Arslantepe Mound comprises the archaeological remains of a palace from the 4th millennium BC.
It dates from the Uruk Period and shows the interaction between Eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia. The “palace” is a large mud-brick complex of several buildings. The walls still have their white plaster, and red and black wall paintings.
Map of Arslantepe MoundLoad map
Turkey's worst entry into the world heritage list by miles (I think Xanthos gets a bad rep and should be a collection of sites anyway), it's not even easy to visit. The location is in the suburbs of Malatya and we are talking farm community, with odd roads and not even a proper parking lot. So I stopped at what had a "no parking" sign anyway just in front of the site. A 100m walk to the entrance and you are greeted by a guard. There are opening hours on a small sign but it seems one can only enter with a custodian, and they take turns. Maybe this isn't the case in high season but it makes sense because one enters a digsite and touching/damaging the walls is done easily. I had to wait for a couple of people to come out first and then the guard let me in. There are excellent displays as you make your way into the digsite, in Turkish, English and ITALIAN?!
There are layers of history here, the building isn't really recognizable as a palace, and all findings are taken to the nearby Malatya museum so you should make time for both. Just seeing the site is rubbish, but my rating is for the site alone. The remaining bits are shards of pottery and some sort of plumbing, and the highlight was clearly the "motif" as he said, the wall paintings. Usually they are roped off but he let me in for a close look to take some pics, but I suggest your camera has proper zoom to fetch these images. Cheap camera pics won't do.
As I was saying the opening hours are a little strange but should be fine in high season. Just one more story to tell about this though: as I was leaving the guard wanted to lock the metal gate and a group of 12 Turkish tourists with kids was arriving, and he told them it's closed. As they were pointing at me leaving he said "UNESCO'da çalışıyor" which... I'll let you figure out yourself. Not sure I want to be proud of that lol. I just think he couldn't be f***** to deal with that group and have a quiet moment ;)
Anatolia is the go to place for early human settlements. The latest addition by the Turks in this area is Arslantepe Mound in 2021. What you will find is a hill with a "palace". It's all based on mud bricks and excavations are still ongoing. Seeing the size of the hill (tell), I would assume more buildings to be unearthed in the next decade or so.
There is a walkway across the public parts of the ruin. It's not huge, but allows you to explore the site. They did put up some signs which helps shed some light on the site.
The single greatest feature of the site are the rock drawings. I had seen them on Clyde's and Stanislaw's reviews. But they were nowhere to be seen when I visited. I was about to give up when Clyde via whatsapp let me know, that they are protected via curtains. You have to ask the guard to remove them. He did and the rock art is stunning, especially as it's displayed in situ rather than a museum.
The site was originally referred. I would argue that there is no overall reason against inscription and that the site belongs on the list. Reason I could see for a referral is that given the ongoing excavations, inscription could have taken place later to get a full picture of the site. I could also see approaching the Malatya area as a whole and documenting the human settlement of the area more generally.
Of the three prehistoric sites in Turkey on the list, I would place Arslantepe Mound in the middle. I found it somewhat more tangible than the muddy hill that is Çatalhöyük, but less spectacular than Göbekli Tepe. Çatalhöyük, though, is five millennia older.
Arslantepe Mound is in the suburbs of Malatya. Malatya has connections by bus and plane to all parts of Turkey. I came by bus from Kayseri and continued the next morning by bus to Urfa.
Malatya's bus terminal (otogar) is way outside of town. From there, you could go by local bus (for which you would need a prepaid Malatya card). Or you take a cab as the I did. Entry to the site is free.
After my visit I walked to Battalgazi (the historic Malatya) and took a bus back to Malatya. Due to not having a Malatya card, I had some issues to sort out in order to get on the bus.
While You Are There
Present day Malatya is a relatively young town. The local museum holds some artefacts from Arslantepe, as I understand it. But otherwise I am not aware that there is much to see in town. In late spring/summer, you can join tours to Nemrut Dag. If you come in winter, the roads are closed due to snow as I learnt in my hotel lobby.
More interesting is historic Malatya which was known in antiquity as Melitene (still is known as such in Kurdish) and now goes by the name of Battalgazi. Essentially, the area has been settled continuously for millennia. The Ottomans decided to move the town in the 19th century from old to new.
Battalgazi has some Roman ruin and a 12th century mosque. Given the long history of Malatya, going back 6.000 years, I would assume there is more to be found and unearthed.
I visited this WHS in Spring 2021. If you're travelling by car between Goreme National Park and Nemrut Dagi, the Arslantepe Mound near Malatya is a rather convenient stopover point. Knowing that this site was up for inscription in Summer 2021, I made an extra effort to visit the Arslantepe Mound which shows the interaction between Eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia.
The Arslantepe Mound is a Late Hittite large mud-brick complex of several buildings. Unlike Gobeklitepe and Catalhoyuk, which have circular elevated boardwalks around and above the sites at quite a distance, Arslantepe (at least when I visited) had wooden boardwalks and textile carpets which go through the corridors with walls which still have visible sections with white plaster, and red and black wall paintings. This is quite impressive when considering that they were done around 3350-3000 BC. A very kind security guard revealed the red and black paintings which were covered by white curtains. Apart from the peculiar wall paintings, another highlight were the decorative coloured geometric engravings, technically described as lozenge-shaped stamps applied to wet plaster. Several detailed information boards shed light on what you're seeing during your visit. In front of the site's entrance, there's also a reconstruction of an Early Bronze Age I Arslantepe House (2900-2800 BC).
