. Like other structures in Cappadocia, the city was made of soft volcanic rock – tuff (Kosmiczne … 2019).

Beauty of central Anatolia. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Therefore, builders had to be very careful while building the underground chambers and had to make sure they would carve out strong and well-balanced columns to maintain the pressure of the upper floors (Kosmiczne … 2019). One structural engineering mistake would be enough to cause a collapse of the entire city (Ibid). Secondly, it is noticed that to construct such functional elements as wells and ventilation shafts, the builders would need a special machinery or tooling to drill deeply and precisely in the rock (by the way, no tools have been there found there so far) (Dunning, Ogun 2018). Next, It is estimated that over million and half square metres of rock was removed to construct the whole complex (History 2018). However, there is no trace of the extracted material in the area (Ibid). Finally, in Turkey there are multiple fault lines (a line on a rock surface or the ground that traces a geological fault) generating earthquakes, except for one region, which is in central Anatolia, especially around Cappadocia (Dunning, Ogun 2018). It is not surprising then that such elaborate and deep subterranean complexes were carved out just in the area that has not posed a threat of earthquakes which can easily destroy the underground warrens of tunnels and chambers. The most important question is how their builders knew about that phenomenon (Ibid).

One of the creepiest places

Without doubt, Derinkuyu belongs to most fascinating but also creepiest sites I have ever been. The deeper you go down, the more uncomfortable you feel. It’s an amazing place to get in but it is not proper for asthmatics, people with heart deceases and claustrophobic issues or those with limited mobility (Dunning, Ogun 2018). While walking down to deeper levels, it is more difficult to breathe and passages getting more and more narrower (Ibid).

Homes, Christian dwellings and ancient underground complexes. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The tunnels of the city measure approximately 160 cm high (Kosmiczne … 2019) and if you are taller you need to constantly bend over to pass through from one chamber to the other (Dunning, Ogun 2018). So far archaeologists have excavated the city reaching down to its eight floor but there are possibly even eighteen in total (Ibid). However, no archaeologist has explored it yet directly or indirectly by means of robotic probes (Ibid).

Here comes a fairy tale …

Now goes the part I like most: an oral tradition. Local people usually describe the region of Cappadocia as the land of fairy chimneys (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58; Dunning, Ogun 2018).

All around there are fairy like shapes of nature. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Such a name may either refer to “fairy” natural formations of Cappadocia – according to travel guide books (Harpur, Westwood 1997:58) or, as villagers believe, to the underground constructions, which were actually built by fairies (Dunning, Ogun 2018). The latter are usually describe as very tiny people resembling Tolkien’s hobbits but with fiery red eyes (Ibid). Some local villagers claim they caught a glimpse of such a creature underground (Ibid). Still such beings could only work by night as they suffered from the daylight (Ibid). This is why, the fairies once lived (or still live) in the deepest and narrowest levels of the subterranean cities (Ibid). According to the same source, the complexes were actually built from the bottom upwards, first by the fairies from the Inner Earth and then, at the higher levels, by people who consecutively adapted them to their use and widely enlarged (Ibid).

The dead end

Is it a fairy tale? Most people in answer would shrug or call it an old wives’ tale. A more scientific theory than that states Derinkuyu was built from the top to bottom (Dunning, Ogun 2018).

The case is, however, the same theory goes to the dead end, while archaeologists are trying to localize the real “bottom” of the subterranean structure (Dunning, Ogun 2018). Bu it is known that the deeper the city goes down, the narrower its chambers and tunnels become but nobody yet has reached their final end, still hidden deep down …

Anatolian night

It was already late when we all were sitting in one of numerous pubs, filled with typical of Cappadocia atmosphere of small villages, being lost among tufa rocks and their multiple shapes. At that time I was not sure anymore if all of these stories I heard were just made-up or maybe I had enjoyed too much Turkish beer … Still I trusted a message coming from Lord Richard Croft’s words: “Well, all myths have foundation in reality” (Tomb Raider 2018).

