The City That Changed Human History
Predating Stonehenge by 6000 years, Şanlıurfa’s Göbeklitepe upends widely held views on the rise of civilization.
With a history of 12,000 years, Şanlıurfa, thought by some to be the ancient city of Ur, proudly exhibits the legacy of all the civilizations that have prospered in the region. The city was originally called Urfa but later awarded the title "Şanlı", or "glorious", for the role it played during the Turkish War of Independence in the 1920s.
In ancient cities such as Harran and Soğmatar, history going back millennia was established through studies and excavations. Many other monuments of ancient civilizations, which have remained buried for thousands of years, are being brought to light one by one by archaeological workings throughout the city. Among them are the Neolithic Age settlements in Nevali-Çori in the district of Hilvan, the Chalcolithic Age settlement dating to 5000 BCE in Kazane near the city centre and the artefacts dating from 10.000 BCE in Biris cemetery in the district of Bozova. These studies have already proven the status of Şanlıurfa as a cradle of civilizations and the ongoing excavations will perhaps unveil historical facts that trail even further back in time.
Şanlıurfa, with its wealth of biblical associations, is known as the "Jerusalem of Anatolia" and regarded as a holy site by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. According to the Old Testament, the Prophet İbrahim (Abraham), "the father of three monotheistic religions", was born in the city of Ur and he, together with his family, migrated to Harran- the "home of the patriarchs".
The lands of Şanlıurfa area were once a city of the Hurrite state in the second millennium BCE. Some believe that Abraham was born in a cave near a place where the Mevlid Halil Mosque stands now. The site and the cave itself are, therefore, regarded as sacred.
The remains of a castle with two Corinthian columns rising above the ruined walls stand atop a small crest. At the foot of the hills, the pretty Halil-ür Rahman Mosque is built around Balıklıgöl lake- the home of the sacred carps. The 17th century Ottoman Rıdvaniye Mosque and the Fırfırlı Mosque, formerly the Church of the Apostles, are worth a detour. The Archaeology Museum, one of the best in Türkiye, houses important Neolithic and Chalcolithic finds from the Lower Fırat Region. To capture the spirit of Şanlıurfa wander through the vaulted eastern bazaar and linger in the courtyards of the old hans (inns) and don't forget to drop in Gümrük Hanı and Barutçu Hanı – the most interesting of the old hans!
The city is closely associated with the Balıklıgöl, which is actually made up of the Halil-ür Rahman and Ayn-ı Zeliha lakes. Right adjacent to these lakes stands the Rızvaniye Mosque. It is believed that King Nimrod cast the Prophet Abraham from the castle into the flames and that God turned the fire into water and the woods into fish, hence the creation of the Halil-ür Rahman Lake. After falling in love with Prophet Abraham, Nemrut's stepdaughter Zeliha jumped into the fire which subsequently changed into the Ayn-ı Zeliha Lake.
Believed to be the ancient city of Harran mentioned in the Old Testament, Harran is today known more for its unusual beehive dwellings than as the place where Abraham the Prophet spent several years. It used to be known as Helenopolis that was burned and destroyed by Mongolian invaders in 1260. Included among the archaeological finds are those of the oldest Islamic university, city walls dating from the eighth century, four gates and a citadel.
The First Temple of the World
One of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The Neolithic archaeological ruins were first uncovered in the '60s. The architecture was far ahead of its time and completely unexpected.
There are substantial grounds to claim that the most significant archaeological discovery of the 21st century is Göbeklitepe. First of all, it dates back to 12 thousand years ago. In other words, it’s approximately 8 thousand years older than the pyramids and 7 thousand years older than the Stonehenge. Furthermore, it is even older than the human transition to settled life. Therefore, contrary to the widely held view, it proves the existence of religious beliefs prior to the establishment of the first cities.
Findings of the researchers at Göbeklitepe shows that a religious class existed even at such early ages, division of society into social classes took place well before the widely assumed dates, and perhaps the first agricultural activity may have been conducted in the region. The site is also remarkable due to the first patriarchal system, the first terrazzo flooring and the first statues and reliefs of the Neolithic Age. As a result, all this new information has been added to the collective knowledge of humanity and into the history books. On the merits of its contribution to human history, Göbeklitepe was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2018.
Discovery That Changed the Human History
While the discovery of Göbeklitepe site took place in 1963, the first scientific excavation started in 1995, eventual findings of which added new pages to the history, changing long standing assumptions. Rather than being used as a settlement, the area actually served religious purposes and contain a number of temples. In that respect, it is not only the oldest centre of worship, but also the largest one. Although six of those temples were unearthed to date, on the basis of geomagnetic surveys, the total number of those monumental structures is believed to be twenty, with all temples sharing a resemblance to each other, making this entire region suggestive of being a centre of faith and pilgrimage during the Neolithic Age. There are six-metre-tall T-shaped stone pillars, carved with reliefs of animals, erected to form circles. Those carvings that maybe the earliest three-dimensional depictions of animals carved into stone are testament to the artistic ability of our ancestors. Professor Klaus Schmidt, who had led the excavation work in the site for 20 years, firmly stated that some of the T-shaped stone pillars represented human figures since some of them have carvings of hands and fingers.
Followed by the World
Since the unearthing of the monumental structures, Göbeklitepe has attracted the attention of the world, and many articles about it were published and many documentaries were produced. The BBC broadcast a documentary and The Guardian published an article, yet the most striking comments were published by German weekly Der Spiegel. The journal had a sensational suggestion: that Göbeklitepe was the place where Adam and Eve settled after being banished from the Garden of Eden. The journal based its suggestion on the coincidence that the land surrounding the Göbeklitepe is proven to be the place where wheat was cultivated for the first time, and the Bible says that Adam was the first to cultivate the wheat after he was banished.
While Göbeklitepe revealed many important points, there are still questions waiting to be answered by scientists. By whom those temples were built? How were those 60-ton stone pillars carried and erected? Why were they buried with tons of rock and earth? What was the actual purpose for which they were constructed? These are outstanding mysteries which will probably be resolved following years of further study. What we know for certain is the fact that future findings in Göbeklitepe will continue furthering knowledge about human history and revise the accepted discourse.
Why Visit Göbeklitepe?
It is the first Temple of the World.
It is believed to be a centre of faith and pilgrimage during the Neolithic Age.
The earliest three-dimensional depictions carved into stone are found here.
According to scientists, the archaeological discovery of Göbeklitepe changed human history.
It proves the existence of religious beliefs prior to the establishment of the first cities.
It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
How to Get Here?
The Göbeklitepe archaeological site is near Örencik village, 15 km north-east of Şanlıurfa, which is one of the most mystical cities of Türkiye, and renowned as the "City of Prophets". There are scheduled flights from Ankara, İstanbul, and İzmir to the Şanlıurfa Airport. Some of the artefacts unearthed at the excavation site can be seen in Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum.