Mehmet and Cemal had said we would have breakfast together, but, because I had put them to a lot of trouble and expense already, I half hoped they were not in their workshop and office (although I did want to thank them for their hospitality and say goodbye properly). When I first called the doors were locked, so I assumed they were sleeping in or had something better to do (a relative the night before had spoken about a hunting trip to kill rabbits. I wondered if they had decided to spend the day in the countryside). I walked to a lokanta where the road into the centre of Kaplica joins the Ergani to Cermik road and ordered a bowl of lentil soup, which came with bread, lemon and a small salad full of raw onion. I returned to the workshop and office and found Mehmet and Cemal rather drowsily preparing for yet another day’s work, even though it was Sunday. I said I had eaten breakfast and must leave for Ergani, and thanked them for their generosity and friendship. We had already exchanged means to stay in touch.
I returned to the hotel, packed my last few things and spent some time on the balcony watching a small community slowly come to life on the day of the week that should be dominated by rest and recreation. A few adults and children walked slowly past and, if speaking at all, they did so very quietly as if they did not want to disrupt the tranquillity that enveloped everyone and everything. Cockerels crowed and birds sang. The blue sky was cloudless, the surrounding hills were green and the sunshine promised to raise the temperature to about 27 or 28 degrees centigrade. Although most of the buildings in view were devoid of architectural pretensions and wind-blown litter from fly-tipping reminded me of parts of urban County Durham, the morning had started in excellent fashion.
I settled the bill with the woman who owned the hotel with her husband, then walked to the Ergani road. I chatted with an overweight young man with some sort of special need, then a minibus pulled up on its way to Diyarbakir via Ergani. My large bag was consigned to the back of the vehicle and I sat among the men at the front (females occupied the seats at the back). A little banter helped pass the time, but I was keen to concentrate on the attractive scenery: hills, distant mountains, a meandering river, rich pasture full of wild flowers grazed by cattle, and less fertile pasture at higher altitudes grazed by sheep and goats.
The minibus arrived in Ergani and I began looking for a hotel for the night. After a little hesitation and some help from men working at an oto lastik, or tyre repair, garage I opted for a rather old pansiyon with a lokanta on the main road between Diyarbakir and Elazig that charged 30TL for the night without breakfast. I was given a room at the back of the building so it was quiet after nightfall. There were three beds in the room, all of which had come from a hospital. At least this meant they were very solid and comfortable to sleep on. I had a TV, two small towels and a bar of soap, and the toilet and washing facilities were a short walk away, a walk taken in plastic sandals provided in each room for the guests. Amazingly, hot water existed all day and night. Water had to be thrown over you with the aid of a plastic jug, but, all things considered, the place was okay. The room was reasonably clean, as was the whole place, and the staff were very friendly.
It was not yet 10.00am and I had only two goals for the day, Hilar to the south-west of Ergani, and Eski, or Old, Ergani to the north. Because a visit to Eski Ergani required an ascent by road of the mountain overlooking modern Ergani and lots of people would drive along the road most of the day to enjoy the panoramic views and the fresh air at the summit, I decided to go to Hilar first. Getting to and from Hilar would probably confront me with more challenges than getting to and from Eski Ergani.
To get to Hilar I had first to walk through a commercially vibrant part of Ergani lying to the west of the Diyarbakir to Elazig road. I then entered one of those shabby and more marginal parts of Turkish towns where, although houses and apartment blocks outnumber business premises, they have been built in a dispersed manner with patches of rubble-strewn land between them. Thus, even relatively small Turkish towns spread far more than they ought to, not unlike small towns in the USA, in fact, but in ways usually far less visually appealing.
I had almost reached the very last buildings blighting the landscape when a car drew to a halt and two men offered me a lift of about 5 kilometres. We crossed the railway between Diyarbakir and Elazig where freight trucks lay along two sidings. A little further along, at a junction where the road to Hilar branches to the right, I was dropped off. I walked about 1.5 kilometres through gently undulating countryside dominated by fields, pasture, wild flowers and distant hills, then a man stopped to offer me a lift to Hilar. Once at my destination the citadel rock and tomb chambers lay to my right, as did a small car park, and to my left was a portacabin. The portacabin provided shelter and accommodation for the men employed by the museum in Diyarbakir to look after the site and show visitors around. When one of the men approached me I reached for my wallet to pay the admission fee. “No fee,” he said, “Admission free. Welcome. Would you like some tea?”
