With their deep history of countless civilizations, three Turkish provinces also known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Upper Mesopotamia are coming to the tourism forefront as officials are set to establish belief and cultural routes for visitors hungry to explore the past.
Turkey’s southeastern provinces of Diyarbakir, Sanliurfa and Mardin have been home to many small and large-scale states since the dawn of history as their plentiful natural resources have attracted the interest of people of different ethnicities, religions and cultures for thousands of years.
The word “Mesopotamia” translates to “[the land] between the rivers” in ancient Greek, a reference to the Tigris and the Euphrates, two rivers which thousands of peoples competed for and clashed over in the deadliest battles throughout history.
The ‘golden trio’ located in the upper part of the region has played a key role in human history as many of humankind’s earliest settlements in this region, including the world’s oldest temple, Gobeklitepe, the first agricultural activities and the establishment of the earliest villages.
Among those who ruled Upper Mesopotamia were the Assyrian Empire, the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great’s Macedonia, Hellenistic states, the Ayyubids, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Seljuk Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Every civilization left its mark. Monuments such as temples, palaces and citadels are waiting to be explored by those into the history and collective culture of humankind.
In order to make this adventure easier and more satisfactory for visitors, Turkish authorities in collaboration with the tourism and culture sector along with relevant organizations and stakeholders will gather for a workshop this month in Diyarbakir to discuss the steps to be taken in this direction.
One of the most important items on the agenda will be the establishment of “belief and culture routes” in which visitors will be directed by the authorities so they can travel around the region, know where to find accommodation and eat without hiring a guide. This route, whose details will be determined during the workshop, will include historical mosques, churches and synagogues as well as ancient temples.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Munir Karaloglu, the governor of Diyarbakir province, said Upper Mesopotamia was one of the very first settlements in human history and contained a great deal of historical artifacts and cultural value.
“By combining the cultural and belief values of all three provinces, we are striving to create synergy,” he said, adding the coming workshop will focus on the marketing strategy based on the destinations, establishing new routes for travelers.
Karaloglu said the COVID-19 outbreak has inflicted a heavy blow on the tourism sector across the globe, but the region will be one of the hotspots of tourism with its ancient artifacts, especially towards end of the outbreak, as it has great potential.
He went on to say that Gobeklitepe in Sanliurfa was the “ground zero” of human history as it dated back to 9,600 BCE. Diyarbakir’s fortress walls stretched for over 5,000 kilometers (3,106 miles), which makes it second only to the Great Wall of China. Hevsel Gardens was home to one of the world’s earliest cultivation activities and was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2015.
“Zerzevan Castle also made it to the World Heritage List,” Karaloglu said, referring to the former important military base of the Romans under which excavations revealed the existence of a temple of the Mithraism – a pre-Christian cult that performed rituals about 1,700 years ago.
The governor added that the new routes would add to the already existing touristic value of the region and more tourists were expected to visit the Golden Triangle in line with the Ministry Of Culture and Tourism’s policy of including eastern regions on the agenda of local and international tourists.
“God willing, we are expecting a serious amount of tourists once the culture and belief routes are established following the meeting,” he said and noted that Turkey contained its historical and cultural values, both Islamic and Turkic ones, along with other cultures and civilizations.
Some must-visit locations of triangle
The Hevsel Gardens in Diyarbakir have been used for agricultural purposes for over 8,000 years, with the fertile lands paving the way for the development of sedentary life. The gardens have been regarded as sacred due to the fact that they played a critical role in the survival of residents for thousands of years and are often compared to the Garden of Eden.
The Great Mosque of Diyarbakir, or Ulu Camii, is located at downtown and is among the oldest and most important mosques of Anatolia. The date of the building is not known for sure. However, it used to serve as a church prior to its conversion following the Muslim conquest of the city. Known as the 5th Haram al-Sharif of Muslims, the mosque went through a complete renovation in the 11th century amid the reign of the Seljuks.
One of the historical artifacts that visitors should swing by is Malabadi Bridge, which was built during the Artuqid period in the 12th century. The bridge has a length of 150 meters (492 feet) and a height of 19 meters (62 feet) and is often regarded as one of the oldest bridges in the region.
Hasuni Cave City is another one of the ancient wonders of Diyarbakir. Located in Silvan district, the caves offered shelter for inhabitants for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, these caves date back to the prehistoric period and were inhabited during the first years of Christianity.
The ruins of Zerzevan Castle, built by the Romans in the 4th century, await eager tourists with an appetite for witnessing history. It was a former key military base located on a trade route. There is a well-preserved underground templet of Mithraism, a mysterious religion, that draws many local and foreign tourists.
Gobeklitepe in Sanliurfa is described as the ground zero of history and was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With a history of some 12,000 years, Gobeklitepe is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world as its discovery changed our understanding of human history. Researchers argue that it used to be a center of faith and pilgrimage during the Neolithic Age. With its great architecture ahead of its time, the archeological site draws scores of visitors from across world.
Balikligol in Sanliurfa, also known as the Pool of Abraham, is another touristic location that is of historical and religious importance. Legend has it that the Prophet Abraham was thrown into flames at this location but survived following a miracle in which the fire and burning logs turned into water and fish.