SANLIURFA, Turkey

Around 200,000 people visited Turkey’s ancient site of Gobeklitepe, known as the world’s oldest temple, in 2020 despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to officials.

A total of 197,912 people visited the 12,000-year-old excavation site in the southeastern Sanliurfa province although it was closed for around three months, Rahime Yasar, the deputy head of the Sanliurfa Tourism Development Association, told Anadolu Agency.

“Especially in 2020 we were expecting around 1 million visitors but the pandemic did not allow this to happen,” Yasar added.

Muslum Coban, head of a regional tourist guides group, was also hopeful after almost 200,000 people visited the ancient site despite coronavirus.

“We expect and hope the figure to improve in 2021,” Coban added.

Gobeklitepe has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List since 2011. It was discovered in 1963 when researchers from Istanbul and Chicago universities were working at the site.

The German Archaeological Institute and Sanliurfa Museum have done joint works at the site since 1995 and have found T-shaped obelisks from the Neolithic era measuring 3-6 meters (10-20 feet) high, and weighing 40-60 tons.

During the excavations, 12,000-year-old diverse artifacts like human statues at a height of 65 cm (26 inches) were also discovered.

*Writing by Handan Kazanci

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