Spotlight: Turkey's prehistoric site Gobekli Tepe sees tourism boom, helped by rise in Chinese tourists

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ANKARA, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's mysterious Neolithic site Gobekli Tepe, considered as one of the oldest worship venues on the planet, witnessed a tourism boom this year drawing more than 2 million visitors, including an increasing number of Chinese tourists.

Located in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, near the Syrian border, Gobekli Tepe is considered one of the birthplaces of known earliest civilizations. Dating back to around 12,000 years ago, the site has attracted a record number of tourists, Selim Balir, deputy chairman of the local Chamber of Tourist Guides, said this week.

"So far this year, according to our figures, 2.1 million domestic and foreign tourists have visited the site," he said, predicting that the number could reach 4 million at the end of this year.

Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared 2019 as "The Year Of Gobekli Tepe" in a bid to boost tourism in the remote part of the country and also to diversify the tourism sector, the country's most lucrative industry expected to help revive its ailing economy.

The site attracts visitors from all over the world, including China. Most tourists from China have listed the place as a must-see destination in Turkey, Turkish officials said.

"We introduced to them Gobekli Tepe. Previously, Chinese tourists were mostly going to Cappadocia (in central Turkey), but now we have included Gobekli Tepe in new destinations," Turkey's Ambassador to China Abdulkadir Emin Onen told state-run Anadolu Agency.

"In China, we can say that there is a buzz about Gobekli Tepe," said the Turkish envoy, adding that efforts to promote Turkey have increased the number of Chinese tourists by a year-on-year 60 percent to reach 400,000.

"This number will increase further in the years to come, and I hope we will welcome more Chinese tourists to Turkey, including Sanliurfa and Gobekli Tepe," he added.

Gobekli Tepe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recognized as one of the oldest temples in the world by experts. It was discovered in 1963 by researchers from Istanbul University and the University of Chicago.

The German Archaeological Institute and Sanliurfa Museum have been carrying out joint excavations at the site since 1995.

One of the major and astonishing discoveries in the Gobekli Tepe was the T-shaped obelisks from the Neolithic era measuring three to six meters high and weighing 40 to 60 tons.

During the excavations, various historical artifacts, including a 65-centimeter long human statue, were found on the site, which predates the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge in England by some 6,000 years.

According to scholars, the site overturns the orthodoxy which thinks that the development of civilizations has a history of merely 5,000 to 6,000 years, and demonstrates the hallmark of early civilizations, such as monumental stone architecture and sophisticated knowledge, making experts rethink the origins of civilizations.

Prior to the archaeological discoveries in Gobekli Tepe, academics believed that humans began to build temples after leaving the hunter-gatherer practices and becoming sedentary. However, Gobekli Tepe, which was built even before the emergence of agricultural activities, changed the traditional theory.

Efforts are still ongoing nowadays to understand the site and raise awareness of its historical significance.

Necmi Karul, a member of the scientific board of Gobekli Tepe, told Xinhua that "there is still a lot to be discovered" in this Upper Mesopotamia region about the origins of civilizations.

One of the values of the site is that it redefines the transition history of the ancestors from hunter-gatherers to sedentary settlers, said Karul.

He revealed that he and his team of archeologists are set to launch soon new excavations in Karahan Tepe, another Neolithic site that sits around 35 km southeast of Gobekli Tepe and could reveal groundbreaking new discoveries.

The two sites have interesting similarities such as T-shaped stone pillars and relief carvings of animals, making it very important to understand Gobekli Tepe and the people who built it, Karul added. Enditem

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