The mysterious Göbekli Tepe neolithic site, also known as ‘Potbelly Hill’ is atop a mountain ridge twelve kilometres northeast of the Turkish city of Şanlıurfa, and not far north of the border with Syria. It represents a desire to be nearer to the celestial gods. Some of the two hundred inverted t-shaped pillars erected ten to twelve centuries ago still point up to the sky, planted into bedrock as if they were to last forever.
Approach to Gobekli Tepe in Turkey
At some point in time collective memory forgot Göbekli Tepe, until Western archaeologist Klaus Schmidt rediscovered it in 1994. His initial thought was that the t-shaped pillars were Neolithic grave markers. Many of them had been broken up and moved aside by peasant farmers. Some still standing bear relief images of humanoids and animals.
Gigantic Standing Stones
Consensus is Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is a Stone Age mountain sanctuary. Radiocarbon dating confirms it as the oldest religious site we know of. Klaus Schmidt believes it was a pilgrimage destination or a ‘cathedral on a hill’ comprising concentric stone circles that may have been roofed over with the t-shaped pillars of ancestors watching over.
Is This Where Religion Started?
Some say that Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is the birthplace of religion. It certainly is proof that hunter-gatherers erected monumental structures, and something over-arching inspired them to do so. It asks more questions than it answers; to date there is no rational explanation for its origin. But then there is no rational explanation for religion either, yet it continues to intrigue.
The city of Şanlıurfa nearby colloquially called Urfa has many places of special interest, including the cave where Mohammed was born and the pool of sacred fish where Nimrod threw Abraham into a fire. There is no evidence either way. You deny it, you admit it or you overlook it. Flight access is via Istanbul and Ankara, or you can catch a bus from Van or Mardin and then a shuttle taxi to get you there..
Travellers Advisory: Go well prepared with what you need. There are a half million Syrian refugees camped around Şanlıurfa, so this is a destination for intrepid backpackers only.