Urfa, Gobekli Tepe, Mardin

In April 2013, I spent a weeked visiting Gobekli Tepe, Urfa, and, as an afterthought, Mardin.

Gobekli Tepe

The initial idea for the trip was to see Gobekli Tepe, probably the nearest you can get to the 'cradle of civilization' as you can get. It is a relatively recent find, and excavations started only in 1996. It is the earliest site that we know with real buildings, earliest site with monumental sculpture, and probably the earliest site with a large scale ritual cult thing going on. Dating to 10,000-8,0000 BCE, it makes Stonehenge, as well as anything else we know of, look positively post-modernist.

To get the age of Gobekli Tepe in perspective, just realize that Stonehenge is closer to us in time than it is to Gobekli Tepe: the earliest date for the building of Stonehenge is 3,000 BCE, which means Gobekli Tepe was already 7,000 years old when Stonehenge guys decided heaping really large stones on top of each other was the hip thing to do. There is nothing new under the sun.

Gobekli Tepe site is about 300m in diameter, situated on top of a plateau rising from the surrounding plain for several hundred meters. There are the remains of several circular buildings, and over 200 pillars belonging to the buildings as well as several unfinished pillars were located. (Not all of them are excavated.) The largest T-shaped pillars are 6m high, and weigh 20 tons. They have carvings of many different animals on them.

When Gobekli Tepe was built, people still lived in a hunter-gatherer society and Gobekli Tepe is generally thought to be a mountain sanctuary serving the people living in the surrounding region (as far away as 100km). This "cathedral on a hill" might have served as the center of a cult of the dead, according to the head of the archeological team excavating Gobekli Tepe, Klaus Schmidt.

Given that the most recent location for the domestication of wheat is only 30km away from Gobekli Tepe, it seems that the region was the first 'Silicon Valley' of human history where the main components of v1.0 of the civilization was invented: farming, and large-scale cooperation that enabled the large-scale religion, art and building in a virtuous circle.

Unfortunately, at the time I visited the site, the remains were not in a 'photography friendly' state. Some of the most important pillars were boxed up to protect them, and the main excaveted area was under a temporary roof structure for the same purpose. As a result, I don't have a single photo of the actual remains, just a view from the top of the hill of the 'wishing tree' and surrounding plain. I hope that when excavations are finished, a major museum is built to house and exhibit the remains.


After visiting Gobekli Tepe in the morning, I spent the rest of the day in Urfa visiting Abraham's Pool, and the hill situated over it. The park area containing the pool and neighboring mosque is were teeming with local people as well as people from the neighboring cities and I took more than my usual quota of 'people pics'. Let's call it street photography.

There is a hill overlooking the park, with a small, quiet cementery. Apparently people like planting an local orchid on the graves, and most of them were just past their prime, which seemed somehow more fitting for a cementery.


Since I 'finished' Urfa on Saturday, I decided to drive to Mardin on Sunday. It is about 190km from Urfa, and the road is right across the seemingly endless plain visible from Gobekli Tepe.

Mardin itself is filled with wonderful stone buildings and definitely worth going for a second time. I simply didn't have the time to photography even a fraction of the buildings properly as I had to drive back to Urfa for my plane in the evening.