Royal Tombs like Homer’s Iliad

royal tombs

Royal Tombs dating from the 8th and 7th century BC can be found in Northern Cyprus. The burial practices offer a good insight into ancient rituals just like Homer described them in the Iliad. However, it is more the knowledge about the Royal Tombs than the visit to the tombs themselves that is interesting.

royal tombs
royal tombs

Homer describes in the Iliad how kings and other noble personages were buried. His words are confirmed by the discoveries at the Royal Tombs in Northern Cyprus, although there are also archaeological theories about Homer being first to tell and invent and then the rituals on Cyprus following his epic narrative.

It is easy to find the Royal Tombs. If you go to the grave or the monastery of Saint Barnabas, north of Gazimagusa / Famagusta, you will see them along the road in the fields. Most objects found are in the Cyprus Museum in the South of the Island; I have not been there yet but it seems interesting as findings include chariots, a throne, incense burners, ivory objects, bronze horse bits and decorated breast plates, pottery and amphorae that contained oil and wine. Kings were buried with lots of grave goods.

royal tombs horse skeleton

On the location of the Royal Tombs however, only the stone buildings of the graves remain as well as the skeletons of horses: try to see one behind the glass on the picture (left). I am not sure if the glass ‘protection’ is helpful; most of them were so humid on the inside that it was impossible to see anything or take pictures. How can a humid glass house be protective for such old remains? My visit was December 2018; maybe it is dryer and more clear in summertime.

Burial in the era of the 8th and 7th century BC did not just come with the above mentioned grave goods but also with sacrifice of horses, donkeys and even humans. Archaeological research only started in the ’60ies here and gave a wealth of information. Whoever thought that Homer just made up his stories in the Iliad, found out that his description of burial practices was very accurate (unless you support the theory that the rituals were only shaped under the influence of Homer’s stories).

royal tombs
royal tombs
royal tombs 50

Most probably (part of) the Royal Tombs were used during many ages. Saint Catherine’s Tomb, number 50, for example, had a chapel on top that dated from the 4rd century BC. Archaeological research in the ’60ies revealed that the chapel was built on a tomb dating from a thousand years earlier than the 4th century chapel. By the way, the chapel was used for Saint Catherine’s veneration even in 1950 BC! So this location was special to many people during at least 2600 years…

cellarga graves
cellarga mezarlik

Not everybody could afford a Royal Tomb. Next to the Royal Tombs lies a necropolis of hundreds, or even thousands of graves. Just like the nearby ancient city of Salamis and the nearby Bronze Age city of Enkomi, only a minor part of the fields have been unearthed. What has been excavated, shows us tombs people could go to by steps downstairs that were cut in the rocks. Large stones sealed the entrances of the burial chambers that were used almost continuously from 700 BC until 400 AD.

Cellarka necropolis
necropolis of cellarga

The picture on the right shows the immense fields with so much left to excavate. Further on you can see the grave and monastery of Saint Barnabas between the trees. Next to the chapel of Saint Barnabas’ grave there are also findings of burial chambers. Maybe that is just ‘the other end’ of the same necropolis….

cellarga necropolis

Like the Royal Tombs, there is not so much ‘to be seen’ here. Nevertheless in the same time it is an exciting experience to stand there and oversee the place and consider that all you see might have been part of an immense necropolis, used during more than 10 centuries by hundreds of thousands of people. Neither in the nearby cities of Salamis (blog will follow) or Enkomi nor at the Royal Tombs or Cellarga necropolis any excavation took place since 1974: the year that Cyprus was split in a Turkish and a Greek side. But nothing stops you from visiting the sites already now: you can feel the vibe of Homer’s Iliad here quite clearly!

Huis van Hilde – Hilde’s House

Huis van Hilde

Huis van Hilde, in english Hilde’s House, ‘is home to a spectacular exhibition of the archaeology and human history of Noord-Holland’: thus the introduction of the museum website. Nothing in these words is exagerated. Huis van Hilde is a fascinating museum where old findings are combined with new technologies in a way I didn’t see before in archaeological museums. That makes your visit a high quality experience!

Heavy fighting of the people of Holland with the people of Westfrisia in 1297 has left traces in bones that were found in the medieval village of Vronen, close to actual Alkmaar. They prove that the fighting was not just about winning but also about setting an example, learning the Westfrisians a lesson once and for all. Traces of stabbing with swords show the cruelties committed.

