Penn Museum excavation designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Gordion, Turkey, is the first active Penn Museum archaeological site to be named in the UNESCO World Heritage List

Gordion, Turkey, has been designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site—the first site under active excavation by the Penn Museum to be added to the list. The announcement occurred during the 45th World Heritage Committee meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, officially recognizing Gordion’s longstanding cultural and archaeological significance.

C. Brian Rose at the Gordion archaeology site.
Penn Museum archaeologist C. Brian Rose, director of excavations at Gordion. (Image: Tom Stanley for the Penn Museum)

With a rich history spanning over 4,000 years, from the Early Bronze Age (2,400 BCE) to the Medieval period, the ancient city of Gordion reached its peak in the Iron Age (ca. 900-600 BCE). During this period, it served as the royal capital of the powerful kingdom known as Phrygia to the Greeks and Mushki to the neighboring Assyrians. Occupying a strategic position on the Sangarios (Sakarya) river in central Turkey, Gordion played an important role in the trade routes linking the Aegean and Mediterranean with the Near East. During the Bronze and Iron Ages, this commercial activity brought the city into contact with the Hittites, Neo-Hittites, Assyrians, Urartians, Lydians, and Greeks, and later with the Persians and the Romans.

More than 70 years of archaeological excavations at Gordion have uncovered remarkable evidence of advancements in human history—from the first decorated stone mosaics ever found to examples of extraordinary achievements in carpentry, including the oldest standing wooden building in the world, dated to 740 BCE. Investigations at Gordion have revealed that the fabled King Midas, in later Greek mythology cursed with the “golden touch,” was an actual historical figure who ruled from Gordion during the 8th century BCE. New discoveries also support the story that Alexander the Great traveled to Gordion in 333 BCE and cut the proverbial “Gordian knot,” thereby fulfilling the prophecy that whoever did so would rule Asia. The project has also uncovered a wealth of information about ancient construction techniques, defensive architecture, and cult practices of the Phrygians, as well as key developments in the economic life of the city.

“The new UNESCO designation will enable us to accelerate the protection of the archaeological site and its monuments, while increasing the number of visitors who come to Gordion,” says C. Brian Rose, Ferry Curator-in-Charge of the Mediterranean Section of the Penn Museum and James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Classical Studies at Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences.

Left: The Gordion excavation site. Right: Two archaeologists examining an ancient piece of pottery.
At left, the Gordion citadel’s east gate (constructed circa 850 BCE) during excavation in 1955. At right, Gordion Project conservators Julia Commander (left) and Jessica Johnson (right) conserve a large terracotta “bier” from Gordion’s citadel, dated ca. 600–550 BCE. (Images: Courtesy of Penn Museum)

“Gordion is one of the most important and the longest-running of the Penn Museum’s archaeological sites, and we are so grateful to our partners in Turkey for the opportunity to work there,” says Christopher Woods, Williams Director of the Penn Museum. “UNESCO inscription is a wonderful acknowledgement of the site’s major significance and the incredible work our researchers and Turkish partners have done there for more than seven decades.”

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