We begin our tour at the ancient city of Doliche, which dates from Lower Paleolithic Era, making it one of the oldest settlements in the world. Continuously inhabited from the Paleolithic to the present, Doliche was a center for ancient religious cults. We will trace its history, visiting the Temple of Mithras where Mithra, the god of light, was worshipped underground; Şarklı Cave on Keber Hill; the Dülük Quarry where stones were cut to build the city; and the magnificent rock church and rock tombs in Dülük Village.
The city of Doliche is thought to have been established around 300 B.C. Because it was located on important ancient trade and military routes, traces of great civilizations such as the Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman can be found here. From a very early period, there was a sanctuary of Tesup-Hadad, the god of storm and sky, on the summit of Dülükbaba Hill near the city. In the first three centuries AD, the Romans continued to worship this god in the guise of Jupiter Dolichenus. In addition to the cult of Dolichenus, Mithraism was also practised in Doliche. Roman soldiers brought the cult of Mithras to Rome after their eastern campaigns in the first century AD, and its influence spread among the Romans in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
The Temple of Mithras on Keber Hill is about 15 kilometres from the center of Gaziantep. To get there, take the road towards Adıyaman and go through the village of Beylerbeyi.
At the entrance to the temple area, you will see a sign depicting the storm god Jupiter Dolichenus (named after the city) and a bull. Along the paved path leading to the temple are pistachio trees, and rest areas with seats and pergolas. There is a kiosk for small purchases and toilet cabin.
The lighting inside the cave enhances the evocative atmosphere of this former place of worship. Inside the temple is a raised wooden walkway leading in 3 directions from the entrance. To the left are two, barely legible inscriptions. The relief depicting the slaying of the bull is also in this direction, exactly opposite the walkway. Benches are cut into the side walls. On the upper part of the wall is a short tunnel. The crosses above the niches are thought to have been added during the Christian invasion. In the other sections along the walkway you can see niches that probably held lamps, and also signs of attempts to remove blocks of stone.
The Şarklı Cave to the west of the temple is the site of the earliest settlement in the area. Flintstone tools and the production workshops for these, dating from the Lower Paleolithic, were discovered during excavations on Keber Hill. Because of their characteristic distinguishing features, these stone tools are called Dolichean. In the light of these findings, Dülük gains importance as one of the oldest settlements in Anatolia. You can walk from the Şarklı Cave to the Temple of Mithras, however it is dangerous and difficult to enter the area beyond the wire fence.
There are impressive remains at the stone quarry south of Dülük Village. This quarry has been a source of easily-worked limestone from ancient times to the present. In an area covering roughly 100,000 m2, giant blocks of stone appear amidst the vegetation. On top of the spectacular, steep main wall of the quarry can be seen the entrance to Roman water channels which used to supply the water for Keber Hill. Stone-cutting has formed an artificial cave at the base of the quarry.
Doliche was a centre for ancient religious cults, and in addition to signs of Mithraism, evidence of the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus can be seen along the route. The cult of Dolichenus came to an end when the region was destroyed by Persian King Shapur I. As everywhere throughout the Roman Empire, Christianity later became the most important religion in Doliche, which was made an episcopal see in the 5th century AD and retained this status up to the 11th century. The most interesting remains from the Christian period are the two rock churches in the ancient city. These are located near the necropolis and to the west of the stone quarries. The church known locally as the Basamaklı Mağara (cave with steps) due to the stone steps on either side of the entrance is especially impressive. Arabic inscriptions dating from the 6th-9th centuries AD are also found here. The church is a 5-minute walk up a gentle slope through the houses in Dülük Village.
The necropolis of the ancient settlement is in the same area. Part of the necropolis lies beneath the modern village, and the villagers use the underground tomb chambers as storage for produce etc. More than 100 of these rock-carved tombs have been discovered to date. The family tombs have a number of chambers, most with decorative architectural features. The dead were usually interred in niches on the walls. Some of the niches are carved to resemble sarcophagi decorated with garlands, wreaths and bulls’ heads. The area is a protected archaeological site, and the villagers can show you around all the tombs and churches.
TEMPLE OF MITHRAS
The largest known temple of Mithras (Mithraeum) was discovered in Dülük on the southern slope of Keber Hill. Uncovered in 1997 and 1998 by archaeologists from Gaziantep Museum and Münster University who were excavating the area, the Dülük underground temple is the first Mithraeum to be found in Anatolia.
Mithras was said to be born from a rock, and he was worshipped in subterranean sanctuaries established in caves. The temple at Dülük has two chambers. The scene known as the Tauroctony, which depicts Mithras killing a bull, is carved in relief in the central niche, which served as the altar of the underground temple. Other figures also appear in the scene, such as stars symbolizing the planets; and a scorpion, snake and dog symbolizing the constellations. According to astrology, before the Greek and Roman eras, the equinox took place when the sun was in Taurus, and the killing of the bull represents the end of the Age of Taurus in BC.4000-3000.
The rites at this temple were secret, and the majority of worshippers were Roman soldiers, the rest being minor bureaucrats, merchants and slaves. The blood of the bull sacrificed in Mithraic rites was drunk and used for ablution. It was believed one would thus attain the power and immortality of the god represented by the bull that was the symbol of a vanished age.