Set where the southern foothills of the Toros Mountains fade into the scorching flatlands of upper Mesopotamia, Göbekli Tepe (Hill of the Navel) ranks among Turkey’s most intriguing archeological sites. Here, on a hilltop 870m above sea level, stands a man-made mound some 300m in diameter and 15m high, containing a series of circular enclosures, carbon-dated to between 9500 and 7500 BC.
The enclosures 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. The enclosures were almost certainly used for cult purposes and the site is much hyped as the “world’s first temple”.
Göbekli Tepe also appears to disprove the theory that only settled societies were capable of producing monumental buildings and sophisticated art. Most of the work here was done when man was still in the hunter-gatherer stage of development – no evidence has been found of human settlement. An unsightly protective roof was removed in 2011 and a new wooden walkway added, allowing visitors to walk right around the main enclosures.