Arslantepe (Lion Hill), also known as Melid, was an ancient city on the Tohma River, a tributary of the upper Euphrates rising in the Taurus Mountains. It is dubbed as Arslantepe, the origins of power, due to the complex systems for its time, such as the cretulae, an early administrative system, preceding the invention of writing, for controlling transactions by using clay sealings as an ancient form of receipt. The main highlight of the site are the wall paintings or murals; stylised figures evoking symbols and images of power, which are evidence of the complexity of the ideology of those days. The wall paintings of stylised figures in the central room of the store complex probably represent a big male figure and a smaller female figure standing before a table or altar with raised arms and under a roof or canopy decorated with vegetal elements and volutes. The huge eyes and red and black hair in the form of "flames" springing from their heads give these figures a striking appearance, suggesting they may represent gods or shaman masks. Another extensive group of paintings were in the inner part of the palace corridor: two oxen, possibly tied to a yoke, pull a chariot or a plough driven by a man outside a building schemetically sketched behind this scene. This section is in a much more precarious position and the crumbling mud-brick walls are supported by wooden posts.
Apart from the now inscribed Arslantepe Mound itself, a wealthy array of tools, jewellery, swords (probably some of the earliest in the world), pottery, figurines, sculptures, orthostats and remains were found which are currently on display in the Malatya Museum which is worth visiting. Replicas can be seen before entering the Arslantepe Mound site. The two lion statues on both sides of the entrance gate, and a king's statue against it, are exhibited at the Ankara Anatolian Civilisations Museum. The Arslantepe Mound is highly important as it shows a continuous settlement and stratigraphy for Eastern Anatolian settlements and civilisations from the Late Chalcolithic Age until the Islamic Ages. Even though I wouldn't recommend visiting Gobeklitepe, Catalhoyuk and Arslantepe in a row, I think that all three sites deserve being inscribed for different reasons.
Visited November 2020
Turkey has already the oldest proto-urban settlement (Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük) and the oldest temple/sacred site (Göbekli Tepe) inscribed on World Heritage List, and probably soon the oldest palace or rather administrative and residential complex will find its place on the List – Archaeological Site of Arslantepe. By writing ‘oldest’ I mean the oldest and most remarkable found until now.
I’ve never heard about Arlsantepe before it was nominated for 2020; but reading the short description on Unesco site, I realized that this one is widely known as Melid, a late or neo-Hittite settlement located in Central Anatolia, far from any other Turkish heritage sites already inscribed. When you look at the map, it seems not so distant from Nemrut Dağı… But it only seems… And without a car, it takes hours and hours and multiple connections to get from one to the other. The closed place to visit for WH chasers is Harput, in Elaziğ, on TL from 2018.
So why do we have two different names for the same site? Melid or Malidiya in Hittite language was the name of the Neo-Hittite city established after the collapse of Hattuşa (13th/12th century B.C.). After the invasion of the Sea People, they (Hittites) moved south and south-east and occupied the territories already developed by previous inhabitants (Ishuwa for Hittites), like Carchemish, Zinchirli or today’s Malatya region. And this later place they called Malidiya. Let’s get back to 20th century: during the excavations works the most monumental pieces that were rediscovered here were: the statue of king Tarhunza (8th century B.C. – we can see a strong Assyrian influence in presentation of beard and hair of the king) and two status of limestone lions (probably 10th century B.C.) that used to stand at the gate of the city; the lions looked (and still do) so impressive that the site was named Arslantepe in Turkish – from ‘arslan’ or ‘aslan’ as its variant, meaning ‘lion’, commemorating these two ones that you can see (together with the statue of Tarhunza and many reliefs) in Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. (If you can visit only one museum in Turkey, this is the one you should go!). Replicas are on the site, just outside the entrance gate. And while in Malatya, do not ask for the way to Melid! No one will know what you’re talking about (well, in Malatya museum they know, but this is a museum). Just say Arslantepe – these lions are the symbol of the city! Although the lions of Arslantepe are much younger than the reason the site will/would get world heritage status…
Quoting the description from whc site: “birth of hierarchical societies, that of the first centralized political and economic systems, the origin of bureaucracy and its first working system, the rise of a systematic control on human labour, in other words, the origin of power and the State. The site also testifies to the fact that these crucial changes in human history took place for the first time over a large area including, besides Mesopotamia, the Euphrates region in Eastern Anatolia.”
What you can expect to see? A tell, not so big. The entrance is free. And, according to the note at the entrance gate, you must be accompanied by a guide or guard to visit the site. And that not all parts of excavations are open to public. When I was there, no guides were at the site. The guard was sitting in a small kiosk from where I could take a leaflet – in Turkish. I’ve read the information on the board and followed the ‘tourist path’ which covers only part of the of the oldest discovered VIa level: the long corridor from where you can spot some water facilities, internal chambers of the palace with some wall paintings (on the picture), some faded reliefs, part of internal courtyard, remains of rooms around it. And then you go up (till now everything was covered by a corrugated sheet) and back to the entrance. Thanks God there are some information boards in English – I had a better understanding of what I’m looking for…
Most of other levels of the site were covered back with sand, and officially it is not possible to climb the mound. Using my basic Turkish I asked the guard if it would be possible to penetrate the parts closed to the public. As I was the only person visiting and he was surprised and seemed to be happy that a foreign tourist tried to speak Turkish, he closed the entrance gate and guided me through the whole site! For him the most important part was the place where the oldest swards were excavated. (Some of them are displayed in the Malatya museum, and three of them in the new Treasure Museum at Istanbul airport.)
Arslantepe is located around 7 km from the city centre. I was coming by bus from Elaziğ and asked the driver to stop at the crossroads with Sivas Caddesi from where there is one city bus going to the site. To use public transportation within the city you must have a bus card that can be bought only at the main bus stops/local bus stations. I did not have one, but the driver let me in without it – it is not possible to pay to the driver. To get back to the city (I wanted to visit the museum too), the guard from Arslantepe hitchhiked for me.
2021 Advisory Body overruled
After Referral advice
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