It was a wonderful adventure …. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The Anatolian night was flickering to me with its stars. Tomorrow was surely going to bring another mystery.

Featured image: Imaginative expressions of nature in Cappadocia. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“A Subterranean Network”. Fragment of “Ancient Aliens, Season 12, Episode 16” (2018). In: History. Available at <https://bit.ly/2S8GfYj>. [Accessed on 31st January, 2020].

“Derinkuyu underground city” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/37uwOu9>. [Accessed on 9th August, 2021].

“Tajemnica Starożytnego Podziemnego Miasta Derinkuyu” (2019). In: Kosmiczne opowieści. Available at <https://bit.ly/2tiHzzd>. [Accessed on 31st January, 2020].

Ainsworth, W.F. (1840s) in Harpur, J. Westwood, J. (1997) The Atlas of Legendary Places. New York: Marshal Editions.

Dunning, C., Ogun H. (2018) “The Lost Ancient Underground City of Derinkuyu in Turkey.” In:  Earth Ancients. Available at <https://bit.ly/31iK9Sh>. [Accessed on 31st January, 2020].

Groves, J. (2019) Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia, Turkey. Available at <https://bit.ly/2RPnpqf>. [Accessed on 31st January, 2020].

Hancock, G. (2016) “The Zoroastrian Texts Of Ancient Persia, Underground Cities & What They Reveal About Advanced Ancient Civilizations”. In: Alternative News. Available at <https://bit.ly/3b1GfSh>. [Accessed on 31st January, 2020].

Harpur, J. Westwood, J. (1997) The Atlas of Legendary Places. New York: Marshal Editions.

Chabińska-Ilchanka, E., Dylewska K., Horecka K., Jaskulski M., Kastelik M. M., Łatka M., Ressel E., Willman A., Żywczak K. (2015) Niezwykłe miejsca świata. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo SBM Sp. zo.o.

Noble, V. (2003) The Double Goddess. Women Sharing Power. Rochester, Vermont: Bear & Company.

Pyrgies, J. (2015) Syjamskie bliźnięta minionych cywilizacji. Krótka historia o zakurzonych figurkach. Wydawnictwo Bezkres Wiedzy.

Rops, D. (1968) Kościół pierwszych wieków. Warszawa.

Paradise Garland of the Islands

Once they just seemed an unattainable dream to me, scattered somewhere in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, now they have become an empirical experience of beauty and mystery.

Pure beauty

The Maldives are composed of 26 atolls, which in turn consist of 1196 small flat islands set on a scaffolding made of coral reefs surrounding underwater volcano peaks. Only 209 of them are inhabited. From above they look like scattered precious stones: emeralds or turquoise stones framed in silver.

Lush vegetation of high and bent coconut palms, bread trees and flowering shrubs decorates them like an untamed green shag. Blue lagoon is spread around each atoll. Its turquoise waters stretch up to the steep edge of the reef, and finally disappear in the depths of the navy blue ocean. Delicate waves are throwing shells of different colours, sizes and shapes, and masses of dead corals, thanks to which you can enjoy the delicate silvery-white sand on the beaches. The air smells of flowers and the ocean.

The fairly stable weather makes the Maldives a perfect place for holidays almost all year round. The best period, however, are the months from January to April. Later, you can experience frequent monsoons, rainfall and quite high humidity with temperature of about 30-35°C. From my own experience I know that in February there are strong winds and violent, tropical rain, which usually lasts about a minute. Certainly, you cannot get bored with the weather, but the Maldives are the most beautiful when the sunshine reflects in the Indian Ocean, and the islands are bathed in the shining turquoise waters and white sand.

Hotels-Islands

The archipelago of islands forms a state called the Republic of Maldives, which is inhabited by about 280,000 people. It lies just 2.5 meters above sea level, making it the most flat and lowest-lying country in the world. Its capital is the city of Malé grown on the atoll of the same name. Velana International Airport receives hordes of tourists from around the world every year. Tourism is an important source of income for this corner of the world. Thousands of motor boats and hydrofoils filled with tourists are going in various directions from the airport to luxury resorts scattered on emerald islands.

