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Ain Dara: the Hittite Temple and the Gods' Giant Footprints

The Ain Dara temple, situated northwest of Aleppo, Syria, is a Hittite edifice constructed around 3300 years ago, renowned for its similarity to the Temple of Solomon mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. It features prominent sculptures of lions and sphinxes, but the large footprints carved into the rock spark debate regarding the identity of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated.

The temple of Ain Dara. On the left: statue depicting a lion. On the right: large footprints etched
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The temple of Ain Dara. On the left: statue depicting a lion. On the right: large footprints etched into the rock.

In 1955 in Ain Dara, a small village located north-west of Aleppo, in Syria, following the discovery of a colossal basalt statue depicting a lion, the excavation campaign brought to light, almost by chance, the marvelous Temple of Ain Dara.

According to scholars, the place of worship dates back to the Iron Age. It was built around 1300 BC and attributable to the Hittite culture, an Indo-European people who inhabited the central part of Asia Minor in the 2nd millennium BC.

Plan of the Ain Dara's temple
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Plan of the Ain Dara's temple

The temple became famous first and foremost for its resemblance to the Temple of Solomon described in the Bible (1000-900 BC).

According to archaeologist Ali Abu Assaf, the Temple of Ain Dara remained essentially the same between 1300 BC and 740 BC, so it is reasonable to assume that the designers of Solomon's Temple were inspired by it. The temple is full of basalt sculptures, which depict lions and sphinxes, the latter comparable to the cherubs of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

The entrance to the temple is preceded by a large courtyard paved with stone slabs. The temple, with an area of ​​approximately 30 meters by 20 meters, stood about 2.5 meters high, and was covered with basalt blocks carved into figures of lions, sphinxes and other mythical creatures. A monumental staircase, flanked by a sphinx and two lions, guaranteed access for worship.

The deity to whom the temple was dedicated remains unclear. Some believe it was dedicated to Ishtar, the goddess of fertility; others that Astarte was the titular goddess of the sanctuary; still others believe it probable that the 'owner' of the temple was the god Baal Hadad.

Another feature that has made the Ain Dara temple famous, and perhaps the most interesting, is represented by some large footprints carved into the floor. It is not clear whether they represent the footsteps of giant men or deities. These footprints, leading up to the sanctuary, are perhaps the most compelling evidence of the temple's celestial dedications.

Large footprints etched into the floor of the Ain Dara temple
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Large footprints etched into the floor of the Ain Dara temple

A pair of footprints are found on the porch floor, then followed by a single footprint. Another single footprint can be seen on the threshold of the main room. Given the size of the footprints, it can be deduced that a man with such feet would stand nearly 20 meters tall! Clearly, these are not footprints left by a person intent on walking in the temple; footprints are an architectural creation expressly desired by the creators of the temple. The question is: why?

Researchers have no idea why the footprints were created, nor who or what they represent. Some scholars have suggested that they may be footprints intended to recall the presence of the gods, a sort of iconic representation of the resident divinity.

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DrWatson's profile picture

Another great article on the giants of the ancient times. It's amazing to see how these colossal beings are a common presence in all ancient cultures. Absolutely fascinating!

12 Mar 2024
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