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Yesemek Open Air Museum and Sculpture Workshop

Heading southeast from the village of Yelliburun, follow the winding road for 13 km, with the fields full of famous İslahiye peppers all around you, and eventually you will arrive at the Yesemek Open Air Museum and Sculpture Workshop, the site of an ancient artistic centre.

Yesemek Open Air Museum and Sculpture Workshop lies 23 km to the southeast of the district of İslahiye, on the hillside of Karatepe hill in the village of Yesemek. A tarmac road runs from İslahiye to the museum, which is located 129 km from the centre of Gaziantep.

A sphinx waits at the entrance of the museum, performing its protective duties like the door lions of ancient times, which stood at city gates because they were believed to have protective powers. As you pass to the right of the sphinx and over the bridge, you begin the climb to the top of the hill. Either side of the steps are rough sculptures which were excavated from the area.

Surrounded by pine trees, this fertile oasis displays almost every possible shade of green that nature can offer. The local people justifiably compare the area to a sculpture field, as if the rough sculptures have sprung up from the soil.

As the largest open air sculpture workshop in the Near East, Yesemek has a place on the temporary list of Unesco World Heritage sites. At this art centre of the ancient world, not only have numerous rough sculptures been found, but the workshop has provided information and knowledge about many stages of the sculpting process, from how the stone blocks were cut from the quarry, to how different types of sculptures were formed.

The quarry produces a fine-grained, violet-grey basalt stone known as dolerite. The Sculpture Workshop, covering an area of 300 x 400 m, rises from a streambed to a height of 90 m, housing more than 300 basalt rough statues at various stages of production and orthostats with relief ornamentation.

Approximately 3.5 tons of rough sculpture remains have been found at Tilmen Höyük and Zincirli. As the largest sculpture workshop of the Near East, it is thought that rough sculptures were sent to the capital Hattusa and to the other Hittite cities.

The sheer size of the workshop and the number of sculptors who worked there show that during that period, the people of this area gave great importance to art.

From Seyir Hill, directly opposite the museum, the view that greets you is of the houses of Yesemek village nestling around the Tahtaköprü barrage lake.

In 2007, 16 modern sculptures, created by sculptors from different parts of the world, were exhibited on Seyir Hill. The sculptures show a variety of subjects including a key, a musical instrument sporting a cowboy hat, a car, an eye socket, ram’s horns, a finger, a snail, the bow of a ship, the sun god and a human leg. 

At the entrance to the museum there is a gift stand selling souvenirs of Yesemek, such as pen holders, key rings and miniature sculptures inspired by the sphinx, door lions and other sculptures from within the museum. There are plans to develop more of the area in the near future, and these will include a cafeteria and visitors’ toilets.

Yesemek Open Air Museum is open all year, every day except Mondays, from 08.30 until sunset.

Between the period of the 14th century BC to the 7th century BC, Yesemek was the largest stone quarry and sculpture workshop in the Near East. The workshop began operating when the region came under Hittite rule in the second half of the year 2000 BC, during the reign of the Emperor Suppilluma I. Local Hurrite stonemasons worked on the sculptures. After raids by the Sea People who were active in the 13th century BC, production at the workshop slowed, but in the 9th century BC, work picked up again with the Late Hittite Kingdom. During this period in particular, components of Hittite, Syrian, Aramaic and Assyrian art gained much importance. This style, known as Orientalism, when mixed with the Aegean art culture which was just beginning to develop in the west, became the heart of Greek art. In the last quarter of the 8th century BC, when the Assyrians brought an end to production at the workshop, everything just stopped in its tracks, as if time had frozen.

Yesemek was discovered in 1890 by Felix von Luschan, who was excavating nearby at Zincirli (Sam’al), and he introduced his findings to the science world. Excavations were carried out by Prof. Dr. Bahadır Alkım from 1957 to 1961, and were continued by the archaeologist İlhan Temizsoy from 1989 to 1991.

In the sculpture workshop, which sits in an area of 110,000 m2, it is possible to see today how the sculptures were created.  The first step is to make holes in the basalt blocks, and then dry tree branches are slotted into the holes. When covered with water, the wet branches expand, and the resulting pressure cracks the basalt block. This crack is then widened using a wedge and hammer, and eventually the piece breaks off, away from the bedrock. After the splitting process, the blocks are then pushed down to the work area on the hillside with the help of a sledge. The Yesemek sculptors would first chisel the blocks into a rough sculpture, then determine the outline of the shape required, and finally they would apply some of the detail of the sculpture using hammer and chisel. The third step was to work the detail of the sculpture more carefully. The final touches were always done at the place of display to prevent any damage to the sculpture during transportation.

