Sogmatar: echo of a lost religion

Sogmatar: white hills under an endless sky. At night, the view of the moon and the stars must be spectacular here, at Sogmatar. No doubt that the view is an important reason why humans with a religion following nature chose these hills for their temples: seven temples, each temple on a different hill. Visiting Sogmatar was an amazing experience, uncomparable to anything else.

The first sign of Sogmatar is the cave of Pognan. In the middle of nowhere, unprotected by any protection measure whatsoever, I find old carvings of humans against the walls of this cave. One assumption is that the human figures symbolize the planets, part of the religion of nature practiced here with a central place for the god Sin, the moon and the father of the gods. General knowledge so far relates Sogmatar directly to practices at Harran. Sogmatar could even have been Harran’s open-air temple.

After the cave, the road goes on to the hills. Poor houses are scattered around the place. Children approach to say hello. Do they not go to school? Yes they do, they say. They have a very old teacher and he is not giving lessons this afternoon. But there is a small building that forms the class room.

sogmatar

What should happen to these innocent children in the rather cruel environment of fundamentalists on the one side, and immense technological progress on the other? Can this half abandoned village prepare them for the world outside? I pass a goat, a dog and some garbage, to end up at the foot of a hill. On top of this hill lies the temple of the Sun or the central sacred hill (like in Harran, sources differ here so I can not give you precise information about what hill is what). The way to go up is rather easy, sport shoes would be nice but my boots with high heels do not create problems for the way up (and down).

Rock and earth, rock and earth: the higher one climbs the more impressive the view on the area becomes. Within ten minutes I arrive at the top of the hill. In front of me are new carvings made into the rocks of the hill, even better than the ones in the caves. Amazing: on top of this hill, for anyone to see and to visit, out in the open, a man and a woman are patiently looking at the new visitor. Maybe they didn’t see anybody for ages, but it could also be that I am visitor number 2 Million. However, the hills are totally deserted now, except of some villagers.

sogmatar
1 of 7 Sogmatar temple hills
sogmatar
1 of 7 Sogmatar temple hills

What I learned in my visit to Şanlıurfa – former byzantine town of Edessa – is that Syriac was a general language here. I always thought it was a religious language, used by minorities like the Syrian-Orthodox. However here it is found on mosaics, in Harran, and also here in Sogmatar where nothing indicates they ever heard about Christianity. It was in Syriac that astronomers studied their science, based on Syriac translations of old Greek texts of Aristotle and the like. It was in Syriac that they deployed their rituals towards the sun and the moon and the five planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury, each of them having their own temple on their own hill. From the hill of the temple of sun, all other hills are visible as you can see on the photographs.

sogmatar
another Sogmatar temple hill
sogmatar
another Sogmatar temple hill

Another hill that is visible on this picture (brown and green) looks like a place where excavations could be successful. I was told that some minor research was done on top of that hill and small stuff like coins were found there. One day, there will be archaeological excavations on this spot. It might be another Göbeklitepe. Let’s hope that whatever is under the surface will be safeguarded for future generations.

sogmatar

I pass the statues carved in the rock wall to go to the very top of the hill. The view is majestic. I imagine that it is night and that the sky shows all planets and stars in its full glory. There might not be a better location in Mesopotamia to watch than here. The builders of these temples either were Sabeans or were related to Sabeanism (see my other blog for uncertainties in sources about that). Holes in the top of the hill show that they had statues there, set upright by putting the smaller basis at the bottom of the statue into the hole. A man made basin indicates the spot where sacrifices were made.

sogmatar

More Syriac inscriptions are found on top of this hill. A translation: “I am Tridates, the son of Arab Governor Adona. I built this altar and pillar for Marelahe on February in 476, for the lives of my master King and his sons, for my father Adonna’s life, for my own life and for the lives of my siblings and my children”. The date of 476 written in the scripture means around 164-165 A.D. according to Seleucid calendar.

sogmatar

Technically speaking, there is ‘not so much to see’ here in Sogmatar. It is also not very old site, maybe 1800 years – not an impressive age in Mesopotamia. But for me, Sogmatar beats all other sites I visited in Şanlıurfa region for a reason I can not completely explain. I think one day I’d like to return and see what it feels like at night. Sogmatar echoes a lost religion of nature that survived much longer than generally known: most probably 800 to 1000 years after the introduction of Christianity and it had some kind of co-existence with Islam. Only the invasion of the Mongols put an end to this era.

sogmatar
sogmatar

On the way back to Şanlıurfa, I pass rock graves. Apparently, people did not just come here for religious and/or scientific practices but they also lived here. Stairs are leading into the rock graves that are empty. I look around, where did these people live? Wherever I look, the fields and hills are deserted except for the few houses close to the temples. The scenery does not reveal its secrets. It is in complete silence that I return to the city of Şanlıurfa – a very conservative-islam city where nothing echoes the lost religion of Sogmatar.