What followed the glasses of tea was remarkable. The man showed me around the citadel rock and tomb chambers nearby, then assigned a younger companion to walk me along a delightful path that led past large rounded rocks and many wild flowers to a shallow river. We waded across the river before entering a large area of gently undulating grass with yet more flowers. Access to the undulating area is restricted by a rectangle of fencing, the gates of which are usually kept locked. Inside the fencing are many rectangles and squares made from rock indicating that an early village dependent on farming thrived on the site. Archaeologists believe the village was occupied from roughly 7250 to 6750 BCE.
Sinclair describes the citadel rock and tombs in the following manner:
Citadel rock of small town. Classical to medieval periods. Rock-cut chambers, probably pagan Syriac (classical period)…
The town appears to have been s. of the citadel… Other knobs of rock stand up out of the alluvial silt. There are two groups of chambers. One is e. of both the modern village (Cayonu) and citadel; the chambers are in a line which runs n.-s. as a general direction, and are entered at the bottom of a low cliff. The other group is sw. of the citadel.
Citadel rock. It consists of a ridge of upstanding rock perhaps 100 metres from n. to s. The s. end is broader and taller, and the rock slopes downwards to the n. where it ends in a smoothed platform. From the w. side of the ridge issues a narrow arm, which then curves round to the s. and broadens into a second knob similar to the s. end of the main ridge… At the s. sides of the two southerly knobs of rock we can see steps carved into the steep rock slope. These probably served to support walls: date perhaps Hellenistic. There are pear-shaped cisterns at the main rock’s s. end and about half way down its length. Against the main rock’s w. side, towards the n. end, stairs descend to a well: these would have needed to be protected by a cross-wall. There are also rock-cut cisterns just opposite the s. end of the westerly arm…
Easterly tombs. Those which are genuinely tomb chambers have low entrances and sockets and a latch-hole for a stone door… Reclining figure, probably a man. He leans on his left arm, which is supported by a piece of natural rock left uncarved. To right, a standing figure, probably a woman, wearing a tall pointed cap with long trailers either side of her head. Apparently wearing a skirt. Above man’s legs, Syriac inscription…
South-westerly tombs. Five pear-shaped rock-cut cisterns. Burial chamber, many panels carved in rock nearby.
As for the undulating area immediately north of the river, the site is far larger now than when Sinclair wrote about it in the 1980s, but much of his information is still relevant:
Almost the only occupation of the mound was that of an early village farming community. The limits of the occupation are not far outside 7250 and 6750 BCE. The community grew wheat from the very beginning; however, if did not breed animals until towards the end of the occupation. Before that it hunted: for the most part the evidence for hunted animals fades out where the domesticated animals’ remains begin to be found. Obsidian and stone tools have been unearthed… There were crude, probably unbaked plates of clay. Some necklaces (malachite, etc.). Raw copper fragments beaten into pins, hooks, etc.
The two central and most important phases were those of “grill-plan” and “cell-plan” buildings. The former was a long house, the northern end of which had a substructure of stone foundations in a close-set grill-plan (in other words, several parallel walls within the rectangle of walls bounding the room), on which a wooden floor would be laid. This was followed by a pebble pavement, and at the s. end were the foundations for two or three cell-like rooms. The cell-plan rooms were shorter. Within a rectangle of stone foundations the interior was divided by other stone foundation walls into cells, thought to be small to live in. Cell-plan houses are certainly later than grill-plan houses, but it is not certain that grill-plans were abandoned when cell-plans were introduced, and in any case the latter look like simply a version of the former better calculated to hold up the floor. Some bodies were buried in the cells.
The earliest known occupation is repeated by several house types, including a round or ovoid plan. There were two “broad-pavement” non-domestic buildings. In them rooms surrounded a court: pilasters on the walls facing the court… In another building, the “skull-building”, there is a pit in the otherwise well-paved floor of each room, and various human bones or parts of skeletons piled up in the pits. Purpose unknown.
Only two other people, a married couple, bothered to walk to the fenced-off area north of the river, but a steady flow of men, women and children came to look around the citadel rock and tombs. Some visitors then drove along a dirt road between the river and the rocks to the north of the citadel to consume large family picnics in pasture sparkling with white, yellow and purple flowers.
I returned to the portacabin to chat with the man who had first shown me around. We walked once more around the citadel rock picking up litter as we went. I then said I had to leave for Eski Ergani and began walking along the road toward the junction where I had been dropped off earlier in the day. Less than 100 metres from the car park, a couple in a large air conditioned car (the husband was a helicopter engineer of Turkish origin. He and his wife lived in Diyarbakir, where he worked) stopped and drove me all the way to the edge of Ergani, from where I walked to the Diyarbakir to Elazig road.