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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
You may like other blogs I wrote about archaeological museums:
Shoplifters is a movie about purity of characters and personalities. I didn’t know I like Japanese movies but now I know. Shoplifters is a wonderful work of art. If you do not know whether you like Japanese movies, go there – because you do like them. You certainly like Shoplifters.
Shoplifters starts with the ‘finding’ of a little girl, a 4 or 5 year old kid that is suffering from violence in her family. She is happy to go with her finders and live in their place. It is an environment of love and respect. In her new family, people are careful in handling each other’s feelings. Her new grandmother takes care of her food and clothing. A boy, maybe 8 or 10 years old, is there to do games with her, to show her around in her new world and indeed… to teach her how to work in shoplifting.
Nobody in the little girl’s new family is really family – as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that every family member has its own history – and its own grief and failure. Very strong in this movie are the images shown: feelings are not explained but filmed. The emotion derives from what you see. With shortcoming and weakness comes nevertheless a transcendent purity. The characters are not perfect but very honest and absolutely fair in their behaviour; much more than in the world of the average.
When the movie ends, it is the little girl that pays the price. The officials find her and bring her back to her original family, where she was treated badly. She is unhappy and very lonely in the end of the movie. She pays the price of the general myth that a girl needs her mother and that she is best off in her ‘own’ family, much better than in a family of shoplifters. Japanese society is ruthless towards kids in order to uphold the myth of nice families who are the cornerstone of society. It has a certain, idealist, perception of a family and is blind towards the true meaning families can have. Is that only Japanese society or also yours?
Go see this movie. It is something completely else. Uncomparable to other movies. A combination of art, beauty, emotion, societal relevance, love and excellent story-telling.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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…
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 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.
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.
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.
Cats in Șanlıurfa do not have a real good or a real bad life. It depends a bit where they are, whom they meet and what the weather is like. I saw happy and unhappy cats, and locals who were nice to them or unpleasant. Following my statement that the way people deal with cats says something about their level of development, I’d say Șanlıurfa is somewhere ‘average’ compared to Turkish levels.
Cats in Șanlıurfa are not difficult to spot.
Especially in tourist places like the parc around the Balıklıgöl close to Abraham’s cave and the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque cats are very present. Although no one will give them fish as the thousands of carpers in the Balıklıgöl are holy, the parc with it’s many visitors must be a great place to find food. However, the cats in this parc were merely unhappy as it was raining a lot when I visited. Some cats were totally soaked and moreover dirty.
They had difficulty to cope with the circumstances, even though they got some help for food. Most people leave the cats alone. They do not pay any particular attention to them and they do not bother them. A negative exception I saw was in the Grand Bazaar where a cat was begging and the two owners of a shop wanted to kick the cat. The good news is that they are aware kicking is a no-go.
Their feet were already ‘hanging in the sky’ when they noticed me watching them. The feet stayed for a moment up where they were, then they stood on two legs again, grinsing in my direction. Without awareness of considerate animal treatment, they would have continued their initial movement and kicked the poor cat. The cat learned his lesson and escaped quickly between the stalls of the bazaar. A positive exception I saw was in the Freedom Museum and Müslüm Gürses Museum where the museum guard had a warm relation with Keto, a true museum cat.
Finally three more pictures of cats in notable places:
Traveling in Şanlıurfa is a great idea but not easy. Here I give you some tips. Do not worry about food or pickpockets. Buses and taxis make your transport easy if you do not want to walk. Your problems are different in this conservative area and mainly concern ‘the rules’ and personal safety.
Conservatism and safety Traveling in Şanlıurfa is traveling in a conservative place. The general norm here is orthodox Islam and it is known that radical elements are also here. Be aware that the center of the ISIS-calliphate was next to the province of Şanlıurfa (so-called capital Raqqa only 70 kilometers away). A friend of mine who visited 2 months before me noticed quite some Dutch license plates on cars (‘Syrië-gangers’), radicals who had fought in Syria and passed the border to be more safe in Turkey as they were loosing the fight in Syria. I myself didn’t see them by the way. However, conservatism can be felt in many aspects.
I got loads of questions as a woman traveling alone. Locals can get quite irritated because they feel you cross the line – you break the rules just by doing so. On the other hand, comments can be tackled with friendliness and compliments; locals are sensitive to that. Be aware that you can not change the world. Do not go into discussions you can’t win and that might bring you into safety problems. Confirm what is OK in the culture to support your safety.