Interesting links, two blogs about Sogmatar:
http://unchartedruins.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-hall-of-records-temple-of-seven.html
http://www.sbresearchgroup.eu/Immagini/ReportfromSogmatar.pdf

To find your way in the region, read Traveling in Şanlıurfa


Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa has several mosaic masterpieces that were found at or close to the spot where the museum is located. The mosaics are relatively recent, dating from the 5th and 6th century AD in the time that Şanlıurfa was called Edessa. I liked especially the mosaic of the Amazons, fearlessly hunting ladies.

urfa 19th century villa
19th century Urfa House
urfa roman baths
Haleplibahce Roman Baths


Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa lies next to the Arkeoloji Müzesi, the archeological museum. On the other side it lies next to an old 19th century Urfa house and beyond that excavations of Roman baths, both on pictures above. On traffic signs pointing to touristic activities this museum complex is simply referred to as ‘Urfa Müzesi’, ignoring other museums because this is thé one – certainly the largest. Tickets for the Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa also go for the Arkeoloji Müzesi.

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa is a large round building. Paths have been made over and in between mosaics. This makes your visit a pleasant walk. As you can see, I was the only visitor: lots of possibilities to watch in detail. All mosaics found are local, deriving from byzantine Edessa: villas with mosaics were excavated on this spot, called Haleplibahce by locals.

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa
Orpheus Mosaic, only/oldest one dating from 194 AD. Once smuggled out of the country and recently given back by Dallas Museum.

Like the Arkeoloji Müzesi, extra room on the floor is left for future findings that will certainly be done. In 2013, new pieces were added to the museum.There were three things I particularly liked. One is that the mosaic stones that reportedly derive from the river Euphrate, are much smaller than in mosaics elsewhere. This turns the mosaics in very fine representations. The best artists must have been at work here!

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa
Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa

Two is the mosaic of the Amazons, the warrior women from ancient myths that are depicted here while fighting with predators like the lion on the picture. This mosaic was discovered quite recently, in 2007. On the wall the museum shows the mosaic as it must have been when it was complete. A great piece!

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa

Three is the ‘zebra whisperer’: the representation of a servant with a zebra. I found that strikingly beautiful and unique in its kind.

To finish, a mosaic with syriac inscriptions, particular for this region only:

Mosaic Museum Şanlıurfa
Mosaic with Syriac inscriptions, general language in byzantine Edessa

Follow this link for more info about the mosaics of this museum (in Turkish)

Read here about Mosaic Museum Bardo in Tunis

And here about mosaics of Agias Trias Basilica in Cyprus

Archaeological Museum Şanlıurfa

archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Archaeological Museum Şanlıurfa is unique, as it contains the artefacts found in Göbeklitepe, the oldest temple complex ever found (for example way older than the pyramids in Egypt). It is a very rich museum simply because the region is so rich in archaeological findings. All objects shown are ‘local’ and absolutely unique. Moreover, good efforts were made to make historical moments come alive for the visitor. Signs are both in Turkish and English and they offer excellent information.

archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Archaeological Museum Şanlıurfa in its actual form is brand new (opened in 2015). The museum is large and its space gives a relaxed feeling to visitors. It is almost as if they left lots of space for new objects to come, which will certainly be the case. Unfortunately in this region, several dams were built covering the world’s oldest sites in water (Atatürk Dam, Birecik Dam, Kargamış Dam). There is a clear conflict of interest between conservation of archaeological areas and modern development issues – in that conflict, under actual Turkish politics modern development comes out as the winner. ‘Rescue excavations’ have been made regularly, often under supervision of the Archaeological Museum Şanlıurfa. Artefacts and other findings that could be ‘rescued’ are shown in this museum. All the rest is gone now, maybe to reappear one day from under the water, maybe lost for good.

archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

A ticket for the Archaeological Museum
Şanlıurfa also gives entrance to the Mosaic Museum next to it and vice versa. Anyway you won’t avoid these museums for the price (only € 2,- when I visited December 2018). I will show you some highlights here about things I liked; be aware there is a lot more to see! A visit absolutely recommended…

archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

The oldest statue in the world, found in Urfa center. I thought I saw the oldest statue in Amman Archaeological Museum but this one is older indeed. The figure has a clear expression, maybe because of the black obsidian eyes. At the bottom, it is smaller; most probably the was put into a hole in for example the rocks (like in Sogmatar) to stand upright.





archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

A unique, astonishing picture of a woman giving birth, 10.000 years ago. It was found in Göbeklitepe. Other findings and the temple exposition of that site are mentioned in my blog about Göbeklitepe, a reason in itself to visit this museum.



archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Statues that mix human heads and animals, found in Nevali Ҫori, one of the sites now lost in the water. I found it astonishing that 10.000 years ago, humans were able to make statues like this.





archaeological museum Şanlıurfa
archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Clay nails to form mosaic pictures. You see here the nails, and an example of how pictures were made by putting them in the wall. They could be painted in different colors after that, too. They are from the Uruk culture, 4th milennium BC.

archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Pottery from the Bronze Age, depicting a gate / tower. I saw this after my visit to Harran and I stood there in surprise: doesn’t this pottery resemble the Aleppo Gate I went through? I told myself the gate in Harran is more recent in age but still….



archaeological museum Şanlıurfa
archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Lovely Bronze Age terracotta. Nice animals, and a stamp seal; never saw such a stamp seal before. The museum has different types.

archaeological museum Şanlıurfa

Statue with Syriac inscriptions, Roman age. Syriac was the common language during a long time in Şanlıurfa, called Edessa in biblical and Byzantine times. The inscription says: “This sculpture is Şamașyahb’s son Lișammaș. His brother, Barnay, made it for him. Who destroys this, will be punished by [the god] Sin”.