Huis van Hilde - slag bij Vronen

That history is the first thing you see when you enter the museum part of Huis van Hilde. It is intriguing to learn that in the 13th century there were both women and men in the fight. Every artefact shown in Huis van Hilde can easily be looked up in the tablets: this really opens a complete collection without being boring (if you’re not interested, you just don’t look into it).

huis van hilde

Screens on the walls show videos with more historic background or archaeological research. Findings of skeletons are used to bring people back to life, like the Archaeological Museum of Haarlem had done. The skeleton on the left here belonged to a man from the stone age (2500BC). The picture below shows the man as he must have looked in real life.

huis van hilde man uit steentijd


Models of farms show how people lived during different ages. And so on. Huis van Hilde is a very rich museum and very capable too: they know how to show you their treasures.
Languages used are Dutch, English and German; the tablets are Dutch only but very clear, you might be able to understand stuff.
I can only show some of the artefacts I liked here: there is a lot more to see. Artefacts I liked:

Two wooden canoes
Found in the soil of Noord-Holland.

On top is a canoe from Uitgeest 600 BC

Below is a canoe from the Wieringermeer polder 3300 BC.

huis van hilde sacrifice and ritual

Sacrifice and ritual
Very interesting objects found in a sacrificial site at Velserbroek.
During ages, starting at Iron Age, people threw objects in the bog such as jewelry, human bones, coins and pots.
The presence of animal skulls – horses and dogs – and spearheads indicate worship of the Germanic god Wodan.

Huis van Hilde - flutes

Flutes
Amazing to find a flute and a pan flute in the vitrines. The flute was found in Broek op Langedijk. It was made out of the ulnar of a crane. Information in the tablet says that flutes in this part of Europe go back to 36.000 years, but this one is from 0-300AD. The pan flute is made out of boxwood. Only 4 pan flutes were found in Europe and this one from Uitgeest is in the best condition. It was probably imported from the Mediterranean 150-250AD.

A simple beauty, this bell from 450 – 750 AD
huis van hilde - boot
Women’s boot, goat leather, 13nd century
Two great sarcophagi 1100-1200 AD from a city lost in the water – and the story of their finding and lifting from the water on video
huis van hilde dagger
And what about this stone dagger

How to get there
Huis van Hilde in the village of Castricum has easy access. Officially coming by car is not encouraged but you can find enough parking spots at walking distance from the museum. Coming by train is indeed very easy: Huis van Hilde lies right next to the trainstation of Castricum. From Amsterdam Central Station, a train leaves every 20 minutes; traveling time is 25 minutes (from Alkmaar, trains also leave every 20 minutes and traveling time is 10 minutes).

Huis van Hilde
huis van hilde depot figures
The depot in figures: impressive!

You may like other blogs I wrote about archaeological museums:

Archaeological Museum Haarlem
Archaeological Museum Amman
Archaeological Museum Gaziantep
Archaeological Museum Şanlıurfa
Museum of Art and Archaeology of the Périgord

Panagia Tochniou Monastery – Northern Cyprus Heritage (23)

panagia toxniou

Panagia Tochniou Monastery or in Turkish, the Bulușa Manastırı lies in a beautiful spot of the Kyrenia mountains in Northern Cyprus. An high Cypress Tree that is 500 years old serves as a wishing tree. The place is deserted and peaceful when I arrive there.

panagia toxniou

Panagia Tochniou Monastery is in a better state than I expected when the locals of the village Agıllar (in Greek: Mandres) showed me the way, complaining that heritage is left abandoned and that nobody takes care of it. Panagia Tochniou Monastery lies at only 3 kilometers distance of Agıllar; follow the tarmac, you do not need to go over unpaved roads even if your map tells you so. The first 2,5 kilometers you think you will end up in the middle of nowhere with nothing to see. 

panagia toxniou

Then suddenly a great view opens in front of you: tree, monastery, fields and the Troodos mountains far away. The Cypress Tree is said to be 500 years old and 15 or 18 meters high. It was bigger once upon a time but it was struck by lightning and is now hanging over like the tower of Pisa.
The tree is full of little papers and cloths symbolizing visitor’s wishes: may they all become true!
Large iron rods protect the tree from falling: a merciful act accomplished by English inhabitants, a local in Agıllar told me.

