The most valuable heritage of Şanlıurfa, which shook the world with its discovery, is known as the first temple of the world with its 12 thousand years of history. It is believed that Göbeklitepe was built by hunter gatherers before human settlements. But Göbeklitepe has more to unravel. Can the archeology world solve its mystery?
The discovery of Göbeklitepe, literally meaning the pot belly hill, has changed the course of history as we know it. Dating back to 10.000 BC and predating the world famous Stonehenge by 7000 and the Pyramid of Giza by 7500 years, this group of carved stones is now the oldest known man-made structure with no clear purpose identified.
Located on top of a hill in Şanlıurfa city on the Southeast of Turkey, this sacred site is thought to be the cradle of the gods, where early human beings were likely organizing festive events with music and choreographed shows, worshipping what they believed as creator(s). The archaelogical findings suggest that the site was not used as a place of inhabitant at first, rather used as a meeting spot for the last hunter gatherer groups for such rituals.
The world was shaken to its core with the unearthing of Göberklitepe, as the famous Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests, because it challenged our knowledge on the prehistoric humankind. Before Göbeklitepe’s discovery, historians believed that human settlements and the shift to agriculture came before the birth of religious & spiritual ideas, and that religion was used as a tool to organize and control masses at the prehistoric ages. However, Göbeklitepe revealed that the site was used by hunter gatherer groups on seasonal frequency and later on houses were built surrounding Göbeklitepe’s worshipping areas as the last hunter gathered groups started settling and took up farming. This is a game changing discovery given the fact that we, as modern humans, tend to look down on our prehistoric counterparts for their simplicity. Göbeklitepe rewrote the history books and left us all in awe by shattering the belief that religion came after human settlements and by revealing the complexity of life 12.000 years ago.
However, what we know so far on Göbeklitepe is limited and there are still many secrets to unravel. The excavations started in 1995 led by the German archaelogist Prof. Klaus Schmidt in support of the German Archaeological Institute and Şanlıurfa Museum, and have been taking place every summer ever since although the harsh weather conditions at the region make it extemely difficult for researchers.
The archaelogical findings so far suggest that Göbeklitepe site is designed with two types of structures: circular and rectengular. While the circular structures are identified as worship points, rectengular structures show evidence of settlement at later stages of time.
There are 20 circular structures with nearly 200 T shaped obelisks made of flintstones and chalkstones. 5 of these circular structures were unearthed so far and were titled as A, B, C, D and H. Each of the obelisks found in these circular structures are 3 to 7 metres tall and 40 to 60 tonnes, and they have various motives and figures inscribed on them. These obelisks are thought to represent humans as some of them have arm and hand motives.
Each circular structure concentrates on a type of animal figure inscriptions on the obelisks such as A is notated with snakes, B with foxes, C with wild boars, D with various types of birds and vultures, and H with lions. These animal figures are all portrayed as male figures. Many other types of wild animal and plant fossils were discovered among the ruins, strenghtening the existence of hunter gatherers on site.
Another mystery is the building process of this massive site. Back then, animals were not domesticated. Which means it is humans themselves who carried these colossal stones up on the hill where Göbeklitepe is situated. The nearest stone pit where the obelisks were carved with sharp and spiky granit stones is 500 meters away, with the nearest water resource found at 4 kilometers away. The researchers believe that a type of lever system was used to mount the carved obelisks up on the hill.
At this point, you may stop and ask yourself the following question: but why? That’s the biggest mystery of all that Göbeklitepe poses at us. As of now, we do not know what motivated our nomadic ancestors to bear such difficulty to build this sacred site, and the chances are we may never know. It is exciting to imagine, nevertheless.
Göbeklitepe is inscribed in the Unesco World Heritage List, a list of protected areas for their immense value to all humanity. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism designated 2019 as the year of Göbeklitepe, in an effort to motivate travelers from all around the world to visit this holy land, which contributed to its fame and attracted over 413.000 visitors in 2019.
If you are interested in visiting Göbeklitepe this year, read on to plan your trip.
When is the best time to visit Göbeklitepe?
The best time to visit Göbeklitepe is in the Spring season such as April, May, early June, and in the Fall season such as September or early October. The extreme heat in late June, July and especially August makes it hard to travel in the region.
How can I get there?
If you hold an international driving licence, renting a car would be the fastest route to get there under 30 minutes from Şanlıurfa city center. If you prefer to get there by public transportation, the bus number 100 runs from the city center (Abide bus stop) to the site. The exact timetable changes according to the season however in general the buses set off from the city center on 10.00 am, 13.00 pm, and 16.00 pm. Return buses are scheduled at 12.00 pm, 15.00 pm, and 18.00 pm.
Some books to read for more information?
Several books were published on Göbeklitepe, most notable of which include Göbeklitepe: Genesis of Gods by Andrew Collins, Göbeklitepe by Karl W. Lucwert, and Göbeklitepe: The First Temple by Klaus Schmidt. Reading these books can help you wrap your mind around Göbeklitepe’s magic before your visit.
Is it safe to go to Göbeklitepe as it is close to the Syrian border?
It is perfectly safe to visit Göbeklitepe. The site is 75 kilometers away from the border and the officials are taking precautions to create the utmost security for visitors at all times.
Nearby sites I should visit?
Şanlıurfa city is home to many other natural, cultural, and archaeological assets worth visiting. While planning your trip, be sure to check out the Şanlıurfa museum that is home to many of the findings of Göbeklitepe excavations. Haleplibahçe mosaic museum is another site to drop by if you are fascinated by depictions of Roman life with tiny, colored stones. Şanlıurfa castle offers a beautiful view of the city at night, while Balıklıgöl, a sacred pond with fishes, has tales waiting to be heard.
Other nearby sites to discover includes Halfeti and Harran. Located on the East of the river Euprhrates, Halfeti is a district famous for its sunken village named Savaşan. In 1990, this tiny village of a bunch of stone houses and a mosque was submerged with the construction of a dam. You can take a boat trip on the Euphrates River floating over the sunken mosque’s rooftop while photographing the desolate houses on the bay. Halfeti is also famous for its black rose that only grows in this region.
Harran, on the other hand, was once a major city in Upper Mesopotamia. Its history is dated back to the 2000 BC. The site is famous for its architecture. Lines of conical domed houses adorn the skyline of Harran, creating a feast for the eyes.