material had been tied to the winter-bare branches of the lone mulberry tree, which
sprouted antenna-like out of the hilltop. In rural Turkey people still visit “wishing
trees” to tie fabric tokens onto branches, left as ziyaret (pilgrimage) offerings for the visitor's dreams to come
true. Just below the tree, the excavated pits of Göbeklı
Tepe sliced into the hillside revealing T-shaped pillars adorned with
stylised animal and human figures. Archaeologists have dated this site back to approximately
9,000 BC. It is the oldest known place of worship in the world.
small walking group, I strode across the hilltop, away from this ancient site
of pilgrimage and across the stone-pitted flank of the hill. The undulating
landscape of rock-flecked, stark plateau rolled out in waves to the horizon.
Above, a curtain of glowering cloud was fat with the possibility of rain. We
were walking on the recently created Abraham Path, Turkey's newest
trekking route and the northernmost section of an ambitious vision begun in
2008 to create a long-distance trail through the Middle East based on the
journey of the Prophet Abraham.
This corner of
southeast Turkey is coated under matryoshka doll-like layers of history, myth
and folklore. Fifteen kilometres west of Göbeklı Tepe – and a dizzying leap of
several thousand years after the temple's constructors raised their mammoth
pillars in worship – the Prophet Abraham is said to have begun his long journey
from the Biblical town of Ur, now the modern city of Şanlıurfa. This to some
believers (the title for Ur is also contended by the Tell
al-Muqayyar ruins in Iraq) is the place where the monotheistic faiths of
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all marched their way into being
The Abraham Path
may have been conceived as a modern re-creation of one prophet's journey, but
it can also be seen as a pilgrimage into the earliest glimmers of civilisation.
"This is the place where agriculture probably began, where all our
languages probably began," said William Ury, co-founder of the Abraham
Path. "So we're in a place as ancient as we know it." Southeast
Turkey makes up the northwest region of ancient Mesopotamia, where some of the most
intriguing evidence of mankind's earliest experiments in settlement has been
discovered. The landscape here is literally alive with the handprint of
trekkers would think a walking trail endeavouring to thread its way through the
Middle East to be a wackily beautiful but entirely unworkable idea. Progress on
the Syrian section ground to a halt in 2011 because of the continuing civil war,
but in nations where there are also cultural and political sensitivities, such
as the Palestinian West Bank, the path is up and running with a 182km trail between
the towns of Nablus and Hebron, where believers maintain that Abraham is buried
in the Tomb
of the Patriarchs. Jordan has 58km of trail so far, and Turkey's 170km path
has been operating since the start of 2012. By mid 2013, the organisation is
hoping a 50km extension through the Negev Region in Israel and the Palestinian
Territories will be ready for trekkers.
path offers," Ury said, "is an opportunity for people from around the
world to remember the common history of humanity." In a region that often
makes headline news for all the wrong reasons, the Abraham Path reminds
visitors that this was the place where people first grouped together and formed
the bonds of settlement.
At the close of
the day, the sky finally unloaded the promised downpour as we walked into the
village of Yuvacalı, where homestay accommodation provides trekkers with a
bridge between the mammoth history and modernity of southeast Anatolia. Hilal
and Pero Silva swung open their front door and ushered us into their house as
chickens ran helter-skelter around the yard in a protesting flurry at the rain.
I sipped steaming Turkish tea from a tiny tulip-shaped glass as I dried off in
front of the fire.
Later, after a
feast of home cooking, Pero showed us old dog-eared photographs of the family
while some of the group attempted to teach their daughter Aylın a clapping game.
Despite language barriers, Aylın was soon teaching us her own game to much
laughter and cries of unfair advantage. Like children everywhere, she had made
the rules purposely impenetrable in order to stack the odds of winning in her
cocooned under a heavyweight quilt in the Silva’s living room I thought again
about Göbeklı Tepe's wishing tree. How, despite the fact that the
archaeological site was only discovered in 1994, local villagers had for years
cast their heads upwards and hiked up there to pray for their wishes to come
true. Somehow, through a game of Chinese whispers, an echo of that place's
importance had been passed down unbroken across the centuries. I thought about
the Abraham Path and how today's new trekking trail could also be seen as an
has been here for 4,000 years," Ury said. "All we're doing is dusting
off a few footprints to shine a light on it."
Turkish Abraham Path is a 10-day, 170km route beginning in the village of
Yuvacalı (a 60km drive from Şanlıurfa) and ending in the town of Harran. Shorter
walking itineraries along the trail can be arranged if you are pressed for
Walking the path
costs from 45 euros per person per day, including homestay accommodation, meals
and a local walking guide. To book, visit abrahamspathturkey.org.