panagia toxniou
panagia toxniou

The church of the
Panagia Tochniou Monastery is not in a too bad shape. I have seen a lot worse in Northern Cyprus (for example Antiphonitis, Sourp Magar, Agios Pandeleimon).
Panagia Tochniou dates from the 12th or 13th century: Find more details about that and a recent restauration here.

panagia toxniou

Inside, some traces of frescoes can be found in the dome and in arches. The tomb in the north wall seems to be the founder’s tomb.

panagia toxniou

In front of the church is a courtyard with buildings around it. On one side they are intact. You can enter the rooms that are empty. The view from the windows is spectacular. How on earth did they find this kind of spots in the middle ages to build their monasteries? Well done, for sure!

panagia toxniou

There is not a lot left from the other buildings around the courtyard of Panagia Tochniou but a look around is interesting. I saw several different marble pillars that are certainly not medieval. Most probably they took them from the ruins of nearby Salamis, an ancient city that thrived for over 1200 years until it was destroyed by the Arabs in the 7th century.

panagia toxniou

On a visit in 2012, a reporter from the local newspaper described the place as a total mess (you can read it here in Turkish, quite funny) where nobody ever picks up the garbage, but when I visited Panagia Tochniou Monastery (December 2018) it was clean. And peaceful, most of all. A beautiful place.

Find the Panagia Tochniou Monastery on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sinir-Üstü-Buluşa-Manastırı/312056435663223

Agios Mamas Agıllar – Northern Cyprus Heritage (22)

Agios Mamas Agıllar

Agios Mamas Agıllar lies in a small village of just a few hundred inhabitants, called Agıllar in Turkish and in Greek: Mandres. Nobody looks after the church. In the village, there are tensions between Turkish Cypriots and Turcs. My visit was more interesting for the meeting with the locals than for the church Agios Mamas Agıllar.

agios mamas church

Agios Mamas Agıllar is an abandoned church taken over by the pigeons after being used as a mosque for many years. It took me quite some time to find the name of this church and now that I have the name, I still haven’t got a clue how old it is. Feel free to comment below if you have information about this church, that would be interesting.

agios mamas Agıllar

I met a local who felt uneasy about the state of the church: ‘our municipality should care more but they do nothing’. I wondered, is it not the Greek-Cypriot religious authority that is responsible here? But he was sure, ‘no, for general maintenance the municipality is responsible’. Well, in that case they surely lack in task execution…

Agıos Mamas Agıllar

The only thing about the church that struck me was the fact that it still has a clock. Usually clocks are removed as soon as churches are turned into mosques. Maybe they did remove the Agios Mamas clock but kept it in a safe place and put it back when they did no longer use Agios Mamas Agıllar as a mosque.

agios mamas Agıllar

Agios Mamas Agıllar was maybe not that interesting for a simple tourist like me but the meeting with the locals was. A conversation that started in the streets of Agıllar soon ended in the local cafe La Marina, a century old house that had the traditional shape many houses had before they were broken down by the Turcs who came to live here. Indeed it is a beautiful place with nice arches and a wooden roof. Tea and cakes were offered by the Turkish-Cypriot inhabitants.

Agıllar

They told about the existing tensions between themselves as Cypriots and the mainland Turcs who had come to live in Agıllar and now form the majority. One of the Turkish Cypriots worked in the Greek South where he tried to learn Greek and his colleagues Turkish because they have a deep Cypriot desire to understand each other and share a common culture again.

Agıllar local cafe

Almost by accident I find out that there must be an old monastery nearby, nowadays called the Bulușa Manastırı, the Bulușa monastery. Again it took some time to find the real name that appeared to be the Panagia Tochniou Monastery. A local explains that it is abandoned just like the church. That makes him angry. Next to the monastery stands an old and precious tree that might be falling down. Who takes care of the tree? Not the Turkish Cypriots, nor the Greek Cypriots. They are worthless and do nothing for preservation. It is the English who safeguard the tree. Isn’t that a shame?! I do not know how to answer to this tirade of a Turkish Cypriot and nod silently. Whether I talk with Greek or with Turkish Cypriots: it always seems to be someone else’s responsability…
I must see this monastery for myself, that is clear. The goodbye is with warm greetings and an invitation to come again. Plus indications for the road to the monastery that is a few kilometers off the road.

Agıllar, just a few hundred inhabitants with a Turkish Cypriot minority compared to Turkish mainlanders. Warm hearted and visionary in different aspects of the word: worth your visit, especially if you speak enough Turkish to exchange ideas on a profound level with the locals.

