So you’re headed to Turkey and you know that you absolutely HAVE to see Göbeklitepe, literally one of the places where human civilization began. Makes sense, so what else are you going to see on your trip back through time in ancient Mesopotamia?
Well, luckily for you Göbeklitepe is situated essentially right in between 4 awesome cities with some of Turkey’s greatest destinations: Gaziantep, Sanliurfa (the closest city to Göbeklitepe), Diyarbakir and Mount Nemrut. Şanlıurfa features the Göbeklitepe Museum with a reconstructed temple for what it would have been like, so if you’re interested in Göbeklitepe then Urfa is an absolute must. But all four of these spots are incredible, so here’s a quick summary of them all for an incredible 6-7 day tour of one of the oldest regions in the world.
Urfa can make an argument for itself as one of the most important historic spots anywhere in the world, and you can still see almost all of it. Göbekli Tepe is just one of 3 Neolithic spots surrounding the city, and is one of the oldest settlements known to mankind. From there, the city’s spot as a center of religion is well documented. Abraham is reckoned by some to have come from here, with Balıklıgöl an obvious must-see to all who visit. The city is also associated with the Biblical character of Job, and it’s considered a holy city for Armenians as well and the spot where the Armenian script originated.
It’s location right in the middle of Mesopotamia means that it’s played host to countless civilizations. Oh you think we’re exaggerating a touch? While many cities in the world may claim the title of “cradle of civilizations” or the like, here’s just a preliminary list of the number of civilizations who’ve made Urfa their home over the millennia: The Ebla, the Akkadians, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Armenians, the Hurri-Mitannis, the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Ancient Macedonians (as led by Alexander the Great), the Seleucids, the Arameans, the Neo-Assyrian Osrhoenes, the Romans, the Sassanids, the Byzantines, the Mamluks and the Arab empire. It’s truly one of the most remarkable cities on Earth.
Gaziantep is a city in the southeast of Turkey, and it’s widely known as the country’s cuisine capital. In fact it’s on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for precisely this reason! But the reason the food is so wonderful is the same reason that Gaziantep is such an incredible place to visit – it’s the history of the place and the mixture of civilizations who’ve left their mark over the centuries. This is really the heart of Mesopotamia, where human civilization itself was born. There’s so much history in the culture, in the city, and in the cuisine that you really have to try it all to understand it!
Diyarbakır: Hevsel Gardens and Diyarbakır Castle
If we’re talking about the fertility of these lands, the Hevsel Gardens (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are a great place to start with about 700 hectares of fertile land growing up to the walls of Diyarbakir along the banks of the Tigris River, between the Diyarbakir Castle and the river valley.
These gardens are simply spectacular to walk through, and no less spectacular to fly through based on the number of birds and species that make this their home during various migratory seasons. In addition to more than 180 bird species, it is the shelter of many mammals such as otters, foxes, martens, squirrels and hedgehogs. Many of these animals have been placed under protection and are quite rare.
The Castle walls themselves are quite spectacular as well. They run about 5.5 km in length and are seven to eight meters tall. It’s the longest contiguous wall in the whole world after the Great Wall of China.
The haunting sculptures overlooking Mount Nemrut are some of the most magnificent that you'll find anywhere in the world. Giant heads built in the 1st century B.C. under the Commagene Kingdom look out over an incredible sunrise and sunset every day. These massive sculptures are like just about nowhere else in the world, weighing at 6 tons and are a full 10 meters tall.
The sculptures were built by King Antiochus I Theos of Commmagene as a tomb-sanctuary for himself. The sculptures are of himself, of himself, two lions, two eagles and various Greek, Armenian, and Medes gods, such as Zeus-Aramazd or Oromasdes (associated with Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda), Hercules-Vahagn, Tyche-Bakht, and Apollo-Mihr-Mithras.
The sculptures themselves show the “East meets West” nature of the kingdom, as the facial features are Greek but the clothing they’re wearing is decidedly more Eastern. They are no longer standing in their original positions, but the scattered effect of the sculpture’s current positions is almost more jarring than if they were neatly in a row as they almost certainly were originally intended.
The nearest major city to Mount Nemrut is called Adiyaman, but probably Gaziantep is where you’ll fly into. Drive up, and the sunsets and particular sunrises over the sculptures is absolutely a must-see. As the massive sculptures are bathed in the dawn’s red light, reflect over the marvel of history and the passing empires over these lands.