Luxurious hotels-islands seem a fairy-tale asylum, and an earthly paradise free from worldly worries. The Maldivian Government does not wish to have a far-reaching interference of this “holiday world” in the natives’ life. Although trips to Malé and other islands inhabited by Maldivians are organized, these are only tourist trails. Most visitors spend their time sunbathing, splashing in the lagoon, snorkeling or diving. Families with children set out to meet dolphins, and avid fishermen leave at night or at pale dawn for fruitful fishing. The inhabitants of the Maldives are considered friendly and kind, but they can be found rarely within the resorts.

Tourist workers come predominantly from India or Sri Lanka. Specialized in narrow areas, qualified guides and teachers working in diving centres come to the archipelago from around the world. Rarely does one thinks about monuments here and only few know that the Maldives have a rich and long history, just like a one hour-flight away Sri Lanka.

Tourist Folders and Reality

In the Maldives, Sunni Islam is a valid religion. Other denominations are forbidden. Every Maldivian resident must be a Muslim at the same time. Turning away from Islam threatens not only with deprivation of citizenship, but also with death. The state adheres very strictly to Sharia law, which partly also applies to tourists. At the airport, the entry card is filled in with the ban on importing everything that violates the laws of Islam, including pork, alcohol, dogs and all religious symbols – crosses, Christian rosaries, the Holy Bible, Buddha figures and Hindu deities.

Failure to comply with the law involves a fine or even imprisonment. Personally, I know a story of a student who, unaware of the Islamic law prevailing in the Maldives, took a souvenir from Sri Lanka with her – a wooden figurine of sympathetic Ganesha, a Hindu god depicted as half man, half an elephant. If it were not for the intervention of the university and the family, the girl would be in jail instead of in the paradise resort.

Scraps of the Past

Tourist folders do not contain the whole truth about this earthly paradise created by God and distorted by the terrifying human instincts. Behind the veil of the nature’s beauty, there is sometimes hidden a sad reality that has also affected the history of the Maldives to a large extent.

Behind the veil of the nature’s beauty … Photo by Anna Piatkowska. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Independent explorer and traveller, David Hatcher Childress in his book Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific, writes that since the rule of Islam reached the Maldives, that is to say since 1153, it has been forbidden to perform images of living beings. That, in turn, has resulted in the total destruction of monuments of the past. Religious fanaticism blurred the treasures of humanity, as it did happen in the case of pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico and Peru, but there such a fanaticism was a veil for the insatiable greed of the Europeans. As the author of the book further writes, there is a strange impression that there was nothing in the Maldives before 1153. The author further mentions that in the nineties of the twentieth century, a statue of a man with long ears similar to those in India was discovered in the Maldives. It triggered an interest of another, quite controversial in academic circles researcher, Thor Heyerdahl. However, when he arrived, it turned out that the sculpture had been destroyed.

Only the picture remained. Thor Heyerdahl, the author of a book entitled The Maldive Mystery, and an eager supporter of civilizational diffusionism, believed that in the Maldives there was a cult of the Sun brought by ancient sailors who travelled by sea all over the world, reaching the ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. He pointed out that the Maldivian mosques are not facing mihrab towards Mecca, but east and west as if they were to mark the main solar events, which according to the author meant that the religious buildings in the Maldives were a kind of reconstruction of ancient temples of the Sun. There are also island legends about Redin – ancient people and primeval islanders who built solar mounds and temples. They are described as people with Aryan features: white skin, brown hair and bright eyes. Thor Heyerdahl has had many opponents of his theories, who have thought that the aligned pyramids and solar temples are nothing more than the remains of stupas, as a reminder of the Buddhism that used to exist in the Maldives.

There are many more theories of the alternative archaeology. However, it is worth mentioning the generally accepted, factual information related to the history of the Maldives.

