Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Göbekli Tepe

I heard about this place a few years ago and thought it would be cool to visit.  It is touted as the world's oldest temple complex.  No one knows exactly how old it is.  Most estimates date its oldest parts to around 9-10,000BC.  So it's around 12,000 years old.  In fact, some purport that it actually predates permanent human settlements.  Just for a little perspective: the most ancient parts of both Stonehenge and the pyramids are 5,000 years old.  That's pretty impressive, but if you do the math, Göbekli Tepe had been already been around for 7,000 years.  All that historical weight had me pretty excited.  Unfortunately, I was feeling mighty awful.  
When we drove through Şanlıurfa, the news was not good.  Syria was shelling the border.  But this site was around 40 miles away from that.  And who would want to shell a van full of tourists?  The site, like many of the most interesting ancient places, is out in the middle of nowhere.  
This is the main site.  Its location was noted by archaeologists in 1964, but excavation didn't begin until 1995.  Nobody is in a hurry to uncover everything.  It will take decades and who knows what they're gonna find?  So far the results are impressive. 
I managed to stagger out of the van, down the road and into the site.  I was dizzy and weak, but I did see things.  Unfortunately, I missed most of the informative commentary by the site foreman.  He talked and Emre translated.  The rest of the group was completely captivated.  I would have been, too.  The above picture is one of many monoliths from the lowest level of the complex.  What you see is a bull that was carved by human hands 11-12,000 years ago. 
And there are many, many monoliths, all carved with different animals. 
This is a wolf/wild dog/coyote-like creature.
This one is more abstract.  Although those animals look like ducks, I believe they combine to make a warthog.  I would have angled for a better view, but at this point, I was clinging to the railing to avoid falling over. 
Here's some kind of four-legged guy, perhaps a bear or maybe another wolf. 
And this is most likely a crocodile.  I guess they were all over the place in the olden days, as were lions and various other predators.  
This is the basic plan: there is a central pillar with these monoliths radiating outward.  They still haven't decoded the configuration, but if I were a betting man (and I am), I'd say they are placed according to the sun's alignment - just like Stonehenge, only way, way older.  Me, I can totally imagine the hunter-gatherer Solstice blowouts that happened here - lots of dancing and trances and mind-altering herbs and such. 
As the rest of the group circulated around, I was done.  Yes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I felt that if I lingered any longer, I was going to pass out.  I somehow got myself back to the van, laid down on the floor and took a nap.  Due to the situation with Syria, Turkey had stepped up its alert status near the border.  This meant that there were jet fighters flying very fast and low all around us.  Although I was asleep, I dreamed about them.

By now, everybody was pretty much aware that I wasn't in prime form.  Instead of traipsing around Şanlıurfa and then checking into the hotel, it was decided to go to the hotel first.  Thank God for that.  I consulted briefly with the Portland doctors, who had no idea what was wrong with me and then collapsed in my room.  I slept for about 14 hours.  Occasionally, someone would call up from the front desk and ask me questions in Turkish.  I think they were just checking to see if I was still alive.  The rest of the group was out on the town.  They saw the famous Cave of Abraham - the place where the legendary prophet was born (which I regretted not seeing) and the Şanlıurfa bazaar (which I didn't regret seeing as I was heading to Istanbul, home to the bazaar to end all bazaars).  I slept through late lunch, dinner and everything else in between and beyond.  My room was on the third floor, but it was over what I guess was a gathering spot for Şanlıurfans.  I heard several languages that weren't Turkish.  It turns out that they were Kurdish and Arabic.  From the aesthetic standpoint of a musician, neither is as nice to listen to as Turkish, which is really quite pleasant, despite all those umlauts.

Thanks to all that rest, I was a new man in the morning.  It was like the previous day's unpleasantness had never happened.  Once again, the Portland doctors were puzzled, but hey, it wasn't their problem.  It was suggested that I was dehydrated, but I had been guzzling water like nobody's business all day long, so probably not.  I'm pretty sure it had something to do with the high altitude on Nemrut, me being a sea-level dweller and all.  In any case, the day of mass tourism and feeling terrible was over.       

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