domenica 5 agosto 2012

The Hall of Records: The temple of the Seven Planets at Sogmatar


“At the extreme boundaries of the Earth stands an ancient temple, which is round and has seven doors on each side and a lofty dome which has also seven sides and is famous throughout the land for its extraordinary height and admirable construction.  On top of the dome is a kind precious stone or crystal as large as a bull’s head, dispelling darkness for a great distance…Many great kings of old have tried to get hold of this stone, but with no success: all those who tried, fell lifeless at a distance of 10 feet…even if one uses spears, arrows or other similar contrivances, these similarly stop and fall mid-air at a distance of 10 feet. ..To this date, there is no means for a man could get hold of this stone. Those so daring or foolish to think they could demolish the temple would be struck by instant death. Certain sages explained this phenomenon as caused by certain magnetic stones placed at a regular distance all around the temple[…]
Within the temple is a very deep pit, how deep nobody knows. It has seven sides and is constructed in such a manner that whoever attempts to get too close in order to look down will fall into the deep and thus find his death.  Around the pit is a ring of brass carrying the signs of an ancient writing:
This pit leads to the Hall of Records, in which all the wisdom of the world is kept since time immemorial. Here is preserved the history of the World, the science of Heavens and the hidden secret of all things past, present and future. In this pit lie all the treasures of the World, but whoever wishes to be worthy of it must be our equal in power, wisdom and science. Whoever is able to do so, then he will know himself as one of our kind. But beware shall you not be worthy, because you will learn how much more profound is our wisdom,  broader our science and impenetrable our vigilance
This temple, just as its dome, rests on a rock of stupendous size, similar to a great mountain, so hard that no excavation can be made in its sides…Nobody who has seen this ancient temple, can go away without being struck by a great melancholy and unexplained attraction for it”
Al Mas’udi, [897-952 AD], The Meadows of Gold, LXVII – “Sacred buildings and monuments of the Sabians of Harran

     The first time I read this passage it struck me that if such a temple ever existed, some ruins of it must have survived in the plain of Harran. I was especially intrigued by the reference to a supposed depository of ancient wisdom which so much echoes the traditions of similar “Hall of Records” in Egypt and elsewhere around the World. Knowing that Harran was a stronghold of hermetic tradition and home to one of the major occult universities in the ancient world, it was not difficult to see a link with the long fabled “Vaults of Hermes” mentioned in some ancient Egyptian manuscripts (in the French edition of a rare 15th Century Arabic manuscript by the title of “Livre des Perles Enfouies et du Mystere precieux” there is a very precise reference - in chapter CCXIX – to some ancient depository of knowledge and mysterious artefacts bearing a close resemblance to the pit seen and described by Al Mas’udi some 500 years before).

According to a long established tradition, the wise men of before the Great Flood built vast underground shelters in different parts of the World, so that their secret knowledge and science may not be lost in the Flood. There they remained hidden and undisturbed, according to hermetic legends, for the next 36,000 years…

    There is circumstantial evidence that the Sabians – as the heirs of the ancient mystery schools of Chaldea and Egypt and of late-Hellenistic hermetism – may have discovered one such depositories of ancient knowledge, from whence they possibly derived the earliest known translations of the Emerald Tablet of Thot (“Tabula Smaragdina”) and several other hermetic writings.

    I decided to investigate the legend for myself in June 2012 while on an archaeological expedition to South-Eastern Turkey.

    I first came across a reference to the temple described by Al Mas’udi in an Italian archaeological magazine (“Nel tempio dei sette pianeti”, in Archeologia Viva, n.2, Nov-Dec  1988, by P. Laureano). The author of the article suggested the temple had been found in a remote desert location some 45 Km East of Harran called Eski Sumatar (also spelled Sogmatar). There were no further details except for some reconstruction drawings and a scant description of the place.
I also found a somehow lengthy description and a few pictures of the temple of Sogmatar in Tom Knox’ book “Genesis secret”. The author did not mention anything related to a “Hall of Records” or the temple described by Arabic writers, but mainly focused on a group of strange temples for star-worship placed in a circle around a central mound and a number of highly mysterious rock-cut chambers. He described the site as a somehow “desolate and poetic spot”, being the “most haunted place” he had come across during his travels in Turkish Kurdistan.

    After a full half-day spent visiting the deserted ruins of ancient Harran, we plotted the coordinates for Sogmatar (36°59'41"N 39°20'14"E) into the GPS, which led us through a very bad country road bordered with ancient sites. The local township had even placed panels and signs along the road probably in some attempt to attract a few tourists (there were none around…).
It took over 3 hours to drive the 60 Km between Harran and Sogmatar (with some brief stop-overs at the Bazda caves and the ancient city of Suayb). Of course not much was left of the fabulous temple described by Mas’udi, still it was easy to spot even from a distance the great central mound which must have once supported the ancient temple.

