Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolian region, whose ancient earth is scattered with the traces of dozens of civilisations, and whose historical remains have withstood the test of time, with a food and culture which hold the memories of the various peoples who have inhabited the area over the centuries, seems to whisk visitors away to a world of mystery. This ‘Zero Point of Time’ is the site of Göbeklitepe, one of the century’s most remarkable discoveries that has changed our understanding of human history, as well as Şanlıurfa, the city of prophets, Antakya, a city where cultures and religions live in harmony, with a UNESCO-protected cuisine, Mardin, famed for its unique stone houses and the cradle of handicrafts, as well Gaziantep, home of the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, one of the world’s biggest mosaic museums.
Göbeklitepe: The Dawn of Time
Göbeklitepe, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018, was constructed 12 000 years ago. Whilst the site was discovered in 1963, it was only from 1994 that the significance of the site became understood through excavation. The site, whose human constructions pre-date the pyramids by 4000 years and Britain’s Stonehenge by 7000 years, shows that the construction of places of worship didn’t follow, but rather led to the construction of surrounding cities.
Following this discovery, the history of humanity had to be reformulated and at Göbeklitepe, known as the ‘Zero Point of Time’, visitors can feel in a place beyond time itself. The site, which boasts many ‘firsts’ – from the first patriarchal thinking to the first terrazzo flooring, and the Neolithic period’s first statues and relief works – shows the passage of human history over thousands of years with striking intensity. Göbeklitepe, which is not a living space, but rather a purely religious area hosting a variety of temples, is thus not only the oldest but the biggest place of worship in the world.
The entire area is considered to have been a place of worship and pilgrimage during the Neolithic era and although only six monumental structures have so far been unearthed, according to geomagnetic scans, around 20 similar structures appear to exist. The oldest found Neolithic illustrations, some depicting animals in 3D and stood on six-metre tall T-shaped pillars, demonstrate the artistic talents of our ancestors. Prof.Dr Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist who oversaw the dig for the last 20 years, shows us how human figures are clearly represented by these T-shaped pillars, some of which show fingers and hands. The Göbeklitepe site was found close to the village of Örencik, located 15 km from the centre of the modern city of Şanlıurfa, a mystical place known in Turkey as the “City of Prophets”.
The Questions Preserving Göbeklitepe’s Mysteries…
Göbeklitepe, whilst bringing new information to light, still throws up many questions that experts have so far been unable to answer. We are still yet to know who built these temples, how these 60-tonne columns could have been carried and erected, and why the site was shrouded under tonnes of earth and stone. The answer to many of these questions looks likely to require years of research.
Şanlıurfa: City of Prophets
Şanlıurfa, the home of Göbeklitepe and a city thought to have been founded by Seleucus I in the 3rd century BC is home to the remains of the various civilisations which have ruled this area over the years. Visitors to the city can expect to enjoy the protected ancient city of Harran, the Fish Lake and Cave of the Prophet Abraham, the historical Grand Bazaar, Fırfırlı Mosque, the Haleplıbahçe Mosaic Museum, and the Urfa Archaeology Museum, home to the works of the largest Neolithic works. Visitors to local hotels can join in the fun at local what is referred to locally as “sıra geceleri” – or “nights in turn”. These celebrations are full of local music and cuisine. Urfa kebab, liver kebab, çiğ köfte, lahmacun, a variety of rice dishes and salads, şıllık and künefe desserts are all available to sample. Meanwhile, it is essential to stop off for a 500 year traditional menegiç coffee at the Gümrük Han.
The Zeugma Museum: One of the World’s Largest Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep
Gaziantep is one of Southeastern Turkey’s most beautiful cities. The city lies 150 km from Şanlıurfa and contains the Zeugma Mosaic Museum – the world’s largest mosaic museum in terms of both the building and range of exhibits. A number of delicious treats await visitors to this city – a member of the UNESCO list of Creative Cities in the category of gastronomy. Gaziantep is home to over 400 recipes, and the key to its cuisine lies in the details. For instance, whilst most cuisines contain 1-2 sour elements, Gaziantep has 7 varieties of sour to add, used accordingly with each dish. Lemon, lemon salt, unripened grape, unripened grape molasses, sumak sour, and pomegranate sour are used in various dishes. The Şahinbey Museum of National Struggle, Rumkale Castle, the old Gümrük Han, the Hamam Museum (which is architecturally and culturally a great example of an Ottoman Hamam), and the ancient city of Karkamış, are just some must-see sites for visitors. Meanwhile, the wood-panel stores and stone cobbled streets of the Copper Bazaar host various examples of high-quality handicrafts that are a sight to behold.
Unique Design: Mardin’s Stone Houses
Mardin is bound to set you off on a journey through time with its unique architectural style and stone houses. The city, which continues to host various beliefs, cultures, and traditions in a unique blend, is home to the Deyrulzafaran Monastery, Dara Mesopotamian Ruins, Kırklar Church, Ulu Mosque and many more places of interest. Local guests can expect the best examples of Mardin cuisine at a wealth of establishments with a mystical charm and lovely stonework reflecting patterns from the 19th century.
Filigree: Mardin’s Unique Metalwork
The cultural variety Mardin has enjoyed for centuries has made it the cradle of handicraft arts. A number of handicrafts are still performed in Mardin, such as the 600-year old art of telkari, a metalwork technique applied to silver and gold which is only performed in Mardin. Telkari is a decorative art that relies on working the silver into strings dented and inlayed. The gold and silver strings are then worked together and fused into jewellery items.
The First Cave Church in the World: Antakya’s Saint Peter’s Church
Libanius, a clerk and writer who lived in Antakya between 314-393 BC, said that “If your goal in life is to travel the world and learn about other cultures and ways of life, then it is enough to visit Antakya. Nowhere else has this many cultures in one place.” Antakya retains this feature to the present day. The Ulu Mosque, Uzun Bazaar, and Hatay Archaeology Museum are all important structures and a must-see. However, the most significant of these is the pilgrimage site, St. Peter’s Church, based in the rocks of a cave.
One of UNESCO’s Creative Cities in the field of gastronomy, Antakya is home to over 400 recipes, 200 of which are all its own. Antakya has revived up to 40 forgotten recipes as part of cuisine that has absorbed the cultures of surrounding peoples for centuries. Meat-lovers ought to try the belen tava, tepsi kebabı, or kaytaz böreği. Peppered bread, aubergine-based mezze bobaganush, squash dolma filled with chickpea, and Haytalı dessert are just some of the area’s must-try dishes.
Sources: Jennifer De Guzman