Female Queens

According to archaeological finds, the archipelago was inhabited for about 1500 years before Christ. The first settlers were probably Aryans. About 500 years before Christ next settlers came: Tamils ​​from the south of India and Singhalese from Ceylon. At that time, the population of the archipelago was mostly Buddhists, and the Maldives became the point of transit in oceanic trade between the Indian subcontinent and the Arab countries. The Arabs, in turn, brought a religious change with them. Before the Islamization of the Maldives, according to the Persian and Arab travellers, the women – queens ruled the archipelago.

After the reception of Islam, only four of them remained, and the last one died in the sixteenth century. At the same time the Maldives became an independent Sultanate. The acceptance of Islam is associated with a legend of delivering a virgin from the clutches of a monster by means of a Koranic prayer. It seems that defeating the creature with the word of the Koran convinced the Sultan of the new faith. His subjects, of course, were forced to follow the Sultan’s conversion. From the nineteenth century, the Islamic Maldives had already been a British protectorate, which lasted until the mid-twentieth century, when the Maldivians regained their independence first as a sultanate, and from 1968 as the Republic of Maldives.

The mysterious history of the archipelago is still audible in the oral tradition, Maldivian dances and songs, where one can hear a dialect of the Sinhalese language. Such echoes of the past brings an inspiration to many researchers and writers.

Coming to the Paradise

After an hour of flight from Colombo and forty-five minutes spent on the speedboat fiercely fighting with waves, I finally reached my little paradise. I found a tropical night here. Along with a group of tourists, I left the shaky boat on a wooden pier thrown over the reef and suspended over the depths of the ocean. Through the full length of this bridge made with wooden beams, the lights flashed giving cheerful gleams to the waves in the lagoon beneath.

We were led by a smiling boy dressed in a sarong – a long and colorful fabric wrapped around his hips, used by men especially in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. After a very warm welcome of a tropical drink and oriental dinner, I fell down tired on my  bed in one of small apartment houses abandoned in the green jungle. A deep night had fallen upon me. I could hear the crack of branches striking against the window with the wind but tiredness and the coming sleep did not let me open my eyes for a moment. Curiosity, however, was stronger.

I went outside. I could smell a warm breeze of the ocean. I made a few steps forward through the dense vegetation and stood on the edge of a blue lagoon shining in the pale light of the moon. The silence was disturbed only by the sound of waves. In the distance, the lights of the abandoned long pier shimmered in the distance. On the sand below the scarp carried by the roots of palm trees, crabs and „walking” shells were running across when they suddenly disappeared into their shells at the slightest noise. I breathed deeply with the sea breeze and smiled at the moon.

Simple Life

During first few days, including Valentine’s Day, which is much anticipated by lovers (similar events are permitted in the resorts), my time was filled with waddling in the lagoon, walking in the sun, playing with small sharks and rays wandering in the shallows and thinking how much this world is beautiful. The underwater landscape captivates me. There is a wide variety of coral species and aquatic creatures in the Maldives, whose colours highlight the rays of the sun infiltrating the reef.

My island, Bodufinolhu, is suspended over one of the richest reefs, but the most beautiful of them were located in the distance, farther from the resorts. Our diving instructor, a very nice and energetic Japanese, drew our attention once and again to flickering sea creatures. The sea turtles sleeping and hidden among the corals started at the sight of the divers and with curiosity extended their long necks towards us, swimming so close that they could almost be touched. However, they quickly got bored and swam away for peace and silence.

Provided with proper equipment, we could set out to explore the depths and underwater treasures of the past. Thanks to underwater archaeology there were many important discoveries related to the islands’ history. The results of the research are exhibited at the National Museum in Male, which is housed in two buildings in the Sultan Park. It also constituted a part of the Royal Palace. Even here some of the museum objects did not escape completely from the hands of fanatical Islamists. In February 2012, for purely religious reasons, the museum was attacked and several significant artefacts from the twelfth century were destroyed. Some of them were made of sandstone and limestone, so it was impossible to put them together. As Victor Hugo writes, “time is blind and man is stupid.” Still, one can admire in the museum one of the most interesting objects, such as a stone head of Buddha, but most of the museum artefacts do not represent people or animals. Greatest collection includes royal furniture, ceremonial robes, footwear, weapons and armour.

