by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared 2019 as "the Year of Gobeklitepe" in a bid to boost the archeological site of Gobeklitepe, dubbed "the ground zero for human history."
Located in Turkey's southeastern province of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border, Gobeklitepe is one of the world's oldest megalithic structure.
The year of 2018 was named "The Year of Troy," Erdogan recalled, saying the initiative revived the tourism activities in the northwestern Canakkale province by 60 percent.
"I believe that we will see a much higher performance in Sanliurfa. This ancient settlement proves the importance of Anatolia in the history of humanity and it will certainly attract worldwide attention," he said, announcing to attend the official opening ceremony there soon.
The decision was hailed by tourism professionals.
"This is a very important move. Gobeklitepe will be one of the most precious tourism destinations," Firuz B. Baglikaya, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (Tursab) told Xinhua.
"I think that Gobeklitepe will be in 2019 a driving force for regional tourism and we plan to attract up to one million tourists to this region by 2023," he added.
Gobeklitepe, which means Potbelly Hill in Turkish, is the world's oldest known megalithic structure in Upper Mesopotamia.
Dates back to nearly 12,000 years ago and considered one of the world's oldest temple, it features massive carved stones and T-shaped pillars that predate the invention of agriculture.
The site was reopened to tourists in early 2018 following extensive restoration work, in whish a 4,000-square-meter steel roof was erected to protect the site.
It was added in 2018 to the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Klaus Schmidt, a German archaeologist and pre-historian, has led the wide-ranging excavations at Gobeklitepe since 1996 until his death in 2014, contributing a lot to rewrite the early history of civilization.
The T-shaped pillars, some of which are up to 5.5 meters high and weighed several tons, were transported from the nearby quarry to the site, where the locals shaped them into round-oval, semi-subterranean stone buildings.
The Neolithic art includes sculptures of fox, crane, boar and scorpions. Scientist believe that the structure, older than the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge, is the spot where modern human civilization began.
The site is open to the public and there are numerous local and international businesses specialized in trips and guided tours of the archeological wonder.
However, experts warned that once a site is chosen to promote tourism for hundreds of thousands of people, it also increases burdens and risks for the site itself.
"Serious studies have to be made to establish how many people will be coming to the site and a survey team has to be deployed to monitor the findings of scientific studies," Necmi Karul, a member of the scientific board of Gobeklitepe, told Xinhua.
"Most of the articles concerning Gobeklitepe confidently said that it is 'the world's oldest temple,' while it is most probably not," Karul noted, adding that "we have to present as it is a very valuable archeological discovery and protect it from wild urbanization schemes."
According to UNESCO, Gobeklitepe was the meeting center of the last hunters before humans switched to a lifestyle based on agriculture.
"Gobeklitepe is a unique sacred space and sacred meeting center of the Neolithic period in terms of its location, dimensions, dating and monumentality of architectural ruins and sculptural pieces," an article on UNESCO's website says.
"There are settlement areas dating back to the same period as Gobeklitepe but these settlements are much smaller in scale and have different functions to Gobeklitepe," it added.
Preparations are well under way in Sanliurfa to present the ancient site as a tourist attraction for visitor around the world.
"Gobeklitepe will be given a special in the expos that Turkey will attend. Informative tours for travel agencies in Turkey and abroad will be organized to introduce the site to a larger audience," Aydin Aslan, provincial director for culture and tourism, told state-run Anadolu Agency.