You may also like these blogs about abandoned churches in Northern Cyprus:
https://grethevangeffen.nl/2018/01/16/agios-nikolaos-limnia/
https://grethevangeffen.nl/2015/12/25/agios-mamas-church/ > church with the same name as this blog but in Bahceli
https://grethevangeffen.nl/2011/07/29/gaidhouras/

Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa

Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa, in Turkish ‘Kurtuluș Müzesi’, was closed when I got there but a most friendly guard let me in anyway. There are few visitors for the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa and certainly not tourists from outside Turkey. Apart from the museum I also had a look at the Müslüm Gürses Museum, the museum for a very successful musician from Şanlıurfa – and at the joyful museum cat Keto…

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa

Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa houses in an old complex (1903) consisting of several traditional and beautiful Urfa houses around a court. One house is the Freedom Museum. The room of the museum is very beautiful, look at the glass works on the picture above. There is also the Folk Art or Folk Music Museum (didn’t see it) and the Müslüm Gürses Museum. As it had been raining a lot in the period before my arrival, there had been serious leakages at the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa. All guns and rifles were removed from the showcases and the museum was closed. A very friendly Turkish-speaking guard took his key and let me in anyway.

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa

In one corner, the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa shows a circle of men deliberating about the coming war of freedom. ‘Only men?’, I asked the guard in Turkish and I explained him that the War Museum Gaziantep also showed the role of women and children. The guard laughed, ‘no not here’, he said, ‘there is no role for women and children here, only men’. Nothing was politically correct in his words and that was refreshing.

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa

Like Gaziantep (‘Antep’), Şanlıurfa (‘Urfa’) played a major role in the freedom war 1919-1923 after Turkey had been defeated in the 1st World War. After this war, western powers divided Turkey. Turkey’s South with cities like Antep and Urfa were supposed to be under French rule. But they resisted, under the guidance of Atatürk who later founded the ‘new’ Turkish state. The Christians were fighting on the side of the French and they were hated for that. Why did the Christians do that? During the 1st World War, Antep and Urfa were a direct witness and probably also an actor to the terrible fate of the Armenians and other Christians: 1,5 Millions lost their life. Complete neighbourhoods lost their inhabitants. Like in Gaziantep, there is not a single reference to this part of history. It all starts with the war of freedom 1919-1923.

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa

Atatürk reportedly asked the leaders of Şanlıurfa to wait for a certain moment to be indicated by him to join the fight against the French. But in the scene depicted in the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa, the leaders decided to start fighting anyway. They did not wait for Atatürk’s orders and joined the fight. Their contribution was so heroic that Atatürk granted the title ‘Şanlı’ = ‘glorious’ to Urfa. From then on, Urfa’s name became Şanlıurfa.

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa

There are some photographs in the Freedom Museum Şanlıurfa. The guard showed me his great-great-great-grandfather’s picture, here on the left. Historically, the museum offers little information and the few infos given are in Turkish only. Maybe it’s more interesting when the objects removed from the showcases are there again. What I liked about this museum is the impression of the ‘couleur locale’ it gave. The guard stressed that I would have a look in the Müslüm Gürses Müzesi, now that I was there anyway – so I did. A happy and jumpy young cat, Keto, followed us.

Kurtuluș Müzesi Şanlıurfa
May I introduce myself? KETO
müslüm gürses müzesi
müslüm gürses müzesi
müslüm gürses müzesi

While I watched clothes, LP’s, tapes, books and instruments that had belonged to Müslüm Gürses who died a few years ago, museum cat Keto hid behind one of the closets and the guard was busy to get him out. The guard was unsuccessful and decided to close the door of the museum anyway when I left. However clever Keto took an enormous jump and came out just in time, to run past us into the courtyard. The guard laughed and so did I. Cat lovers always find common ground, world wide.

müslüm gürses müzesi

The guard offered me a cup of tea. He did not want any money for his efforts as he was paid by the government already – very much like the guard of the kastel I visited in Gaziantep. He told me the government is a good and reliable boss; much better than the private sector in Şanlıurfa where workers regularly have to wait for their wages to be paid. Well the government certainly does something good when it creates honest and friendly employees that show Urfa’s best face to visitors. Thanks!

