By Adriana Tchalian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
During my first visit to Armenia, I expected to find a rugged and muscular terrain, given the steady diet of cliched images I had consumed over the years of one very famous, snow-capped mountain range. What I found instead was a mild and feminine landscape where ribbons of smooth terrain are topped with delicate, cream-colored hills set against lush valleys. Even mighty Ararat appeared painterly, if not feminine, underneath the Anatolian sun. Vincent Van Gogh would have liked painting this delicate landscape, I thought to myself, seeing flecks of Japan in its eastern terrain. Could the Armenian Plateau be, as some have described, the navel of the world?
Enter Portasar (the navel of a mountain), better known as Göbekli Tepe (potbelly hill), a prehistoric magnum opus built by hunter-gatherers dating back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (ca. 10th-9th millennia BC). Considered the oldest megalithic monument in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the historic Armenian Plateau, approximately 35 miles north of the Syrian border and roughly ten miles northeast of Urfa (Sanlıurfa).
It’s also a mere 25 miles from the ancient city of Haran, mentioned in the book of Genesis as the place where Abram (later called Abraham) settled for a time after emigrating from Ur of the Chaldeans, an epic journey that would take him all the way to the promised land of Canaan.
Portasar is perched above a thousand-foot-diameter mound overlooking what was once a fertile plain. At first glance, its circular construction is reminiscent of England’s Stonehenge (ca. 2500 BC). But unlike Stonehenge and all other prehistoric monuments, including Armenia’s Karahundj (ca. 5500 BC) and Metsamor (ca. 5000 BC), Portasar is said to be the world’s first “temple,” this according to German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt who excavated the site from 1996 to 2014.