Cyclopean Castles and Megaliths of Gedabey, Azerbaijan

Megalithic Stone Walls

Megaliths (from the Greek mega, “great,” and lithos, “stone”) are massive quarried stone constructions. It is considered as one of the earliest form of architectures dating as old as 6000 years ago and they are mostly found in every continent. Perhaps, one of the famous examples of Megalithic Structures is Stonehenge in the UK. With very limited information, the common belief is that they are monumental and ceremonial architectures.

Similar stonework structures are also found in Mycenae, Greece. These stone walls use massive boulders roughly fitted but without any sort of mortar to build walls and structures. Based on Greek mythology, it is believed that only Cyclopes possessed such power to lift such colossal boulders to construct walls and towers. Therefore those walls and towers are nominally classified as Cyclopean Masonry.

The Cyclops, Polyphemus blocks the opening of the cave. (DcoetzeeBot / Public Domain )

Gods of Greek mythology also utilized the Cyclopes as the supplier of weaponry, such as Zeus’ thunderbolt, in their succession as a ruler of the cosmos. Apart from the Cyclopes of Greek mythological deity, Homeric Cyclopes live among men in Odyssey. There is a story of Odysseus encountering the Cyclops Polyphemusa savage man-eating, one-eyed giant living out of a cave

There are many examples of folktales across the World that reminds us of the Cyclops Polyphemus and its characteristics. The Book of Dede Korkut, epic stories of Turkic people known as Oghuz Turks, is one of them. 

The eighth story in the Book of Dede Korkut, the story of Basat Killing Tepegöz, tells a similar storyline as of Polyphemus. There is also a folktale that simply called Tepegöz embodies very familiar motifs of Polyphemus.

There are many examples of Megalithic stone walls in Azerbaijan, too. They are, too, nominally coined as siklopik tikili (Cyclopean Construction), Tepegöz Qalaları (Castles of Tepegöz) or Oghuz Qalaları (Castles of Oghuz) in historical accounts. However, in local folklore, Megalithic Walls are known as Galacha (Qalaça in aze, trans. Castle). Most of these Megalithic Walls located in the western and north-western regions of Azerbaijan. These regions are studied within the framework of Khojaly-Gedabey Culture.

Khojaly-Gedabey Culture

Necklace found in Khojaly, Burial ground by E. Resler, 1895. Hermitage Museum (Interfase:  Public Domain)

According to scholars, Khojaly-Gedabey Culture started XIV-XII centuries BC and continued till VII century AD. This time period covers two of age-divisions of the prehistoric epoch: the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age.

Monuments, archaeological discoveries as such burials, tools, arms and jewelries have been firstly found in regions of Khojaly and Gedabey. Hence the name is given as Khojaly-Gedabey Culture. In particular, Gedabey’s metallurgical mine, if not the oldest, is one of the few earliest mining sites in Caucasus.

The Siemens Brothers started running mining operations in Gedabey since 1865. With operations run day to day, there came a sudden surprise of discovering prehistoric burials. Further archaeological surveys had been carried in Gedabey in late XIX century. More than 300 burial grounds opened to discover about 9000 artifacts dating the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age. Finds of excavations demonstrated the existence of a rich culture of which the current-day Gedabey region was part of it.

Copper smelter, Gedabey, 1865 (Today’s M. Rasulzadeh street) Photo: Siemens Corporate Archives, Munich

Werner von Siemens describes in recollection that:

“The copper mine of Kedabeg is very old; it is even asserted that it is one of the oldest mines from which copper was actually extracted in prehistoric times. This is rendered probable by its position in the neighbourhood of the large Goktcha Lake and of Mount Ararat rising on its western shore, a region which has indeed often been regarded as the cradle of the human race. A legend even runs that the beautiful valley of the Shamkhor river, which belongs to the forest district of the mine, was the site of the biblical Paradise. At any rate, the numberless old workings which crown the summit of the metalliferous mountain testify to the antiquity of the working of the mine, as does also the occurrence of native copper, and finally the circumstance that extensive prehistoric burial grounds exist in the vicinity of Kedabeg…”

Siemens, Werner von: Personal Recollections of Werner Von Siemens. New York: D. Appleton and Company 1893. pp. 290-291

As per the testimony of Werner, Caucasus was considered a region where metallurgy originated. Additionally, the archaeologists were driven with the motivation of finding traces of “white race”, as many of them in the late XIX century believed it originated in the Caucasus. All these gave an impetus to archaeologists and explorers a keen interest to survey archaeological sites. Unfortunately, almost all the finds were taken away from Azerbaijan never to be returned back.

Galachas are one of the monuments that represent the Khojaly-Gedabey Culture. They are the ones deemed invaluable and too heavy to undertake of transferring them away. Nonetheless, Galachas stood still and survived to our times.

Minor Galacha in Soyudlu Village, Western Wall
Minor Galacha in Soyudlu Village, Western Wall

Galachas of Gedabey

See above locations of 45 spotted Cyclopean Walls in Gedabek. Locations of the walls are red circular points. Black lines are connecting them all in grey highlighted area.

The appearance of Galachas are linked to changes to the social and living conditions of people in prehistoric times as well as the growing danger of foreign raids and invasions. This change made warfare, fighting and formation of soldiers as one of the principal aspects of life in the Bronze Age.