Dancing Past

After huge dinner composed of a ton of fish, meat, curry rice, various vegetables and fruits, I sat comfortably in the bar to arrange my notes from the last trip.A colourful drink based on rum and coconut milk suddenly appeared on the table in front of my nose. ‘Yes’, I thought. ‘The scientist’s life is hard’. My existential thoughts were interrupted by loud music and the rustling of dresses swirling in dance. Tourists started to watch the performance. Six young women dressed according to the Sharia law, with headscarves completely covering their hair, were performing dance figures inscribed in the choreography probably of a long Maldivian tradition, strangely disagreeing with the status quo of the islands. The local tropical climate and music suited more to skimpy skirts seen on the islands of Polynesia, than to long skirts, gaiters and jackets covering tightly the whole bodies of dancing women. Perhaps a similar dance was performed by the legendary Maldivian queens mentioned by former travellers.

Featured image: Maldives. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

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In the Realm of Demon Ravana

High density of palm trees and a heavy breath of tropical climate were the first impressions that had touched my foggy senses since my arrival in Sri Lanka. Confused and exhausted, I crawled out of the airport dragging my suitcase behind me and carrying an unnecessary winter jacket over my shoulder. The flight was long and a nightmare, but a thought about staying on a warm island during the European winter slowly gave me a new strength to live.

Pyramid in the hands

Before travelling to Sri Lanka, I was planning, reading and watching a lot about that corner of the world, including the preparation of a bucket list things to do during my journey. I knew from experience that similar plans are subject to verification in the field. There were most famous monuments usually mentioned in tourist guides, especially Sri Lanka’s old state and religious capitals – the milestones of the island’s history. The official website of the Sri Lankan governmental organization CCF (Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka) connected all of them by means of a line creating an equilateral triangle, placed almost in the very centre of the island.

An official logo of Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka. Source: “Pyramid in the hands” (2013). In: Kovalov V. ( 3rd June, 2013). “New mysterious riddles of Sri Lanka. What unites the ancient civilization of the Indian subcontinent with Africa, Atlantis and South America?“. In: Vladimir KovalSky.

The figure of the triangle was additionally covered by a pair of hands, as if in a gesture of protecting cultural heritage. This pyramid-shaped graphic sign contains three ancient capitals of Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Inside the triangle field, the majestic Sigiriya and Dambulla with temples carved in the rocks were enclosed. Although they are indeed the most visited places, which are must-sees according to tourist folders, and at the same time extremely important places for the Buddhist community, it does not mean that the number of important places in Sri Lanka should be limited to the mentioned heritage triangle. On the contrary.

Heritage sites in Sri Lanka. Photo source: “About the World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka”. In Ministry of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs (2018).

A similar sign of the pyramid enclosed in the hands, this time carved in the granite rock, can also be found elsewhere – in a place that is already outside the line of the geometric figure mentioned above, at the ancient site, called Mihintale. It is believed to have also been made by the same government organization to mark the place of Sri Lankan cultural heritage in the same way as it is represented in its famous logo. But why did the CCF choose a place for this sign beyond the delineated triangle? Why did they choose a less known site of Mihintale? The author of a series of articles devoted to the puzzling history of Sri Lanka, Volodymyr  Kovalov (Cf. 3rd June, 2013), draws attention to yet another pyramidal-like triangle … It is formed by ancient cultural-religious complexes suspended on rocks, and simultaneously, unknown Sigiriya’s sisters.

Seat of gods suspended in the sky

The main symbol of the island constantly appears on postcards, folders and on more or less successful paintings hung on the walls of hotel rooms. The massive monolith from magma rock shoots from the ground in the very center of the island to the height of 180 meters.