It is clear that the Yesemek Stone Quarry and Sculpture Workshop is a big organization. From the extraction of stone from the quarry, to the preparation of the rough sculptures, and to the final product, it has all the qualities of a unique school of sculpture, where you can see examples of each stage of the production.

The Open Air Museum has a display of more than 300 rough sculptures that have been extracted from the ground, and most of these are door lion statues. It was believed that the figure of a roaring lion had the power to protect from, and scare away, enemies. Lion statues were always placed in pairs, one facing the other, particularly on city walls. Other items include sphinxes, reliefs of mountain gods that represented the Amanos Mountains, reliefs depicting war chariots and other architectural pieces.

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The contents of this publication, which has been prepared by the 2013 Economic Development Financial Support Programme of the Silk Road Development Agency does not represent the views of the Silk Road Development Agency and/or the Ministry of Development. Sole responsibility for the content lies with Neva Bilgi Teknolojileri Medya ve Danışmanlık Hizmetleri San. Tic. Ltd. Şti.

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Yesemek Tour and Alternative

  • Çolaklar Stone Bridge
    Yazan

    If you want to visit the ancient Roman bridge, head back towards the village of Yelliburun and as you pass the village of Şahmaran on your right, you will come to Çolaklar village. About 20 km from Yesemek Open Air Museum, and 1.5 km southeast of Çolaklar village, in an isolated spot in the middle of nowhere, lies a stone bridge, known as the Çolaklar Roman Stone Bridge. 

    The bridge, built over the Karasu brook, nowadays is only frequented by fishermen, shepherds and their flocks. On either side of the bridge there are the remains of a Roman road, also made from basalt stone. If you want to visit the bridge, the rocky terrain means you must be prepared to walk for about 500 m after you have parked your vehicle.

  • Muhammed Beledi Tomb
    Yazan

    The tomb of Muhammed Beledi can be found on Beledi Hill in the neighbourhood of Sam. In the second half of the 15th century, Muhammed Beledi, hearing about Sheikh Sam, comes to visit him. It is said that following this meeting, a strong bond develops between the two. 

  • Menzil Inn
    Yazan

    The recently restored Menzil Han is composed of two parts. Rough hewn limestone has been used on the exterior of the han.

     

  • Sof Plateau
    Yazan

    Continuing on towards Nurdağı, 5 km after the village of Yeşilce, head left and 7 km after the village of Işıklı you will come to the Sofdağı Plateau.

    The highest peak of the Sofdağ mountains is called Kepekçi Hill, where the air is pure and rich in oxygen. The Sofdağı Mountains are the source of more than 20 freshwater courses, such as Gerdek Spring, Cennet Spring and Börek Spring.

  • Hurşit Ağa Mansion
    Yazan

    One km to the west of Sakçagözü Waterfall lies Hurşit Ağa Mansion which recently suffered damage in a fire rendering it unfit for use. The building was used as military quarters during the War of Independence and as a refuge for the Ottoman soldiers during the First World War.

  • Nurdağı Castle
    Yazan

    After heading west for approximately 4 km on the old Adana road, you will come to Nurdağı Castle in the district of Nurdağı.

    In the castle there are ornamental ponds, model animals, a children’s play area, and a traditional nomad tent decorated with wooden carvings and set up like an authentic wedding hall to demonstrate the local culture.

  • Fevzipaşa Train Station
    Yazan

    Continuing on towards the district of İslahiye in a southwesterly direction, you will see on the right the historical Fevzipaşa Train Station which is used to shelter retired trains. 

    The building was constructed by German engineers as part of the Hicaz (Hejaz) Railroad Project.

  • Çerçil Castle
    Yazan

    If you want to leave the prescribed route and visit one of the region’s alternative cultural treasures, we recommend a climb to Çerçil Castle.

    Heading away from the village of Yelliburun in a westerly direction for 10 km, you will arrive at Çerçil Castle, which is situated 600 m southwest of Çerçil village, and sits at the top of a natural hill. Some of the important findings from the castle are coloured ceramic pieces, showing that the settlement dates from the Middle Ages. The road that stretches from the İslahiye plains to the inner side of the Amanos mountains passes through the footslopes of the hill on which the castle sits. This suggests that the castle, for a period, held a position of strategic importance. If you want to see the castle ruins at the top, you should be prepared for an arduous climb of approximately one hour through dense shrubland.

  • Sheikh Sam Tomb
    Yazan

    In the centre of the neighbourhood of Sam lies the tomb of Abdurrahman Erzincani, known as Sheikh Sam. It is said that Yavuz Sultan Selim stayed near the village of Sam on his way to the Egyptian campaign, and whilst there, met Sheikh Sam.

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  • Erikçe Forest
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    If you choose the religious section of the tour which includes some of the region’s tombs and historical mosques, then continue on the old Adana road to the district of Sam, 14 km from the city centre