Minor Galacha in Arigdam Village, Western Wall. Man standing is 178 cm
Minor Galacha in Arigdam Village, Western Wall

Increasing population and growing size of settlements necessitated protection of living spaces. And thus fortifications and defensive structures were required to build providing safety and peace in the daily life of sedentary people. Galachas are considered such defensive and watchtowers to serve to strengthen security and safety of tribesmen in the Bronze Age. 

Galachas of Gedabek typically located at the peak of hills. Similar to Cyclopean Walls of Mycenae, Greece, massive colossal boulders and rocks roughly fitted to build a circular wall without any use of mortar. Some of Galachas in Gedabey have two or three layers of circular walls as it ascends towards the peak. 

Minor Galacha in Arigdam Village, Southern Wall

Local people categorize them to Greater and Minor Galachas based on their size and scale. No matter of their size, prints of those Galacahas can be easily spotted on the satalite imagery.

Every village in Gedabey has at least two Galachas. Some of them stand right next to the current dwelling houses in the villages. Some are in distant hills but still visible within the villages. However, Galachas of next-door villages are visible and this visual connectivity is uniformly established as further as it could keep all the Galachas in constant contact.

Greater Galacha in Arigdam Village, Western Wall

All the Galachas gathered together demonstrate a sort of massive network of social and possibly a political system (See Google map above) in the life of the Bronze Age tribesmen. It might show an emerging but empowered groups within a much larger population who had enormous control over lands and resources. The Galachas provided an essential medium to function in defence of existing resources and system.

Origins of Galachas in Azerbaijani Mythic Folklore

The most common Azerbaijani prototype of the Greek Cyclops is Tepegöz (Təpəgöz. trans. One-eyed) and Garaja Choban (Qaraca Çoban trans. the Shepherd)Both of the prototypes are found in the Book of Dede Korkut, epic folk poetry of Oghuz Tribes. There is also an independent folktale titled Tepegöz, which entails many similarities but links with Oghuz Tribes could hardly be establishedHowever, the folktales about Garaja Choban have always been told within the context of Turkic Oghuz Tribes. 

Minor Galacha in Arigdam Village, Northern Wall

The prototype of Garaja Choban is a big man as powerful as the Cyclops. The sheer strength of Garaja Choban is signified in his ability to lift huge boulders to repel enemy forces. He is the chief shepherd responsible for the large cattle of the tribe. However, the prototype of Tepegöz is described as a human-shaped giant, with one eye on his forehead, eats men and sheep, lives out of a cave in a remote steep mountain. It is almost the same as the Greek mythological Cyclops. Therefore, only the folktales of Tepegöz will be taken into account. In these folktales, attention is given to specifics that particularly relate to the physical qualities of Tepegöz and the environment he lives in. 

The Book of Dede Korkut: The story of Basat Killing Tepegöz.

In the story, Tepegöz was born of a shepherd and a fairy (peri) mother. Adopted by Aruz, Tepegöz starts to cause huge distress as he attacks and eats young men and sheep. Aruz finds himself dismissed, had no choice but expel Tepegöz.

Tepegöz goes on to live in a mountain called Salakhana. On the Mountains, he built himself cave where he used it sleep the night and keep the sheep. To keep the sheep within the cave, Tepegöz uses colossal boulder to block the entrance.

Basat (prototype of Odyssey) promises Oghuz to kill Tepegöz. Injured Tepegöz guides Basat to another cave visible in distant mountain top where Tepegöz keeps his swords. Basat brings Tepegöz’s sword and kills him.

The Folktale of Tepegöz.

The folktale tells Tepegöz was born mysteriously among the flock of sheep in the steep foothill of a mountain under sudden cover of fog. He was adopted by a family who could not conceive a child.

This little boy grew hungrier every day. As much as he ate, he was never full. Aware of his situation, Tepegöz had to leave his family. Tepegöz travelled a long distance and reached to a Galacha on a high mountain. He turned this place into his house. 

Galacha of Tepegöz was impenetrable from all the four sides, no human being, no animal could have approached it. Tepegöz attacks nearby villages and eats people. Terrorized by Tepegöz, villagers flee. During the fleeing, a woman had to abandon her newly born child, Isgandar (prototype of Odyssey), in a cave where a lion lives. 

Fostered by LionIsgandar rolls up his sleeves to kill Tepegöz. He eventually succeeds in killing Tepegöz by pushing him into a cursed well and locked him up in there never to come upon the earth ever again.

In conclusion, both stories Tepegöz dwells in a cave. The story of Basat Killing Tepegöz uses only caves as dwelling places. These caves do entail details of massive boulders such as the stone blocking the entrance to the cave. However, the folktale of Tepegöz explicitly points out that Tepegöz finds a Galacha and turns into his house. The rest of the folktale has Tepegöz dwelled in a cave. This cave, too, tells about massive stones no other man can move but only Tepegöz. The folktales do not specify whether megalithic stone walls were built by Tepegöz himself. Picking up the details from folktales, we can have the slightest idea of attributing the construction of the megalithic stone walls of Gedabey to Tepegöz of Azerbaijani Folklore.

Whether the Cyclops or Tepegöz, mythical creatures of similar physical attributes and faces exisited in written and oral folktales from Greece to Central Asia. And they provide a source for symbolic explanation about mysterious heritage of prehistoric cultures and people. The key term here is mystery, unknown things that you cannot perceive by any standards perhaps due to the lack of written records. The things that you cannot understand is great, powerful and peculiar. However, then, in reality the questions remain who built them and why? How were they built? What technology did they use? What purposes did it serve for? Many other questions are yet to be answered.

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