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Ancient City of Zeugma

Zeugma is 7 km northwest of  Seyir Tepe. Oceanus, the Titan god of the ocean with a river monster flowing from his shoulders and his wife Tethys; Achilles, the warrior hero of Troy, whose parents disguised him as a girl to thwart a prophecy that he would die in battle; the winged god of love and symbol of beauty Eros, riding on a dolphin with his fishing rod; Demeter, goddess of the harvest, with her crown of wheat ears… Zeugma is the home of incomparable mosaics depicting the gods of Greek mythology. Once adorning the bottom of a pool, a dining room wall or a floor, they have survived for thousands of years.

The ancient city where various hues of stone were employed to such amazing effect was the artistic centre of its age. Zeugma was situated on seven hills, near today’s village of Belkıs,  10 km east of Nizip. It covered about 20,000 m2, and retained its importance through the ages, since it was at the most easily forded point on the Euphrates, and on strategic military and trade routes.

Due to its geographic location, Zeugma is an important research center for many disciplines: ancient world history, archaeology, religion and culture. Zeugma represents Gaziantep on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Tentative List.

Excavations have been carried out here since 1971, endeavouring to bring the 2,300-year-old city to light and add it to the cultural heritage of humanity. New findings are frequently added to the rich Zeugma collection, thanks to the dedicated work carried out amidst the dirt and dust. The discoveries are so many that two important museums have been gained. The first is the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, with the largest collection of mosaics of any in the world. The Korugan Museum – protective structures built at the excavation site, allows year-round touring of the ruins, and showcases the magnificence of the ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates. The museum encompasses the Dionysos and Danae villas, with their mosaics, columns, frescoes and water pipes in the locations in which they were found. The walkway routes are designed to let visitors see as much as possible. The layout of the Roman villas can be clearly seen, and the museum provides information about life in them in the period. 

If you come to Zeugma in summer, you will be able to watch the excavation work at close hand. 

Zeugma, meaning “bridge” or “crossing”, was on one of the main transit points across the Euphrates River, on the trade routes from north to south, and from east to west. The Hellenistic settlement was founded in the 300s BC by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, as twin towns on either side of the river. He named the town on the west side “Seleucia Euphrates”, and the eastern town “Apamae”, after his Persian wife, Apama. Because its location was so strategic, a Roman legion was stationed here in the early years of the empire. Zeugma was an important Roman eastern border town, and the archaeological findings reflect the meeting and mingling of different cultures that occurred here.

In the 1st century BC, the city was given to the Commagene kingdom as dowry when Mithridates I. Kallinikos of Commagene married the daughter of the Seleucid king, Laodice.  Antiochus, the son born of this marriage, used income from the city to build the incredible, giant statues of the gods on top of Nemrut Mountain.

With villas overlooking the Euphrates, river trade and lively social life, Zeugma became a centre of attraction and the largest city of the time. The city experienced its most brilliant period under Roman rule, when it had both financial wealth and military power.

The merchants, military commanders and wealthy people who settled here built many villas on the terraces above the Euphrates. To decorate these, highly-skilled artists used coloured stones from the river in floor mosaics depicting scenes from mythology, and painted the walls with frescoes.

These good times were abrubtly brought to an end when Zeugma was conquered and sacked by the Sassanid king, Shapur I, and further destroyed by a subsequent earthquake.

Zeugma advanced greatly in the arts, especially under the Romans, and the floor mosaics in the villas of the wealthy rivalled their counterparts in other parts of the world. In Turkey, mosaics of similar quality are found only at Ephesus.  The Zeugma mosaics and other findings prove the status of the city re the arts, and are of great archaeological importance.

The world record number of bullae (clay seal imprints) recovered during rescue excavations here also highlight the importance of Zeugma as a trade and communications centre.

One fourth of the city, whose mosaics so impressed the whole world, was lost under the water when the Birecik Dam was built. The villas near the river were among the places flooded, and the artifacts recovered during the salvage excavations now constitute the richest collection in the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. 

The museum’s wonderful Statue of Mars, with branches in the right hand and a spear in the left, was discovered lying on its back in the Poseidon villa, in a thick layer of burnt material.

Estimates of what lies in the rest of the city have been made based on ancient sources and archaeological data. From coins, we know that there was a temple of Tykhe, goddess of fortune and fate, in the Acropolis on the highest hill of the city. This eagle-like hill overlooking the surrounding plain reflects the size and splendour of Zeugma. Below ground in the north are public buildings including an agora, odeon and baths; in the west, a theatre and military barracks; in the northwest, workshops; and a necropolis on the city’s south and west sides.

 

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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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Zeugma Tour and Alternative

  • Zülfü Siyah Tomb

    To visit the shrine of the female saint called Zülfü Siyah, from the Zeugma Mosaic Museum travel 20 km towards the east, and then northeast on the Nizip road to Küllü Village, where the shrine is situated on the hill called Ziyaret Tepesi.

    The entrance to the single-domed shrine is on the east side, via an arched door measuring 1.50 x 0.65 m. The shrine has a single, stone-masonary chamber containing a concrete sarcophagus. 

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  • Salkım Stone Bridge

    Continuing 13 km towards the northeast, you will come to Salkım Village.

    Salkım is a pleasantly green village, and the Stone Bridge is over the river of the same name: the Salkım Çayı. The bridge dates from the Mamluk period and has three pointed arches – a main arch in the center, with a smaller, relieving arch on either side.  It is still in use today.

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  • Adaklı Bridge

    Adaklı Bridge is surrounded by walnut trees in the green area in the west of Salkım’s  Adaklı District.

    To get there, go towards the northwest. The bridge is also called the “Pasha Bridge”. It is built of smooth-cut ashlar, and has two pointed arches. It is paved with asphalt and in current use. 

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  • Adaklı Church

    Adaklı Church is west of the Adaklı Bridge. The remains cover 30 m2 and are surrounded by pistachio trees on a hill.  It will take you about 10 minutes to walk up the hill, which is not very steep.

    The church is built of cut stone in the shape of a cross. The roof, and north and northeast walls have completely collapsed, but the west and south walls are intact. There is a late-period, east-west lying grave north of the church. 

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  • Alahacı Mausoleum

    Our route continues to the north. The Alahacı Mausoleum is located in the old village cemetery, 2 km along the paved road linking the villages of Güder and Alahacı.

    You will see the partly collapsed dome of the mausoleum at the end of the cemetery. It is square, measuring 4 x 4 metres x 5 m high. The interior is oval, and the remaining plaster on the walls is painted with red triangular and other geometric designs. The entrance is on the east side. The tomb was built of cut stone blocks erected on a foundation of irregular stones of mixed size. The inside corners have 3-tiered muqarnas – a type of corbel used as a decorative device.  The monument has suffered considerable damage from the elements in recent years.

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  • Observation Hill Facility

    Having visited some places of interest in the town, the final stop on our tour is about 10 km to the northeast: the ruins of ancient Zeugma. On the way, you can stop at Seyir Tepesi near the Birecik Dam to get a view of the river basin from a different angle.

    Part of the ancient city now lies beneath the water of the Birecik Dam Reservoir. The dam, the reservoir lake and the hydro-electric plant can all be seen from Seyir Tepe.  Inside the facility building are pictures of artifacts found at the Zeugma excavation site. 

    Although so close to Zeugma, this facility is not within the archaeological protected zone. The picnic area (called Belkıs Kavunlu Mesire Alanı) before Seyir Tepesi is a pleasant place for a picnic with a view of the lake.

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