To go and visit Göbeklitepe, in the south-east of Turkey, is to make a jump in time, at the dawn of the civilizations.
The first monument built by the hand of the man ever discovered to date. Imagine, we are plunged 12 000 years ago, at a time when man is still a hunter-gatherer. He has not even invented the wheel yet! And yet, he erected here carved monoliths of more than 5 meters high, sculpted with animals of a striking realism.
Göbeklitepe is a must-see archaeological site in Turkey. You cannot not visit it at the time of your voyage in Eastern Anatolia.
The archaeological site of Göbeklitepe
The meaning of the name “Göbeklitepe
A small point of vocabulary first: Göbeklitepe is a Turkish name which could be translated by “the belly hill” (Göbek = belly or navel, the suffix “li” forms the adjective and “tepe” = hill).
Because contrary to appearances, this small mountain is not only a creation of Mother Nature. It is due to the presence of numerous stone temples which, between 12,000 and 7,000 BC, were erected and then covered with earth until they formed this mound which culminates at 700m.
The discovery of the site of Göbeklitepe
The site was identified in 1965 as a Neolithic site. But it is only in 1995 that it began to be excavated by the team of the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt. He devoted all his research to it until his death in 2014.
The discoveries he made at Göbeklitepe have upset the theories on the sedentarization of Man and the origins of agriculture. What a passion for Göbeklitepe!
The archaeological site of Göbeklitepe is registered with the world heritage of UNESCO since 2018.
What can you see in Göbeklitepe?
Under the mound of Göbeklitepe, about twenty circular monuments would be buried, of which 4 are completely cleared. They are the vastest but also the oldest. Their origin goes back to 12 000 years…
Each of these circular stone monuments measures from 10 to 30 meters in diameter. T-shaped columns are embedded in the surrounding stone wall. Two other monoliths, even more impressive by their size and the detail of the sculptures, are located in the center of the circle.
The life of men at the time of Göbeklitepe
What was the function of Göbeklitepe?
On the archaeological site of Göbeklitepe you discover a set of structures of circular, oval or square shape for the most recent. Their function still remains a mystery, but by elimination it is assumed that they were the place of a rite in connection with the dead.
What is certain is that there are no traces of permanent dwellings in the vicinity, thus confirming the hypothesis that it is indeed hunter-gatherers who have devoted themselves to this construction. It was thus necessary that it was of particular importance to succeed in mobilizing so many people in this precise place, for a task which raises the technical prowess there is more than 12 000 years!
One can thus consider Göbeklitepe as the oldest temple discovered to date. And by far! By comparison, it is older by 6000 years than Stonehenge in England, and older by 7000 years than the pyramids of Egypt!
What do the monoliths of Göbeklitepe represent?
The T-shaped monoliths of Göbeklitepe measure up to more than 5 meters high. In a quarry near the site, an unfinished monolith of 7 meters has even been found. To say that it was necessary to extract it from the rock and to hoist it to the top of the hill!
An incredible feat when one thinks that Man at that time had not yet invented the wheel, and that his toolbox was limited to flints!
The T shape of the stone is a stylized representation of a man, without head. But don’t think of it as a little stick figure that a kindergarten child could represent. Not at all. The little bar on the T does not represent arms. The “face” of the man would be on the edge of the monolith. A loincloth and a belt buckle as well as the hands are finely sculpted. One can also see the arms, long and thin, bent at the elbow, carved along the wider wall.
This absence of heads seems to be voluntary and suggests that they were forms of humans who were deified or linked to the afterlife. It is known that at this time, the deceased are generally buried, then after some time, the skeletons are cleared and the skull taken to be preserved by the living.
Especially since other human-sized statues have been found nearby from this same period. And these had all their head! Sculpted with a great expression in the face. This is the case of “the man of Urfa” that you can admire at the archaeological museum of Sanliurfa.
What do the carved animals of Göbeklitepe tell us?
The men of Göbeklitepe did not limit themselves to erecting stones. They sculpted with an incredible precision animals in high and low relief. The monoliths are thus decorated with wild boars, foxes, wild beasts, birds, gazelles, or spiders… more real than life!
What do these animals carved on the monoliths of Göbeklitepe tell us? The interesting point is, what it tells us about the relationship of man to nature.
Until then, the hunter-gatherer man lives in a difficult world where animals are a threat. Certainly, his collective intelligence allows him to feed himself through hunting, but he is still far from reaching the top of the food chain! The animals represented in cave art are then in scenes of hunting or herds. When man is represented among them, it is at a proportionate size.
Access to the archaeological site of Göbeklitepe
Göbeklitepe is reached by road, 15 minutes from the town of Sanliurfa.
The entrance to the archaeological site costs 55TL per person, but is included with the MüzeKart+ or MuseumPass Turkey card.
In front of the site, a building shelters a small exhibition rather well made which presents the site. But above all a small sound and light show puts you in the atmosphere of a ritual as it must have taken place 12 000 years ago!
Accommodation near Göbeklitepe
The city of Sanliurfa is very pretty and pleasant and well worth a night’s stay. We recommend choosing a hotel near the park where the Abraham Basin is located (Balikligöl district) from where you can visit the other points of interest in Sanliurfa.