Around 15km northeast of Urfa, where the southern foothills of the Toros Mountains fade into the scorching flatlands of upper Mesopotamia, lies Göbekli Tepe (Hill of the Navel), one of Turkey’s most intriguing archeological sites. Here, on a hilltop 870m above sea level, is an artificial mound some 300m in diameter and 15m high, containing a series of circular chambers, carbon-dated to a period between 9500 and 7500 BC. The chambers have burnt-lime floors and are lined with stone benches, but most remarkably contain a series of T-shaped monoliths, the tallest of which are 5m high. Clearly anthropomorphic, many of the monoliths are liberally covered with incredible relief-carvings of wild animals, from scorpions and snakes to lions and wild boar.
This site appears to disprove the theory that only settled societies were capable of producing monumental buildings and sophisticated art, as much of the work at Göbekli Tepe was done when man was still in the hunter-gatherer stage of development. Visit between May and October and there’s a chance you’ll see archeologists at work excavating the site; in winter the monoliths are protected from the elements by metal covers. To reach the site with your own transport, head out of town on the Mardin road. After around 10km turn left (it’s now signed Göbekli Tepe) and head some 9km north to Örencik village. Turn right here and follow a track a further 2km to the gated site – a taxi from Urfa should cost around 50TL return, including waiting time. As yet there are no opening hours or admission fees, only a bekçi (watchman).