North Cyprus Travel | The Oldest Buildings for ‘Organised’ Religion on Earth

pic-2North Cyprus Travel | The Oldest Buildings for ‘Organised’ Religion on Earth

If you would like to experience an emotional pre-history experience, I can heartily recommend a visit to Göbekli Tepe. This is the most atmospheric archaeological site I have ever visited and must surely rank as the most important place in the world, for those interested in early man and the birth of organised religion. It is easy to reach from North Cyprus. There are flights from Ercan to Gaziantep or Adana. Both of these cities have an Otogar, where you can board a comfortable coach to take you to the Otogar at Şanlıurfa (known locally as Urfa – say Uffa). Göbekli Tepe consists of a series of temples, which must have been constructed for worship (and possibly early parliamentary debate?). They are situated on the crest of a small hill in open country, about ten miles north-east of Şanlıurfa.

Four of twenty temples have so far been excavated. They are made up of large limestone pillars positioned in circular walls with two massive ones, which may have supported a wooden roof, in the centre of each circle. The larger ones are capped with a ‘T’ stone. This is thought to represent a head, so the whole probably depicts a god – or a priest – or a chief – as some have arms and hands engraved on the pillar. Many of the stones exhibit well carved pictures on them. Some of these are geometrical patterns but most are of animals, foxes, lions, boars, bulls, donkeys, antelopes, snakes, scorpions, vultures and other birds. A few are in relief like sculptures. The carvings would have been carried out with obsidian blades as they were accomplished many thousands of years before copper (the first metal) was discovered.

The most amazing thing about Göbekli Tepe is its age. This is now shown to go back 11,700 years, which makes it three times older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, who discovered the importance of the site in 1994, realised on the day he found it that he would be there for the rest of his life. Professor Schmidt told me that it must have taken about 500 men, at any one time, to erect. The builders would have been accompanied by their women folk and children and, as hunter gatherers before the advent of agriculture, each family would have needed to bring their food and water with them.

For some unknown reason, but possibly because of a superstitious fear, the temples were covered in soil by human hand about a thousand years after they were constructed. This is why the site remained undetected for so long and helped preserve much of it. The city of Şanlıurfa (Moslems regard it as the birthplace of Abraham) now has a new airport but, from Ercan, flights are only via Istanbul.

Michael Greening

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