The Way to the Top: Water Terraces. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

If you remember the tales about turtles, so big that their shells  seem to be islands covered with thick woods, you can easily compare them to the bulk of Sigiriya. The rock seems to bend under the weight of secrets that it wears on its steep back covered with tourists: “Lion Gate”, “Mirror Wall”, frescoes of women whose bodies are drowning in flowers and jewellery, and disappearing in clouds (see: Debate on the Paintings of Damsels Flying on the Clouds), megalithic constructions worked out in hard granite of unknown purpose … And there is only one written note about this giant in the archives preserved on the island:

He betook himself through fear to Sīhāgiri
which is difficult to ascend for human beings.
He cleared a roundabout, surrounded it with a wall
and built a staircase in the form of a lion…
Then he built there a fine palace, worthy to behold,
like another Alakamanda, and dwelt there like the god Kuvera.

 Culavamsa CH 39 v2-4 (circa 1200AD)

The main character of this fragment tells about a builder of Sigiriya who, according to the record, was called the King Kashyapa (also Kassapa). He is believed to have ruled on the rock in the fifth century A.D. (473-495).

The fragment above comes from the chronicles called Culavamsa (Lesser Chronicles), which are a sequel to the much older chronicles of Mahavamsa (Great Chronicles). Mahavamsa covers the period from 543 to 300 BC., while Culavamsa deals with the period from the 4th century BC. up to 1815 AD. Over the centuries, the chronicles have been repeatedly transcribed and compiled, which greatly obscures the original history of the country. The text on Sigiriya itself appeared 700 years after the reign of the King Kashyapa. There is no other evidence of the age of the Sigiriya complex. And this is indeed a multipart construction, as it is not limited to the rock itself, but it also covers a significant area around the monolith. First, the road to the top of Sigiriya leads through the so-called “Water Terraces” and before it starts to steeply roll around its protruding belly, it climbs up the stairs that wind through the corridors created by the formations of huge granite boulders. These, in turn, faithfully guard the passage to the famous “Lion’s Gate”, flanked by two paws armed with claws … but are these really the remains of a lion, as it is described in the fragment above?

If the chronicle does not lie, Kashyapa had only 18 years to create the entire complex. Taking into account the material used, the impetus of the construction and quality of the tools available at the time, it seems rather unlikely. What’s more, after completing the feat, the king did not use its significant potential of defence, as if he had ignored the primal function of the fortress and the workload involved in its construction. In order to fight the final battle, he abandoned his insurmountable rock and faced heavy defeat at its feet. Besides, the circumstances of Kashyapa’s death are also shrouded in mystery and have different versions. Finally, the victorious brother of the beaten king moved the capital back to Anaradhapura, and Sigiriya fell into the hands of Buddhist monks and with time it became a pilgrimage and tourist centre. Probably the Buddhist followers had inhabited the rock much earlier, precisely around the 3rd century BC, as soon as the Buddhism appeared on the island.

Sigiriya is not a lonely island

In the same period, Buddhist monks undoubtedly formed monasteries in the caves of the Pidurangala rock, which is located a few kilometres north of Sigiriya.

Sigiriya’s Fresco. Photo by Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Both rocks are the monoliths created as a result of volcanic activity, and their stories are related to each other. Pidurangala’s peak resembles the form of a slanted, flat triangle, as if someone had cut the top of the rock across with the same ease with which the butter is sliced.

From the top of Sigirya, you cannot see this characteristic triangle, or a heart to be more poetic, because it lies on the other side of Pidurangala (see: Kovalov 3rd Hune, 2013; 22nd March, 2013). The entrance to its summit is even more strenuous than in the case of the nearby Sigirya, but the view from there is magnificent, particularly on the famous neighbour, who is stormed by the crowds of tourists (see: Kovalov 3rd Hune, 2013; 22nd March, 2013) .

Are these really just fairy tales …?

Before I came to Sri Lanka, in my imagination Sigiriya dominated the plain as a lone monolith. Now it turned out that it is just one member of the team of rocks monoliths that form an enigmatic whole.

Together with already mentioned Pidurangala, Sigiriya points out a peculiar top of the pyramid with two other peaks at its base: Mihintale – in the northwest of Sigiriya and Yapahuwa – in the southwest.

