Vecdi Erbay / DİYARBAKIR

While the coronavirus has been taking lives every day and causing countries and cities to close their borders as people wait for a miracle from scientists in the form of a vaccine, there is some good news: Diyarbakır’s historic Zerzevan castle has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List. 

The news has been warmly received by people from Diyarbakır, as well as those interested in history and historic sites. But without a doubt, it is Aytaç Coşkun who is the most excited and happy about this development, as the UNESCO decision is the fruit of seven years of Coşkun’s labor. 

The Zerzevan Castle, which was built by the Roman Empire in the 3rd century as a defensive fortress on its eastern borders, was nearly forgotten until archaeological digs began in 2014. “Before we started the excavations there was no work of any kind done on the Zerzevan Castle. For this reason the information we had prior to the excavations was extremely limited,” Coşkun said. 

“There have been many structures identified both above and below ground. New archaeological findings concerning the daily lives of the civilians and soldiers who lived here will be revealed,” Coşkun added. 

While the castle was used by the Romans for 400 years until Arab Muslim armies conquered it in the 7th century, there have also been discoveries indicating that the structure’s history dates back nearly 3000 years, as traces belonging to the area’s pre-Roman dominant power, the Assyrians, were found during the excavations. 

“We found a 3000-year-old Assyrian symbol along with other objects, which brings the history of the settlement 1200 years further to the past,” Coşkun said. 

Perhaps the most captivating aspect of the Zerzevan Castle is the Mithraeum Temple, an important historic pagan worship site. 

“The last Mithraeum Temple found in the world was discovered in the Zerzevan Castle. This structure was the only temple on the Roman Empire’s eastern borders. The most well-protected of its kind in the world, the Mithraeum Temple is very important for the promotion of and tourism in our region and our country, because the work that is being done will change the history of Diyarbakır and the region,” Coşkun said. 

“Entering the UNESCO list increased our visibility around the world. Following the epidemic, we are expecting an important increase in the number of visitors. Serious work is being carried out to make 2021 the Year of Zerzevan in Turkey. Although this has slowed down due to coronavirus, the work continues.”