Read here about the opening of the Müslüm Gürses Museum in 2013

Churches in Şanlıurfa

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Churches in Şanlıurfa are remainders of a different past when Christians and Muslims lived together in this region. All three churches that I visited are mosques now but it is still possible to see that they were churches before. Few locals speak English. If you speak Turkish (or Arab), locals explain you without any problem what they know about the history of the buildings.

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Fırfırlı Church

Where are the Jews and the Christians, I asked in Gaziantep one year before my visit to Şanlıurfa. Locals felt embarrassed to answer and in the end of the day I found out that a painful history of the ‘80ies made them careful to speak out. Şanlıurfa has its own history. If you mention the word ‘Jew’ here, faces go blank. Jews is rather something from the time of Sogmatar, long gone, far away, non-existent. ‘Jew’ is not a word that I could hear anyone pronounce in Şanlıurfa. 

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former St Stephen Church

As for Christians, locals do remember them but I could not find anyone to go into detail about why they are not here any more. Like Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa played a major role in the freedom war 1919-1923 after Turkey had been defeated and divided in the 1st World War. In 1924 the Christians of Urfa migrated to Aleppo. The neighbourhoods they left are still recognizable in style. It is also where the former churches are found. For the history of the churches in Şanlıurfa I visited, the responses are unanimous: already in the ‘50ies, the churches in Şanlıurfa were long deserted and in an neglected state. I met no one who spoke about a period earlier than the ‘50ies.

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Fırfırlı Church
Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Fırfırlı Church

My first visit was to Fırfırlı Cami, the former Armenian-Protestant Fırfırlı Church dating from the 11th century. Fırfırlı is a nickname, used because of the sound of the whispering wind here. The original name was Church of the 12 Apostles. It must have been a big complex and still has a nice court. Many details both inside and outside were added in the 1956 restauration to turn the church into a mosque. Local opinions differed about the question which details were or were not original when I asked so you have to guess a bit yourself.

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Fırfırlı Church, now guesthouse
Churches in Şanlıurfa
Traces of mosaics
Churches in Şanlıurfa
Entrance underground tunnel

Part of the complex is now a guesthouse. Upon request, they will show you around for a few minutes. There are traces of the mosaic floor that lay here originally. Interesting is also the entrance of a tunnel that goes all the way to the Kale, the castle, as an escape road for people living in the castle when they were under siege.

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Church of St Peter and St Paul
Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former Church of St Peter and St Paul

After the Fırfırlı Cami, I went to the Reji Kilisesi, the former Syriani Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was made in 1861 on the ruins of a church dating from the 6th century. When Urfa’s Christians migrated to Aleppo in 1924, the Reji Kilisesi was used as a tobacco factory and grape store by the board of excise = régie in French. Documents and sepulchral monuments were moved to the Urfa Museum (not sure what museum is meant, I did not see them in the Arkeoloji Müzesi – maybe I was just obsessed by the great antiquities there). Apparently the church was restaured with European money and is therefor not allowed to change it into a mosque or put a minaret on it. It is used as a kind of community house. Have a look inside to see. Also the courtyard – photo on top of this blog – is worth your attention.

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former St Stephanos Church

The third former church I visited was the Ulu Cami. A sign at the entrance tells us that the Saint Stephen Church was built on the remains of a synagogue in the 5th century. In the 12th century it was transformed into a Mosque, first called the Red Mosque because of the red marble used. The octogonal tower originally belonged to the church and now serves as the mosque’s minaret. I asked if I could visit the mosque at the inside. Alas that was only possible through the women’s prayer room – not so much a ‘do-as-you-like’ mosque here… And that was very disappointing.

Churches in Şanlıurfa
Former St Stephanos Church

The women’s prayer room is completely separated from the general mosque. It is very ugly from the point of view architecture: how to ruin the beauty of the past…! Moreover, it felt like a second or even third class place to pray. Women here litterally pray against a gypsum wall, locked up in their own space. I did not stay long, strongly regretting religious practices that offend women to such an extent.

courtyard Ulu Cami

So far my search for churches in Şanlıurfa. A local told me that there are still some Christians in Şanlıurfa and that they live a completely hidden life. The score on Christian-friendliness of Şanlıurfa is certainly lower than in other Turkish cities: not for incidental visitors who temporarily adapt to basic rules. But for those who live here, circumstances are (very) unfavorable.

