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Zerzevan Castle and Mithraeum

Date of Submission: 14/04/2020
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Province of Diyarbakır, District of Çınar, Village of Demirölçek
Coordinates: N37 36 30.07 E40 29 57.22
Ref.: 6472
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Description

Zerzevan Castle is located in Diyarbakır Province in the southeast part of Turkey. Its location was at a strategic point on the way from Amida (Diyarbakır) to Dara (Mardin), from Edessa (Şanlıurfa) to Nisibis (Nusaybin) in the ancient period.Existence of a castle named Kinabu on the edge of the ancient road which was used for commercial and military purposes is first asserted in the Assyrian Period (882-611 BC).  In the Persian Period (550-331 BC) and today the mentioned road that passes through the territory of Iran, Iraq and Turkey has been used as "The Royal Road”. The route is of great importance in the expedition of the Roman Empire to the east and the Sassanids to the west. It is known that the Sassanid armies marched this road during the western campaigns of 359, 502 and 604 AD and captured Zerzevan Castle. So, the hinterland of Zerzevan Castle, which forms the extreme eastern border of the Roman Empire, witnessed great struggles between the two great powers of the time, Rome and Parthians/Sassanids, who wanted to dominate the region economically, politically and militarily.

Zerzevan Castle was a military settlement. The artifacts uncovered by the excavations provide important information about the Roman soldiers, civilians' daily lives and the battles. There are architectural remains such as observation and defensive towers (southern tower), churches, administrative building, arsenal and rock altar in the southern area of the settlement surrounded by city walls. Outside the walls, there are canals, offering bowls and quarries. In the necropolis area there are rock tombs and vaulted tombs. In the north, street-alleys and houses can be observed. Water cisterns, underground church, underground shelter, Mithraeum and many structures functions of which have not yet been identified are seen within the site.

Mithraeum, the most important structure of Zerzevan Castle, was built on the north end of the walls by carving the main rock into the underground. At the entrance gate of the structure, the inscriptions and symbols are clearly visible. On the eastern wall of the structure, there are columns carved into the main rock, two large niches in the middle and two small niches on the both sides. A bull sacrifice scene is carved on the plaque in the middle big niche.  Paint residues can be seen on the belt rising above the two columns around the big niche in the middle. Probably on the aforesaid belt there were symbols belonging to Mithras religion. The crown beam motif as one of the symbols of Mithras is carved on the eastern wall. There is a rather smoothly carved bull blood bowl in one of the small niches and a pool on the ground. The blood bowl and the pool are connected to each other with a channel through the wall and it is known that water was used in the Mithras religious ceremonies. In addition, there are four symmetrical points on the ceiling for hanging the animals during the ceremonies. The hanging points must have been used to sacrifice the bull in Mithras rituals.

The current architectural remains and the finds unearthed during the excavations show that the area was used in the 3rd century AD. It can be said that the city walls and buildings of the settlement were restored in the periods of Anastasios I (491-518 AD) and Justinian I (527-565 AD), and some of the constructions were reconstructed and thus the present final state was obtained. The settlement must have been used until 639 which is the conquest year of the region by the Islamic armies.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Archaeological studies in Zerzevan Castle play a very important role in understanding the Roman period of the region where two major cultures are in interaction with each other. Furthermore, Zerzevan Castle is one of the best-preserved Roman garrison in the world with its underground and surface structures. The only Mithras Temple of the eastern Roman borders that was recently found is located here. The discovery of the Mithras temple in Zerzevan Castle has aroused great interest both national and international level. Considering that the belief in Mithras originates from the Persian country, it is quite possible that Mithraeum in the Zerzevan Castle is the first temple of the Mithras religion.

Criterion (iii): Recently found Mithras Temple within the Castle is a unique testimony of Rome's mysterious Mithras religion. Mithraeum in Zerzevan Castle is one of the best-preserved temples of the Mithras cult in the world. The Persian originated Mithra cult was first brought to the Roman empire by Roman soldiers after the expeditions to the east and become quite widespread in the Roman Empire at 2-3rd centuries AD.  Although the cult of Mithras is found in all the regions dominated by Rome, Mithraeum in Zerzevan Castle is the only temple on the eastern border of Rome and dates back 2-3rd century AD.  Therefore, it should be one of the oldest temples of this mysterious faith. Some religious symbols are seen in the Mithraeum.

The Mithraeum in Zerzevan Castle exhibits an exceptional testimony to the mysterious faith of Mithras and its secret rituals with 4 sacrifice hangers, the pool of bull blood and the related 3 functional niches on the right-side wall.

