• Gobekli Tepe

    Move over, Stonehenge! Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest temple at 12,000 years, baffles historians and turns theories about human history on their heads with its mysterious circles of megalithic pillars carved with images of animals.

Gobekli Tepe, a mysterious Neolithic temple complex on a remote hilltop near Urfa, predates the pyramids at Giza by 7,000 years. This is the oldest known instance of a religious structure. The site consists of megalithic T-shaped pillars that resemble human figures arranged in dozens of giant circles. These cleanly cut limestone forms rise up to 18 feet tall and weigh up to 16 tons. Carved on their surface are reliefs of snakes, boars, spiders, vultures, and other wild beasts. The site covers a sprawling 22 acres, only a small fraction of which has been excavated to date.

Before the discovery of Gobekli Tepe in 1994, historians would never have fathomed that hunter-gatherers possessed the technological or organizational capacity for such a large-scale endeavor. The site belongs to a period when human beings survived in small bands of nomadic foragers, a lifestyle thought to sustain only small groups with presumably rudimentary social organization. Historians have long assumed a transition known as the Neolithic Revolution occurred around 9,000 BCE, which saw the first domestication of grains and animals and the first human settlement. Settlement and agriculture supported larger and more stable social groups, which in turn supported the technological and political advances that would produce civilization and religion, or so they thought.

Gobekli Tepe, however, predates this revolution, contradicting the assumption that human settlement and farming came before religion. Despite being a clear locus of human congregation, Gobekli Tepe bears none of the signs of settlement: hearths, pottery, or proximity to a water source. One hypothesis, championed by chief excavator Klaus Schmidt, holds that the large-scale ritual activity of Gobekli Tepe might have driven the need for the domestication of animals and plants; the fact that the first animals and grains were domesticated within walking distance from Gobekli Tepe seems to lend support. If proven, this theory would up-end well-established theories about early human history, placing religion at the very source of civilization. In Schmidt’s words: “First came the temple, then the city.”

Along the Abraham Path in the:

URFA REGION


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Sites in the Urfa Region:

Abraham’s Birth Cave

A major site of religious visitation today, the Birth Cave is carved into the base of a mountain. According to local Muslim tradition, Abraham was born here, hidden from the pagan King Nimrod.

Urfa Markets

It’s a pleasure to get lost in the twisting maze of Urfa’s historical market, bursting with colorful fabrics, exotic spices, and artisan copperware while remarkably free from sales pressure.

Fish Lakes

Streams of bubbling water laden with sacred carp flow through the Fish Lakes, a soothing oasis of pools and gardens beckoning for a pleasurable stroll, centered around a dramatic legend about Abraham.

Halil-ur Rahman Mosque

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The Halil-ur Rahman Mosque, located on the southwest corner of the Lake of Abraham, is one of the key holy sites in Urfa, built on the site where Abraham was cast down by Nimrod and saved by a pool of water.

Rizvaniye Mosque

This is likely the most iconic, most photographed site in Urfa, perched regally along the fish lake of Abraham.