The mysterious secrets of the world’s oldest temple

After leaving atmospheric Mardin in South-East Turkey, we travelled onwards to what has been described as the world’s oldest place of worship – Göbekli Tepe – a mysterious Neolithic archeological site that dates back to between 9600 and 8000 BCE – 6,000 years older than Stonehenge and 7,000 years older than the pyramids!

The view across the plains of Mesopotamia from atmospheric Mardin

Excavations of this extraordinary place started in 1995 and what has been discovered has upended the conventional view of the rise of civilization.

The extraordinary Göbeklitepe

Previously archeologists believed that the adoption of farming was the impetus to cause people to settle down and begin to build permanent homes and religious and iconic structures. The discovery of Göbekli Tepe has led many experts to believe the reverse – that the building of such a massive collection of structures actually caused people to adopt farming in order to feed the hordes of people that would have been required for the building work.

The building of such a massive collection of structures might have caused people
to become farmers

Whatever the truth is, the remains that are on display are absolutely extraordinary especially considering that’s they were built in the the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age.

This hill at the Göbeklitepe site is still a
place of pilgrimage

Looking down onto the excavations we could clearly see a number of T-shaped pillars, about five metres tall, many of them carved with marvellous studies of animals such as foxes, lions, snakes, as well as boats and abstract symbols.

The T-shaped standing stones are
about five metres tall
This was just one of a number of stone circles
There are amazing carvings on
some of the stones
A closer look at one of the many carvings

The stones are arranged in giant circles and ovals — each structure is made up of two large central pillars surrounded by smaller inward-facing pillars.

The stones are arranged in giant
circles and ovals

There is a mysterious reason why this amazing site remained undiscovered for so long – the enclosure was deliberately – and very carefully – buried under hundreds of metres of dirt consisting of small limestone fragments, broken pieces of stone vessels and tools and other refuse, creating a tell.

Why was the enclosure deliberately – and very carefully – buried under hundreds
of metres of dirt?

Why on earth would these lovely structures with extraordinary artwork be totally buried some time after 8000 BCE?

Why on earth would these lovely structures with extraordinary artwork be totally buried?!

Perhaps further exploration of this vast hilltop site will provide an answer – only five per cent has been excavated so far!

Perhaps further exploration of this vast hilltop site will provide an answer?

We left Göbekli Tepe with many questions swirling around our heads but we were totally enthralled by the experience.

Our next stop was the marvellous museum in Şanlıurfa (aka Urfa)which is just 12 kilometres from Göbeklitepe.

Our next stop was the marvellous
museum in Şanlıurfa

Here we were able to walk amongst a true-to-life reproduction of one of the stone circles we had just seen at Göbeklitepe. It was fantastic to see close up the reproductions of the absolutely beautiful and incredibly accurate carvings of animals that we had seen from afar at the site.

We were able to walk amongst a true-to-life reproduction of one of
the Göbeklitepe stone circles
We were able to see close up reproductions of the absolutely beautiful carvings
To think these carvings were made 7,000 years before the pyramids were built!
Another carving from Göbeklitepe
Fascinating to see how the patterns here look like letters of the Roman alphabet
I loved the artists attempt to show this creature “springing” into action

We also saw the renowned “Urfa Man” which dates (unbelievably!) from 9,000 BC and is the oldest life-sized sculpture of a human ever discovered.

“Urfa Man” – the oldest life-sized sculpture of a human ever discovered

There were also many wonderful exhibits from other nearby Neolithic sites – most importantly those from Nevali Çori which were excavated when plans for the Ataturk Dam and Reservoir were made and the site set to be inundated.

One of the discoveries from Nevali Çori
Thought this guy was “ahead“ of his time!

It was really mind blowing to see such fabulous artefacts that dated back to many, many, thousands of years ago.

So many fabulous artefacts on display
Owls or spacemen?

That evening we went to an excellent traditional restaurant in what used to be a caravanserai (a roadside inn where travellers could rest and recover from the day’s journey) for travellers on the Silk Road.

This was the name of the restaurant
It had loads of atmosphere
Conversation over the table was a bit difficult

After our meal we enjoyed listening to some traditional Turkish music that by chance was being performed at the restaurant.

The band was in full swing by the time
we were leaving
It was great to hear some genuine
traditional music

The next day we were able to see the Ataturk dam for ourselves. Built between 1990 and 1992, this massive construction definitely left an impression.

Our tour guide Baran adds our route to the dam on the road map

Located on the mighty Euphrates, the dam has a surface area of 817 km² and a volume of 48.5 cubic kilometers, making it the third largest lake in the country.

The mighty Ataturk Dam
Looking back the other way from
the Ataturk Dam
The dam has a surface area of 817 km²

After stopping to view the dam (where we enjoyed a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice!) we drove on to the Karakuş Tümülüs, the burial place of the mother and sister of Mithridates ll.

Lovely juicy pomegranates
The juicing process is very simple

This fine funerary monument was built between 30 and 20 BCE and the site commands the most incredible views. The tumulus is surrounded by three columns – each about 9 metres (30 ft) high. The columns are topped with reliefs and statues of a bull, lion and eagle.

The Karakuş Tümülüs
This funerary monument was built
between 30 and 20 BCE
These columns were about nine metres high
A majestic eagle on top of one of the columns

The tumulus was covered with hundreds of thousands of river pebbles – such a clever idea as this made it impossible for robbers to dig down to find the tomb’s entrance – try and dig a hole in the gravel and a load more pebbles fill it immediately!

The tumulus was covered with hundreds of thousands of river pebbles
The site commands the most incredible views – that’s Mt Nemrut straight ahead!

Our next stop was Cendere Bridge (yes we packed in a lot in that day). Also known as Septimius Severus Bridge, it was built in late Roman times.

The Cendere Bridge

The bridge is a simple and unadorned single arch and is thought to be the second largest remaining Roman Bridge in existence!

This bridge is thought to be the second largest remaining Roman Bridge in existence
The bridge was built in late Roman times
It is also known as Septimius Severus Bridge

Up until quite recently it was used to carry traffic but now a replacement bridge has been built nearby.

A replacement bridge was built recently. I wonder if it will last as long as
the Roman Bridge?!

Our final stop before reaching our main destination for the day – iconic Mount Nemrut – was another site that was associated with Mithridates ll. It is thought that this place (Arsameia) was where his father, Antiochus (who was responsible for the construction of the mausoleum at Mt Nemrut) had his summer residence.

We met this donkey working so hard
on the way up to Arsameia

There are few remains to see now but there is an intriguing network of man made caves here – possibly used for storage of supplies but no one seems certain about this.

One of the man- made caves at Arsameia

After a reasonably short but steep climb we reached an impressive carved stone block depicting King Antiochus shaking hands with Hercules.

On the way up to see the carved stone block depicting King Antiochus shaking
hands with Hercules.
The views on the way up were incredible!
The impressive carved stone block depicting King Antiochus shaking hands with
Hercules (note how King Antiochus towers over Hercules!)

Next to this, over the entrance to the nearby cave, is an important inscription that gives invaluable historical information about the establishment of Arsameia and the life and laws of the kingdom including all the elements to be followed during rituals.

The writing is hard to see but over the entrance of the cave was a massive inscription
A close up of part of the inscription that gives invaluable historical information about the establishment of Arsameia and
the life and laws of the kingdom

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Mt Nemrut but the story of that adventure must wait until next time!

Iconic Mt Nemrut in the distance

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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