For example I was in a dolmuș-bus and after the other passengers had left, the driver started to criticize me for traveling alone as a woman, and how that problem should be solved now. I responded that there was no problem because Turkish hospitality is unbelievably wonderful and that everybody is willing to help me as a guest. He immediately confirmed my view, yes, Turkish hospitality was beyond what any country had to offer (Turkish nationalism is always strong 😊). Then he frowned, I think he understood that after his praise of Turkish hospitality, he couldn’t go back to the subject of me-alone being a problem.
Conservatism means people want to play by the rules, and they do not think about the meaning of rules. They can not discuss them. For example at Göbeklitepe I first went up the hill with my ticket to see the temples but I came down because the weather was very bad. I entered the building downstairs for a coffee and audiovisual show. After an hour, I decided to try again and they wanted me to buy another ticket because I went up already. Note that all were shivering, and they knew I did not go on the temple hill itself. The keyword here is patience. Arguing doesn’t work because the basis of the rules is not argumental for them. Just stand there, telling that you already bought a ticket and wait. They started to discuss among themselves about my problem and it ended so that one guy came out, waved to me and let me go to the road up the hill again. Some others watched, maybe unhappily because the rules were broken but without further resistence. You will find yourself in situations like that. Keep smiling (not too much because you are a woman in a men’s land), wait and let others solve the problem. A key problem in islamic conservatism is the lack of critical reflexion. Do not think that a simple visitor can change that. Just find a way to travel with it when traveling inŞanlıurfa.
It is unusual for women to be on the street after sunset, unless accompanied by men. For safety in general: if you are not used to travel in risky, unsafe areas, do not go to Şanlıurfa on your own. There are group journeys, although not many because companies can not always deal with the risks of this region either. Be vigilant: personal safety is your main concern here, 24/7. Certainly do not go to places outside Şanlıurfa city or Göbeklitepe site without anybody knowing that you go there and without knowing who is your protection on the spot when problems occur. Generally speaking in places like Harran and Sogmatar you are unprotected unless you organize it and speak the language (Turkish or Arab).
Concerning robberies and the like, you are very safe traveling in Şanlıurfa. Look at the jewellers: they all have their door widely opened to the public, during day time and even after sunset. ‘We all know each other here’, a local told me. Anyway stealing is considered as a very bad thing. If you have to pay something, you could give your wallet to the person you have to pay to – and it will be dealt with correctly. Nobody grabs your bag in the street. As a woman, I was maybe judged a lot but I was not at all harassed, not one single time. Anybody you ask help from, will help you. First of all Turcs love to help someone out, second they have a culture where everybody is used to ask little services, third you are a guest and hospitality is key, also in Şanlıurfa.
Questions Question number one they ask you is: do you have children? This question will come to you at least ten times a day, from the hotel reception to the bakery, from the cashier at the restaurant to the woman that helps you find your way in a mosque. Not having children here means your life was useless (and that maybe you are useless, too). Either talk about your children, real or phantasy, or give ‘kismet’ = ‘fate, destiny’ as a reason for not having them, they will stop asking. Unless you like long and uneasy discussions, of course.
Question number two they ask you is: are you married? Not being married also means missing out the meaning of life. This is one of the regions in Turkey where girls are married at the age of 14 or where a position as second wife is accepted, rather than risking a life as an unmarried person. Question number three is: what is your name? Three identical questions asked all the time and in that order. The good news is: you can be prepared 🙂
Food and drinks Food and drinks are excellent. Go to the local restaurants and eat a great meal for just a few euros. Men have their own room, usually downstairs. Some restaurants have a place upstairs for mixed groups or women and children. It took me days to find a women-friendly restaurant – in western terms. Finally, unexpectedly, in the banking district I found an open restaurant where women walked in as much as men, some of them veiled, others unveiled. It didn’t matter there and that is rare to find in Şanlıurfa. But it exists!
Alcool and drugs There is no alcool in average public places in Şanlıurfa for religious reasons. Don’t be the troublesome tourist to push for it. This is not about your safety but your waiter´s and it’s serious. Strange enough there are drugs in Şanlıurfa, at least soft drugs and maybe more, and availability might not be difficult. One local showed me a photograph of himself in front of what I’d call a cannabis tree (!) in his own garden. Also, after sunset in darker places, there is some illegal activity. Not recommended and be careful – there is no forgiveness for foreigners.
Feel free to approach me if you will be traveling in Şanlıurfa! I enjoyed it and wish you an equally good or even better trip.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
Three is the ‘zebra whisperer’: the representation of a servant with a zebra. I found that strikingly beautiful and unique in its kind.
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 Şanlıurfain 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
Lovely Bronze Age terracotta. Nice animals, and a stamp seal; never saw such a stamp seal before. The museum has different types.
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”.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!