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Sanliurfa Province - The Bazda Caves

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeAbout a half-hour drive away from Harran you will find the Bazda caves. The road is narrow and full of potholes. These caves are not what would be deemed natural caves.

All the walls are straight; almost as though the rock was cut into square pieces and removed. So, where did the stones come from that had built so much of what once was a very powerful and important nearby city now named Harran?

Archaeologists have found writing on the walls dating back to the 13th century that say the stones that they carved out of the Bazda caves were what was used to create the buildings in Harran.

Hundreds of slaves had worked around the clock to create a city that would be of historical importance at that time.

Interesting because centuries later nobody would remember it or be able to place the name Harran although famous scientists have studied and researched it extensively.

I've never seen a stone quarry like this one. It must have been a well-organized quarry because they even made roads and tunnels that were easily accessible for donkeys or horses with wooden carts.

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeMost travelers that venture to Harran and it's beehive houses scattered among ancient ruins are the end of a long dusty drive into the semi-desert area around Urfa.

With your own car, however, you might like to continue east towards Soğmater following a road that has only been asphalted in the last few years.

There are now clearly marked brown tourist-attraction signs to guide you. If you do this, your first stop along the way would be at what is marked by signs as the Bazda Mağarası (Bazda Caves).

But the truth be known - it's actuality a vast ancient stone quarry located in an abandoned village. Bazda has an almost biblical quality to it.

Large overhanging chiseled rockfaces have lines where the stone was sliced away long ago - not just to create ancient Harran, but also for building Urfa, and for the nearby Han-el Ba’rür caravanserai as well as Şuayb Şehri.

It makes sense that the Şanlıurfa Province in eastern Turkey - home to sites like Göbekli Tepe, Karahantepe, Harran and the Bazda Caves, has an abundance of ancient wonders to see.

Şanlıurfa is one of the oldest remaining citys on the planet and is surrounded by equally impressive antiquities.

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeIf you’ve visited Harran and were intrigued by the moon-worshipping cult of the Sabians, you can learn much more by visiting Soğmatar.

Şuayb is home to ancient Roman ruins but is said to be where Jethro - the father-in-law of Moses, once lived. Şuayb is his name in Islam, and the Quran describes him as a prophet in his own right – a righteous man who implored his people to abandon their wicked ways.

The Bazda Caves are an often overlooked but interesting series of caves formed from centuries of stone quarrying.

For many centuries, Soğmatar was considered a sacred site of the Sabians, the cult of moon-worshippers centered at nearby Harran, about 50 kilometers away. Surprisingly, moon worship persisted in this region from at least the 3rd millennium BC up until the 13thcentury AD!

Also known as Sumatar Harabesi, Soğmatar remained abandoned for many years. But as it contains dozens of wells, it long served as a watering hole for the animals of the nomadic tribes. The current sleepy village built around these ruins and tombs only emerged as recently as the 1970's.

There are numerous rock-cut tombs in Soğmatar, but the most interesting one is near the center of the village. Upon arriving in the village you can find a local boy - they immediately spot outsiders and will come over to your car and lead the way to the attractions for a few lira.

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeThe next place to visit at Soğmatar is the large stone outcrop on the other side of the central mound. Though barely evident from the bottom, this outcrop served as Soğmatar’s main location for religious rites.

As you climb up you’ll spot additional rock-cut chambers and as you get higher, you’ll come face to face with two impressive figures carved in the natural rockface nearly two millennia ago.

The bust on the left is likely Sin, the moon god and primary deity of the Sabians. There’s a crescent behind his shoulders – hardly noticeable today due to discoloration.

According to anthropologist J. B. Segal, the faded Syriac inscriptions next to it credit someone named Sila for its creation. And he did so in honor of Tiridates - the son of Adona.

Tiridates, son of Adona, is mentioned quite frequently in inscriptions throughout Soğmatar. He was likely the local military commander, and he may even be the main figure carved in Pognon’s Cave.

The full-figured man to the right of Sin is probably the Babylonian sun god Shamash, whom the Sabians also worshipped. While no inscription explicitly mentions this, the halo of solar rays around his head is a big giveaway.

An inscription next to the figure mentions a man named Ma’na having carved or commissioned it.

There are now several investigative groups that have shown that the Bazda Caves may have been carved by the same peoples who built in stone at 18 other sites of antiquity around the world.

Tool markings on the stone match the same tool marks as those on quarried stone at Petra in Jordan, Yangshan in China, Mamallapuram in India and others. Some are from the same era and others from different historical times.

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeOne can spot numerous circular pits, presumably used for animal sacrifices. The Sabians typically performed their rituals atop hills, most of which involved sacrifices and the pouring of libations.

According to 5th century Christian bishop, Jacob of Sarug, there was no hilltop in the region that was not soaking wet as a result of the Sabian rites.

Similar circular holes dug into these rocky hills were the same as those in Karahantepe. There’s a good chance the Sabians absorbed some of their traditions and astronomical knowledge from that previous mysterious civilization.

Perhaps this exact hill was the site of another Neolithic temple a millennia prior. But the most interesting thing about this hill is its unique position at the center of seven other temples built on the surrounding hilltops.

At Soğmatar, there was one each for the Sun, Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

According to the Bible, Moses stayed in Jethro/Şuayb’s village soon after his escape from Egypt. He lived and worked there for 40 years upon marrying Jethro’s daughter Zipporah. This likely would have been around the 15th century BC, but most of the ruins are from the Roman era.

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeThe Bazda Caves was not the site of a historical city or temple, but is closely related to the sites mentioned above, as well as Harran.

It was from the Bazda Caves that the ancient builders quarried limestone for the whole region. Actually, the stone from Harran’s Ulu Cami was entirely taken from these caves.

The quarry was in use from the 2nd century AD all the way up until the 13th century. The caves which were formed as a result of the extraction of stone are massive.

There are other caves on the other side of the village. On the ride back to Urfa, one can spot even more cave entrances in the nearby hills.

Due to the extensive numbers of these entrances, the rumors of underground tunnel networks built by the Sabians seem less like a fantastical legend.

It seems possible even more tunnels could indeed exist, and in time there might be some major discoveries over the coming years.

The entry to each of these sites is free, but given their obscurity, the best and only way to get around is via private vehicle.

Starting from Harran, you can start with the Bazda Caves first and finish with Karahan Tepe. The caves are just 10 kilometeres east of Harran.

Bazda Caves - Sanliurfa, TurkiyeWith www.toursbylocals.com do a search from Sanliurfa, Turkey and contact a few of the tour companies listed. Most should be able to converse in English.

You can look for a driver to take you to these sites. Most taxi drivers in Urfa don’t speak English and few are likely to have heard of each location.

Rent a car and use Google Maps to navigate yourself to each destination. To go on your own, each location is fairly accurately marked on Google Maps. Try spending the night in Harran, though departing from Urfa is also easily done as well.



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