    Seven temples were placed in a half-circle, spaced about half a Kilometer away, around a central mound. The mound, which was clearly the core of the ancient complex is roughly conical, some 150 meters in diameter with an height of perhaps 50 meters. From a distance, it looks like some collapsed pyramids one finds in Egypt and elsewhere: all around are heaps of stone and, under the dirt covering the mound, one can easily find ancient courses of masonry which are a clear evidence of the mound being an ancient structure and not the work of Nature. On top of the mound one still recognizes the faint contours of ancient walls and towers with a polygonal outline: these may be the remains of the seven-sided structure which was still intact in Mas’udi’s time about 1,000 years ago.

    Even in its current ruined state, it still bears a sheer monumentality. The top of the mound is largely unexcavated. Except for the usual heaps of stones, the most notable feature is what seems the entrance to some subterranean or crypt, which is however entirely filled with rubble and covered with large flagstones.

All around, scattered in the desert landscape, lie the seven planetary temples, each one dedicated to a planetary deity and precisely orientated towards the central mound, which also serves as observation point.

A small village was built on the site of one of the planetary temples, probably the one dedicated to the Moon-god Sin. Within the precint of a modest stone hut, one still finds ancient carvings and a cave which was clearly an important place of worship in ancient times. The walls of the cave have been cut square to create a large room with several niches and carved bas-reliefs depicting the heavenly Triad composed of Sin, Baal Shamen (Baal of the Heavens) and Bar Nemre (The Son of the Shining one). The bas-reliefs, as well as the Syriac writings on the walls have been much defaced by the ravages of time and local superstition, but one can still recognize their contours.

Some 50 meters away is the base of another square construction, partly hewn into the rock, of which only the entranceway survives leading to an underground chamber which is however entirely filled with rubble. There is no indication as to which deity this temple was dedicated.

About half a Kilometer to the South-East stands a large circular platform built of hewn stones, all very finely fitted together, marking the spot of Saturn in the heavenly diagram of Sogmatar. According to a recent reconstruction hypothesis, on top of each platform stood gigantic representations of the planetary solids associated to each of the seven Planets (Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). Today nothing remains of these solids, but large piles of rubble. The most notable feature of this platform is a descending passage which is free of debris, leading to a small rock-cut chamber deep beneath the circular platform on top. At some point in time, probably during the Roman period, the chamber was turned into a tomb and sarcophagi were cut in the walls. In one of the corners we noticed a small pit entirely filled with rubble, where one could only see the entrance to some underground corridor or crypt. Our guide told us an interesting story on this small pit, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. It seems that all of the seven temples once possessed a similar pit, leading to a kind of vast subterranean located right under the central mound similar to the spokes of a wheel. According to this tale, which we could not verify, one could go from one temple to another entirely underground, and using this ancient system of tunnels and underground passageways one could even reach as far away as the great Temple of Harran (some 45 Km away) and the rock of Urfa (Edessa), some 70 Km to the North-West.  Unfortunately the ruined state of the tunnels and underground chambers did not allow any further investigation. It would no doubt take many years to clear the tunnels of all the dirt and debris which have accumulated in the course of centuries and millennia. 
Still one finds near Bazda the remains of vast laborious caves and tunnels carved deep into the limestone formations to quarry stone for nearby Harran and Edessa, which suggest something similar may exist underneath ancient Sogmatar.

    Another half Kilometer to the South-East one finds the remains of yet another temple platform, and then a of a third and fourth one spaced about 700 meters from each other. There is one square platform and two circular platforms, all very ruined except the last and most distant one. All of the platforms have a descending passageway leading to some underground crypt, which have however in all cases but one collapsed. Still, it is notable that all corridors were very accurately oriented towards the central mound as we could measure ourselves.

All around each of the platforms one finds a number of highly enigmatic structures, which take the shape of basins, thrones and altars all cut in the living rock. There are also pools and channels which were likely used in some form of bloody sacrifice. We also found several rock-cut inscriptions in what looked like ancient Syriac characters. Some of these were no deeper than scratches on the hard rock surfaces, while some others were deeply cut to a depth of some 5-6 cm in the bedrock, covering multiples lines.
Only a handful of these ancient inscriptions, which look of magical or ceremonial character, have been published. Most notably, historian Theodor Hary found two dates, one pointing at 65 AD and a King Tiridathes, and another bearing the date of May 17, 93 AD. Of the two inscriptions, the latter points to a significant star alignment which occurred on that date which is also reflected in the disposition of the planetary temples on the ground.

    According to Hary, the entire complex was designed at the some point in the 1st or early 2nd century AD to mirror the position of the planets and the constellations in the night sky of Harran, even though the significance and meaning of the entire complex remains ultimately unknown.  Hary also found several bas-reliefs marking the setting of several stars and constellation on the horizon, including a monumental bas-relief showing an horoscope of the constellation of Leo and a double-passageway likely related to the constellation Gemini (see http://theodorhary.com/aktuelle.htm#ee) Unfortunately we were unable to locate the lion relief and the double tunnel mentioned by Hary during our visit in June 2012.

