San­i­fula, Tur­key

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS - Words & pho­to­graphs: Nick Kropacek

In short, Şanliurfa (of­ten called Urfa) is a city with such a mag­nif­i­cent and tu­mul­tuous history that one would have thought that it must have had a large and im­por­tant world-class mu­seum. But it didn’t, at least not un­til now. The old Urfa mu­seum was a small, mod­est build­ing on two floors and with a small sculp­ture gar­den hav­ing room for a mere 500 or so ex­hibits. But what has been tak­ing shape in Urfa’s cen­tral Haleplibahçe dis­trict over the past two years has been some­thing of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent or­der and will ac­com­mo­date at least 10,000 items.

To a great ex­tent the lo­ca­tion of the new mu­seum has been de­ter­mined by the for­tu­itous dis­cov­ery in 2007 of an amaz­ing col­lec­tion of mo­saics from the late Clas­si­cal pe­riod. Orig­i­nally, the site had been marked for gen­eral com­mer­cial and recre­ational de­vel­op­ment but the dis­cov­ery, dur­ing ini­tial prepara­tory work, of an ex­tra­or­di­nary palace com­plex changed all that. Once the scale of the dis­cov­ery be­came ap­par­ent the lo­cal author­i­ties and the Gov­ern­ment made the brave and inspired de­ci­sion to turn the en­tire dis­trict over for de­vel­op­ment into a cul­tural, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and mu­seum fa­cil­ity. What has been evolv­ing since then has been the big­gest mu­seum and mu­seum com­plex in Tur­key.

Open­ing at the be­gin­ning of June, the mu­seum de­vel­op­ment cov­ers a 200,000 square me­tre area set within the path of the dried up Karakoyun river bed and in­cludes an “Ar­chae­ol­ogy Park”, or­na­men­tal gar­dens with foun­tains and a plaza in which there are two sig­nif­i­cant build­ings. The main ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mu­seum build­ing en­com­passes 60,000 square me­tres over three floors, houses ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds from across the re­gion along with in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays, film and lec­ture the­atres and ac­tiv­ity cen­tres. The build­ing is thor­oughly mod­ern in con­cept, has full wheel­chair ac­cess through­out and takes the visi­tor through the en­tire history of the Şanliurfa re­gion start­ing with the Ne­olithic and Chal­col­ithic pe­ri­ods and pro­gresses through Hit­tite, Baby­lo­nian, Per­sian, An­cient Greek, Hel­lenis­tic, Ro­man, Byzan­tine, Is­lamic and Ot­toman pe­ri­ods.

The cen­tre­piece of the mu­seum sim­ply has to be the Ne­olithic room, fea­tur­ing a full-scale re­pro­duc­tion of En­clo­sure D from Göbekli Tepe that you can walk into and which al­lows you to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the mag­nif­i­cence and the scale of the Ne­olithic builders’ achieve­ment. Ad­ja­cent to En­clo­sure D is a re­con­struc­tion of the Cult House from Ne­vali Çori which is par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing be­cause this is the orig­i­nal build­ing and has been crated up and not seen since it was re­cov­ered from the site just prior to its in­un­da­tion from the ris­ing wa­ters of the Ataturk Dam in 1991. Along­side the re­con­structed build­ings are dozens of unique sculpted items from the two sites in­clud­ing stone an­i­mals, stat­ues and stonecarved totem poles. The Ne­olithic and Chal­col­ithic rooms are a just ap­pe­tiser for the ex­tra­or­di­nary riches of the rooms and dis­plays to fol­low, which in­clude stat­ues and nu­mer­ous other finds re­cov­ered from sites around Urfa as re­cently as Jan­uary 2015 and, in some cases, lit­er­ally a few yards from the mu­seum it­self. This will be a mu­seum that grows and breathes even as you watch.

The sec­ond ma­jor build­ing in the mu­seum com­plex is at the place where it all started, the Haleplibahçe Mo­saics. The site takes in what ap­pears to be a sin­gle pala­tial build­ing. It is not known who lived in the palace or who com­mis­sioned the mo­saics. What is clear, how­ever, is that the per­son who com­mis­sioned the mo­saics had both taste and money and that the artists who de­signed and ex­e­cuted the work were artists and crafts­men of the high­est or­der. The mo­saics that adorned what were ob­vi­ously the pri­vate spa­ces of the palace are exquisitely ren­dered and de­pict events and sto­ries that would be in­stantly recog­nised by any ed­u­cated per­son from across the civilised Clas­si­cal world, such as the birth of the Greek hero Achilles. They also fea­ture a topic that ap­pears to be unique among Clas­si­cal mo­saics: the Ama­zon War­riors, the “Oior­pata” or “man killers” whose leg­endary ori­gins were de­scribed by Herodotus.

The mu­seum build­ing, tak­ing in 4,000 square me­tres over the mo­saics, is ul­tra-mod­ern and com­pletely util­i­tar­ian in na­ture be­ing in the form of a mas­sive in­verted saucer which cov­ers the en­tire site with the mo­saics hav­ing been left in situ and with walk­ways al­low­ing full view­ing of all parts of the com­plex; around the walls will be placed ad­di­tional mo­saics and tem­po­rary ex­hibits. The new Mo­saic Hall will also house a mo­saic of Or­pheus re­turned to Tur­key by the Dal­las Mu­seum of Art. The Dal­las mu­seum orig­i­nally pur­chased the mo­saic at a public auc­tion in 1998 but sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered that it had been il­le­gally re­moved from a site in Tur­key and ex­ported. The piece, exquisitely de­pict­ing Or­pheus ser­e­nad­ing wild beasts, dates from about 194 CE and was dis­cov­ered in Urfa in 1950.

The two mu­seum build­ings are si­t­u­ated within a gar­den which con­tains paths, wa­ter fea­tures, a plaza and an open air am­phithe­atre. Plans for the fu­ture within the Ar­chae­ol­ogy Park in­clude pavil­ions and build­ings cov­er­ing a 29,000 square me­tre space be­tween the Ar­chae­ol­ogy Mu­seum and the Mo­saics Hall where visi­tors will be able to take part in ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, ob­serve ex­per­i­men­tal ar­chae­ol­ogy and prac­ti­cal demon­stra­tions and fol­low con­ser­va­tors as they go through the process of pre­serv­ing Urfa’s price­less cul­tural and phys­i­cal her­itage, not only for the peo­ple of Urfa, but also for the world. There can be no ques­tion that the new mu­seum at the heart of the an­cient city of Urfa is des­tined to be­come one of the great mu­se­ums of the world.

Visit the mu­seum with Alkans Tours; www.east­ern­turkey­

View of the new mu­seum com­plex

Lion hunt­ing, Haleplibahçe mo­saics

Full size re­con­struc­tion of Göbekli Tepe en­clo­sure D. c.9600 BCE

Stone totem pole from Göbekli Tepe, Level II

The Haleplibahçe mo­saic

Fish fea­ture in the musuem based on the pools of Abra­ham in Urfa

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