Link to detailed (technical) info on every aspect of the Ulu Cami (in Turkish)

Follow this link for more info and photographs of the Fırfırlı Church: scroll down to see a great picture of the Armenian community in the church in 1919.

You may also like these blogs:
Abraham’s cave of birth
Balikli Göl: the sacred fish pond

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”.

Göbeklitepe: zero point in time

göbeklitepe

The oldest temple complex ever discovered in the world so far is Göbeklitepe in the hills of Mesopotamia. Findings date from 12.000 – 9.500 BC. Who’d ever guessed that mankind already had this type of constructions thousands of years before the pyramids of Egypt were built? That is why Göbeklitepe is called ‘zero point in time’.
Visiting Göbeklitepe was on top of my list when I traveled to Șanliurfa, south of Turkey. There is so much to discover here! A big part of the research field has not been unearthed yet. Archaeological work will extend until 20 to 30 years from now, at least. Every inch of this field contains neolitic artefacts.

göbeklitepe

It was well-prepared that I arrived in Göbeklitepe. I read everything, I had seen many photographs. The only surprise was the weather. I travelled 6000 kilometers to find myself in terrible storm-like weather circumstances. The locals were shivering even more than I was. They stayed inside, protected from an icecold wind that brought horizontal gusts of rain soaking you whatever clothing you’d wear. What to do?

göbeklitepe

I went to the building down the hill, next to the parking place. An extra ticket of five lira gave access to a room with an audiovisual representation. Some kind of vague movie about neolitic times was shown: images ran over the walls and floor, while loud music rolled over the only spectator present. It was a dazzling experience and certainly not the most interesting part of the visit. But well, once you traveled 6000 kilometers you want to see everything to prevent missing out.

göbeklitepe

I left the building and stepped into the small bus, sponsored by the Dogus Group. Nothing about the weather had changed, so I accepted my fate. After a one, two kilometer ride to the top of the hill, the bus stopped. I saw a small museum shop but it was closed. All I could do was walk to the temples of Göbeklitepe through heavy wind and rain, so I did and arrived at a spectacular spot.

göbeklitepe

Fortunately there was a roof that stopped at least most of the rain. But the photographs I made are rather misty as the wind blew the clouds over the temples anyway. Four temples lay in front of me and it was most impressive. Especially the age, from 9.600 to 12.000 BC is unimaginable. How did neolithic humans make five meter high stèles to stand upright? Two stèles in the middle, twelve stones surrounding them.

göbeklitepe

Later, I visited the Șanliurfa Arkeoloji Müzesi where they rebuilt the largest temple found. They made it so that you can walk into the temple, an impression that makes you silent. On Göbeklitepe you look at the remains of the real temple, from above. In the museum, you experience what neolithic people have experienced when they entered the site. If you decide to make your way to Șanliurfa, I recommend that you visit both sites because it will make your experience complete.

göbeklitepe

Many animal carvations are seen on the stones, like a fox, birds, snakes. The neolithic era is considered as the time when mankind went from a hunting and nomad existence to a residential and agricultural existence. One theory says Göbeklitepe was not about religion but about domesticizing animals: people were trying to find out which animals could or couldn’t be domesticized, and that was the purpose of these buildings and the animal carvings in the rocks. It is a theory that does not explain the specific placement and number of the stones. However, we know nothing about eventual religious practices in that era so calling Göbeklitepe ‘temples’ is an uncertain theory as well. We just do not know.

göbeklitepe
göbeklitepe



An interesting stone is also this one. On the left above you see the on-site version and on the right the museum version that is a copy but clearer because there was no mist when I took the photograph 😊. The idea is that the round ball is a head and – like other natural human burial/after death traditions – that the head of dead people was given to birds to be ‘cleaned’. Think of the way Persian Zoroasters dealt with dead bodies.

göbeklitepe

I loved walking around the Göbeklitepe temples, even though I almost froze. A class with school kids visited as well. Some were super concentrated when a guide explained them where they had arrived, others felt clearly miserable… The teachers looked so motivated, it was great to see. I saw groups of schoolchildren with enthusiast teachers almost on every location of heritage in Șanliurfa – so good that they invest in that! Of course a bit of nice weather helps to get the message across to the kids…

göbeklitepe

On the way back to the bus, I passed some other excavated carved stèles that apparently could not be protected yet. They were packed in wood against weather circumstances, not a superfluous measure.


göbeklitepe
göbeklitepe

I also saw new excavation sites, one uncovered – you can see how they divide the area in helpful squares – one covered by a large roof: I hope that roof allows them to continue the work because in the weather circumstances I passed through, that would be impossible.