    A great mystery sorrounds the ancient ruins at Eski Sumatar…why was such a remote and secluded location chosen for the greatest of the planetary temples of the Sabians?  And most important, why would an ancient people engage in a work on such a monumental scale as to sculpture natural hills and raise giant mounds of hewn stone for no apparent purpose but to reflect some obscure planetary alignment whose significance completely eludes us?
To me there is little doubt Sogmatar was the same temple that was described over one thousand years ago by Arabian historian Mas’udi. One only hopes that some thorough research and an accurate survey of the ancient site is carried out before it too will disappear under modern encroachment and vandalism.  

Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - The great central mound as seen from the village of Sogmatar, in South-Eastern Turkey. The courses of masonry visible on top of the mound and the many heaps of stone are clear evidence of the mound being of artificial construction. In its current ruined state it closely resembles an ancient collapsed pyramid: there are no similar mounds elsewhere in the area in a range of many miles, all being barren and rocky landscape - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Some of the ancient structures still standing on top of the mound. These are likely the remains of a vast tower-like building similar to the one described by Arabian historian Mas'udi in the 10th Century - (Photo by Author)

Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Some other views of the large constructions on top of the central mound, which clearly belong to a polygonal sided building with multiple turrets - (Photo by Author)


Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - One of the circular platforms representing the Seven planetary deities and providing access to a vast subterranean extending across the plain of Harran - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - A square platform, now much ruined, has its descending passage also precisely oriented towards the great central Mound - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Underneath one of the circular platforms,  we found the entrance to one of the crypts under some rubble and collapsed masonry. Unfortunately all of the underground chambers are entirely filled with dirt and heaps of stones, thus preventing any further exploration - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Many rock-cut trenches of unknown function can be found next to temple ruins - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - A giant pile of hewn stones is all that remains  of one of the square sanctuaries dedicated to one of the Planetary deities - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - The last and furthest of the underground sanctuaries dedicated to the Planetary deities, also resting on a circular platform - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - On the right side of the platform, resting on a square stepped basis, one still sees the entrance to the descending corridor leading to a collapsed rock-cut chamber - (Photo by Author) 

Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - This small square building  is all that remains of the superstructure of the temple dedicated to the Moon-God Sin, which is one of the few to preserve an almost intact cult chamber carved deep into the bedrock



Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Some views of the underground chamber located below the temple of Sin and containing bas-relief representations of the Syrian Gods amidst representations of the lunar crescent - (Photo by Author)
Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Mysterious writings on the rocks overlooking a barren and almost lunar landscape - (Photo by Author)

Eski Sumatar (Sogmatar) - Rock-cut monumental reliefs of Roman or Hellenist origin,  on the hill facing the great central Mound which is also the center of the Complex and the planetary alignment - (Photo by Author)
Bazda Caves - One of the giant rock-cut chambers believed to have served as quarries for buildings in ancient Harran and Edessa, some 50 Km away. This maze of tunnels and chambers extends for many hundreds meters on several levels and is one of the finest examples of ancient stone-cutting technique, located a mere few miles from ancient Sogmatar - (Photo by Author)
The road to Sogmatar - This is actually one of the finest portions...quite telling of the very poor state of roads in this part  of Turkey - (photo by Author)


Suayb - At the ancient city of Suayb, located some 10 Km to the South of Sogmatar, one finds many ruins covering a vast extent. The only building to suggest that a city ever stood on the spot was however a large byzantine house with a few of the original stone frames still in place, all the rest of the site being covered by hundreds of rock-cut tombs and mausoleums, mostly dating to the late Roman period. It is difficult to tell whether Suayb - devoid of any water supply or arable land - was ever a city, or rather a place for burial associated to some nearby sacred site (perhaps Sogmatar itself?) - (Photo by Author)

2 commenti:

  1. Fascinating.
    The cave was examined and described at the beginning of the last century:
    Inscriptions sémitiques de la Syrie, de la Mesopotamie et de la région de Mossoul. [With forty-two plates.].
    Author: Henri POGNON
    Publisher: Pp. ii. 228. Paris, 1907.

    I am particularly interested in the appearance there of Abgar, which is discussed in a number of papers and books, for example:
    http://tinyurl.com/9e3u4vz
    http://tinyurl.com/8s93jqg

    I would appreciate learning your view of how this complex relates to Edessa and the theology emerging there with Abgarus and Bardaisan.

    Thanks!

    RispondiElimina
  2. Thank you for posting this fascinating blog. I was just reading David Pingree's article in the Int'l Journal of the Classical Tradition, vol. 9 (2002) pp. 8-35, at p. 27 where he lists these temples at Harran with their different geometric shapes. But then Pingree comments that they "very likely never existed" (giving references in the footnote).

    RispondiElimina