Criterion (iv): The Castra had an important place in Roman defense architecture. These Roman garrisons have square or rectangular structures within geometrical plans, streets in settled lines suitable for terrain and settlements. Zerzevan Castle and its military settlement as a castrum is one of the best-preserved Roman garrisons in the world with its underground and aboveground structures. The military settlement has been built on a rocky hill at the height of 124 m.  The remains and city walls of the settlement area spread over a large area of approximately 60 acres. It reflects all the features and technological developments of the Pagan and Christian Roman architectural structures and artefacts. The observation and defense tower, which has a height of 19 meters wall standing on city wall, are unique with its architectural structure. The military settlement is also unique with its underground shelter where 400 people can accommodate and there are many such buildings in the settlement. Hidden passage, discovered and closed again in 6th century AD, is noteworthy with its architecture. There are 54 underground water cisterns and 800 meters long canal outside the walls which provide water to the settlement.

Criterion (vi):  The military settlement represents transition from secret belief of Mithras to Christian worship. The god Mithras, of Persian origin, is the god of concepts of “agreement and friendship”, which means “mediating”. Mithras is the god of the sun and the cult is based on worshipping the sun. It is also the symbol of light, war, justice and faith. It became rather common in the Roman Empire in the 2-3rd centuries AD. In the 4th century AD, it lost its significance with the spread of Christianity. The religion of Mithras was quite common especially among the soldiers in all the lands where the Roman rule was dominant. Its teaching is about the creation of the world and is also known as the god who controls the universe. The religious ceremonies were secret and closed to the outside. The members of this religion to which only men are accepted had to go through seven stages and twelve persecutions. The ceremonies were held underground in caves and temples.

Along with Mithraeum, an underground church in the military garrison which is converted from rock tomb is also remarkable with its inscriptions on the walls. The other church, which was built in the 6th century, is largely standing and preserved until today. The building is one of the oldest churches in the region. The baptism bucket found here was taken to the Istanbul Archeology Museum in 1895 and it is among the unique works exhibited in the museum. Although the garrison is primarily built for military purposes, it is quite important that structures shed a light on belief, values of the time. These architectural structures and their use in the Zerzevan Castle clearly show the connections between the cultures and beliefs.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Zerzevan Castle and its surroundings are protected as 1st Degree Archaeological Site with the decision of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism; Diyarbakır Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural Property dated 04.05.2005 and numbered 257. Southern tower, church, vaulted cisterns, rock tombs; rock altar, underground church, underground shelter and Mithraeum are well preserved. These mentioned buildings do not have any later additions to disrupt their originality or they have not undergone any restoration so far. Along with the start of the excavations, studies have been carried out to preserve the current situation of the buildings. In addition there are no modern uses or settlements in the vicinity of Zerzevan Castle and its surroundings.

According to the available information, Zerzevan Castle was settled uninterruptedly from the 3rd century AD. to 639. It is one of the best preserved unique examples in the world.  The originality of the Zerzevan Castle and its surroundings is intact and the buildings have remained standing until today.  However natural conditions and human destruction have adversely affected the buildings.

The archaeological excavations in Zerzevan Castle have been carried out since 2014 with the permissions of Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Comparison with other similar properties

Zerzevan Castle, most probably named as Samachi in Roman period, has a unique architecture and planning. And it is one of the best-preserved military settlements in the world.  Although the fortification and tower architecture can be compared with the Zenobia - Halabia (Deir Ezzor) in the northeast of Syria and the Qasr Bshir (UNESCO Tentative List) in Jordan, the architectural features of the Zerzevan Castle differ significantly.

The other Mithraeum in Anatolia is in Doliche (Gaziantep). The building was built on a quarry which was left open and therefore it differs from the architectural features Zerzevan Mithraeum. Mithraeum in Dura Europos (UNESCO Tentative List) in Syria, resembling the Zerzevan Mithraeum with generations of central niches and symbols on the niche in which the scene where Mithras was sacrificed the bull. In Italy, the Mithraeums in Rome, Ostia and Santa Maria Capua Vetere also have common architectural features with the structure in Zerzevan. In England, London and Carrawburgh (UNESCO World Heritage List) Mithraeum were built on a different ground and their architecture is quite different from Mithraeum within Zerzevan Castle. The Mithraeum in Zerzevan Castle exhibits an exceptional testimony to the mysterious faith of Mithras and its secret rituals with 4 sacrifice hangers, the pool of bull blood and the related 3 functional niches on the right-side wall. The architecture of Mithraeum in the Zerzevan Castle is very well preserved compared with other temples within the Roman borders and has distinguishing features in terms of explaining the ceremonies of the Mithras cult.