Last but not least, I like to show you some pictures of animal statues found at Göbeklitepe and exposed in the Șanliurfa Arkeoloji Müzesi. How wonderful that in a very early era, these statues were already made by humans. For me, the most attractive point of Göbeklitepe was the continuous awareness that this site and all its artefacts form a zero point in time!

göbeklitepe
göbeklitepe
göbeklitepe

You may also like: Archaeological Museum Gaziantep: ‘just’ local stuff

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past (2)

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Harran: nonsense with traces from the real past…
From the mound of Harran, many characteristic beehive houses can be seen as well as the castle of Harran. They lie in complete peace. Nothing seems to happen here. Farther away, over the border with Syria, smoke clouds rise from the fields. Is somebody making a fire? Or is that because of the war in Northern Syria?
I decide to follow the path from the mound of Harran down to the beehive houses and the castle of Harran.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

While making a short tour of the quarter, I walk into a group of young men. One of them wears a most trendy hoody from Amsterdam. ‘Hey’, I ask him, ‘are you from Amsterdam?’ He is not, he is from Harran, but he already went eleven times to Amsterdam. He loves it. Another guy comes forward out of the group. ‘I am a tourist guide. I will show you around’, he announces. He sends the other young men away with the words: ‘I have to work now’. So I found myself a guide or better to say: the guide found me.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past
Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Together we walk around the castle. Entering the castle is not possible because it needs to be restored. It happens that stones fall down so tourists are no longer allowed inside. Or is this the usual ‘it is dangerous’ argument? The castle appears to be a crusader-construction but my new guide tells that it is much older. Even Abraham and his wife Sara had or made a room in the castle and influenced the building of extra parts. I find that remarkable as Abraham was a nomad and lived in tents. To be honest, I think I am told quite some humbug. Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past in it… Certainly the castle is built on a place that was used before: it has a very old history and indeed maybe Abraham and Sara’s footsteps left some prints there.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Again, like in my first blog about Harran, it is difficult to find information that confirms different versions about the making of the castle. Some sources say the castle was made by Byzantines and strengthened by Crusaders; others say it was built by Fatimids in the 11th and Saladin in the 12th century.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

It seems that in the 8th century, when Marwan II turned the temple of Sin at the Harran university into a mosque, he permitted the Sabeans to create a new temple at the location of the actual castle: apparently the castle was built on the rests of the temple. The octogenal tower in that scenario derives from the previous temple of Sin. Surely the castle is a spot where interesting archaeological research remains to be done.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past


After the visit of the castle, we walk to the tourist house that allows visitors to see the beehive-structure from the inside. Beehive houses are all around in this area and specific for Harran. The special shape of the roof makes the house cool in the hot summers of Harran and warm in the cold winters.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

All kind of local products can be bought at the tourist house. I drink a tea with my guide and hear about other possibilities to enjoy the region. Every spot is history here, there is no doubt about it. Do not believe everything that is told about it, and remember there is nevertheless some truth in these stories. Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past…

You may also like the blog about the open air temples of Sogmatar, a site not far from Harran and related to it’s religious practices.

To find your way in the region, read info and tips about Traveling in Şanlıurfa

Harran: nothing to see!? (1)

harran

In the middle of the wide, flat plain 40 kilometers south of Şanlıurfa lies Harran. It is confirmed that this Harran is indeed the place where Abraham went when God told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, as the bible book Genesis tells us. Therefor I had to go there and experience it! Moreover, Harran has ruins of a medieval islamic university: a period when Islam prospered in combination with science. People warned me ‘there is nothing left to see’ but I love places without anything to see. So I found myself in fields where nomads seem to live the way Abraham did as a nomad 4000 years ago, overlooking empty plains far into Syria.

Harran Aleppo gate

The dolmuș that brings you from Urfa to Harran stops where the four kilometer long city walls of ancient Harran begin. Some parts of the walls have recently been restaured, more restauration projects will follow. The walls are impressive. I passed the gate of Aleppo, the only gate that remained from the originally six gates (opening the road to Anatolia, Arslanli, Mosul, Baghdad, and Raqqa). In front of me lay a long road going over a hill. Far away on the left, the shade of a tower that could be the spectacular leftover of the medieval university, renowned and successful for hundreds of years.

harran

Up the hill were active excavations in what is called the ‘mound of Harran’. It has a 9000 year old history and thousands of artefacts were already found. Spectacular are the Stèlès from the 6th century BC that are exposed in the Archaeological Museum of Şanlıurfa; look at the pictures and imagine them here in this spot, overlooking the plains.

