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There is a Middle Byzantine rock-cut complex in Mahkemeağcin – a village in a river valley of Ankara Province, ancient Galatia. It has two levels of rock-cut caves - a lower level used for agricultural purposes and an upper level consisting of an elite residential complex. It seems that it belonged to a major agricultural estate dating to the Middle Byzantine era. Ancient ashlar masonry in the village houses, along with a marble inscription discovered here, suggests it was also a notable settlement during the Hellenistic era.

The lower level of the complex consists of several caves with wine presses, though some were probably used as stables at an earlier period. One well-preserved cave has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and a wine press. The wine press has stairs leading to an elevated rock-cut basin that functioned as a treading floor. Agricultural workers first stomped on the grapes with their feet and then used a press to squeeze the remaining juices. The juices flowed from a central hole in the basin, which has traces of a carved cross. The upper level, which overlooks part of the village, consists of several rock-cut structures that follow each other in a relatively straight line. A carved corridor first leads to two structures, which could have served as its reception and living rooms. One of the caves has a dome-like ceiling with carved ribs, making it look like built architecture. Its walls are also carved to appear like arcades. An elaborately decorated barrel vaulted structure, which lost its south-eastern outer corner, could have functioned as a chapel. It has deep, double-recessed arcades and is decorated with crosses.

Next there is a large square cave with a pyramidal ceiling - this is a common feature for rock-cut kitchens as the pyramid had a chimney - venting smoke from the hearth. This square chamber leads to a smaller room behind it, where food was likely stored. Another cave around the corner is partially underground but accessed from the upper level. It has troughs, suggesting it was used to feed animals. This residential complex corresponds to other Middle Byzantine elite residences found elsewhere in Central Anatolia. Its numerous wine presses suggest the estate had sizable landholdings. Presumably its labor force lived in nearby mud buildings that have not survived.

 Section under construction 


Niewöhner & Vardar. “Churches, Caves, and Fortifications in the Upper Siberis-Kirmir River Valley: On the Byzantine Settlement Archaeology of Rural Galatia, Central Anatolia”


Mahkemeağcin Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

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