Like Sigiriya, Yapahuwa has a flat bevelled top and steep walls. In the 13th century, there was a capital of the state and a religious centre with a famous Buddhist relic, which is now kept in Kandy. Mihintale, in turn, is a rocky table that carries huge blocks of granite. However, nature did not pull them up there. According to legends, the Mihintale summit once served as a place for anchoring aircraft, vimanas, described by Vedic texts such as Mahabharata.

Climbing up the Rock. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The aforementioned Sri Lankan oldest chronicle, Mahavamsa, describes the arrival of Mahinda to Sri Lanka from India. Mahinda was a Buddhist missionary and a famous monk who was also the son of the ruler of India, Ashoka. With his coming he brought the new faith to Sri Lanka. Every tourist arriving on the island hears this story as a testimony to the beginnings of Buddhism there. I have heard it myself as well, but never in a full version of the story described by the chronicle. Namely, according to the full text Mahinda came to the island by landing in his vimana at the top of Mihintale, and his flight from India would have taken him less than a day …

As if I heard a modern report on an airplane journey from India to Colombo … The summit of Mihintale is also linked to the monk by his name – Mihintale means in Sinhalese as much as the “Mahinda Plateau”. According to ancient epic stories, both Sinhalese and Tamil, before the arrival of the monk, the same rock was called Sagiri, while the name Sigiriya is pronounced in the Sinhalese language as Sigiri (Cf. Volodymyr Kovalov, 3rd June, 2013). Such similarities certainly testify to the relation between the rocks.

Of course, similar content about ancient flying machines is treated as a fairy tale. Still it is quite illogical that the record compiled in the 11th century on the history of Sigiriya is widely accepted as an irrefutable fact, and some of the content that comes from much older sources is cut off  in order to pass on only what the human mind is able to fully accept.

Ah, those ever-present pyramids…

On the stone in Mihintale, there is a carving of the already mentioned glyph of a pyramid or triangle covered by the hands. The top angle of the figure contains a smaller pyramid, as if an Egyptian pyramidion crowning the top of the main pyramid. The above-mentioned author, Volodymyr Kovalov (Cf. 3rd June, 2013), draws attention to this sign when he mentions a triangle made of rock monoliths: Sigiriya (Pidurangala) – Yapahuwa – Mihintale. The axis of symmetry of the triangle, from the top of Sigiriyia to its base, i.e. the horizontal line joining Mihintale and Yapahuva, meets with the axis of symmetry of the triangular peak of Pidurangala. As we all remember Pidurangala’s summit itself had once been shaped as a triangle. Couldn’t it be symbolically represented as a pyramidion of the pyramid carved in the Mihintale granite rock?

And who was Kuvera?

Kuvera or Kubera, mentioned above in the fragment of the Younger Chronicle (Culavamsa), was a god and legendary ruler of Lanka, today Sri Lanka. His half-brother Ravana (or Raavan) took power over him and became an undisputed ruler with his royal seat on Sigiriya (Alakamanda). There are other written sources telling of those events, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata.

They belong to the epic Sanskrit of ancient India which was written on the basis of oral tradition, first formed during the Vedic period, namely in the first millennium BC. Ramayana focuses mainly on the armed conflict between Ravana and Rama, ruler of India, which was to take place millennia ago. Ramayana, meaning ‘the Way of Rama’, is one of the greatest Indian poems that has been adapted to many films and theatrical plays. Its authorship is attributed to also a legendary poet, Valmiki (see: ‘The Way of Rama’ Between India and Sri Lanka). Indian eposes describe the time of flying vehicles – vimanas, an advanced technology and a nuclear war … Even today, inhabitants of Asia take those stories as actual records of their lands and ancient rulers … Although it is still impossible for western scholars to explain certain phenomena or purpose of major constructions scattered around Sri Lanka (likewise everywhere in the world), similar records are only treated as a bunch of legends created by people with a vivid imagination, just as an ancient genre of sci-fi.

Featured image: The Rock of Sigiriya/One of Sigiriya’s Frescoes. Photo by Joanna Pyrgies&Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

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