6th century BC steles found in mound of Harran, exposed in Arkeoloji Müzesi Șanliurfa
tumulus

Today’s Harran is a small provincial city but it had a central place in early history during thousands of years. Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ayyubids, Ummayads: Harran was a mighty town for many different powers, until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century.

harran tumulus

It never recovered from that and did not regain its central position in the middle-eastern history.
Harran is only 15 kms away from Syria and some actual (December 2018) hotspots in the Syrian war. But Harran is totally quiet. People here fear more an inner war in Şanlıurfa region than a possible attack from Syrian groups to Turkey (‘they do not dare that because we will fight and die for our country’). Read more about these tensions in this blog.

harran

It is true there is not so much ‘to see’ here but the visitor walks over grounds of 9000 years of civilisation and that is a great experience in itself! Moreover the idea that Abraham was here, and his father Thera, his wife Sara and other members of his family. It is an experience not to be missed and a feel of ancient times that brings history closer to understanding.

harran

I followed the path and came to the site of Harran university. It was closed for restauration purposes but I could still have a good impression of the enormity of the complex. Although this university is usually presented as an islamic achieval, it was already active as a study center during many centuries before the arrival of islam.

harran

Harran was originally the core centre of the worship of Sin, with a central place for the god moon and practices in following the sun, moon and planets. Sciences like astronomy were well developed and early Greek works like Aristotle had been translated to Syriac, local language. These efforts opened the Greek world to Arabs later on and it made the rule of the Abbasids flourish, a period called the islamic golden age.

harran tower

Under pressure of the Ummayid caliph Marwan II in 744 the local pagan scientists called themselves Sabeans as this was a religion accepted by islam. Thus they escaped accusations of paganism and possible penalties like exile and hanging. Sabeanism seem to have had the worship of Sin but that was also the religion originally practiced in Harran. Stories are contradictory here, I could not find out what was the difference between the old practicesin Harran and the Sabean practices accepted under islam pressure. Some say it was about cruel blood offers of young people that had to be abolished under islam, but I could not find formal sources for that. The same goes for the story that Sabeans had adopted a ‘book’ – the Corpus Hermeticum – to be accepted by islam.

harran ruins

Most probably the Sabeans are related to the Mandaeans, a now Iraqi minority that lives in the marshes between the Euphrate and Tigris – they might even be descendants of Sabeans who had to flee when islamic religious pressure became too strong to uphold their own religious practices. Today Sabeanism a ‘religion of nature’ that survives in Turkey, though very much underground, waiting for better days to come.

harran

I was surprised to discover that.12th century traveller Ibn Jubayr places the location of the temple of Sin originally on the spot of the university. The tower that in modern literature is described as an islamic built minaret belonging to the mosque built here in the 7th century, is the only left over of that temple. Turkish sources deny that but it is probably true. Anyway ‘stories’ seem to flourish more in Harran than well researched facts. I found Harran a place where there is still a clash of different ideas, although rather hidden than outspoken. The people who warned me ‘there is nothing left to see’ were right and still I am very happy I went there – Harran in all its desertion influenced my perspective as much as Urfa did.

harran dolmus stop

How to go to Harran
I had a lot of trouble finding out how to get in Harran without taxi so I explain it for you here if you like to go. There is a dolmuș going to and from Harran every 15 minutes until 17.30. In Şanlıurfa it starts in the new Otogar that lies outside the center (1 hour walk but there are city-busses and dolmuș-busses on that road). Upstairs are the intercity busses, downstairs the dolmuș-busses like the one to Harran. You can also go to the Nevali Hotel, a high building visible from far away. Follow the (car) road sign to Harran, just 50 meters and that is a spot where the dolmuș stops, right in front of the ‘Urfa Anadolu Lisesi’ sign on the picture above. There is no bus-stop sign but if you lift your hand when you see it coming, it stops anyway. It takes about 1,5 hours to go (as the driver looks for passengers) and 1 hour to return. In Harran, it drops you off at walking distance from the antiquities.

Read also part 2: Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past