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The Ain Dara temple, located near the village of Ain Dara, in Afrin, Syria is an Iron Age Syro-Hittite temple noted for its similarities to Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, as described in the Hebrew Bible.[1][2][3] According to the excavator Ali Abu Assaf, it was in existence from 1300 BC until 740 BC and remained "basically the same" during the period of the Solomonic Temple's construction (1000 - 900 BC) as it had been before,[4] so that it predates the Solomonic Temple.[5] The temples of Emar, Mumbaqat, and Ebla are also comparable.[3] The surviving sculptures depict lions and sphinxes (comparable to the cherubim of the First Temple).

Ain Dara temple
SYRIE 291.jpg
The remains of the Ain Dara temple
Ain Dara (archaeological site) is located in Syria
Ain Dara (archaeological site)
Shown within Syria
LocationAin Dara village, Afrin, Syria
Coordinates36°27′33.7″N 36°51′7.5″E / 36.459361°N 36.852083°E / 36.459361; 36.852083Coordinates: 36°27′33.7″N 36°51′7.5″E / 36.459361°N 36.852083°E / 36.459361; 36.852083
Part ofAcropolis
Length30 m (98 ft)
Width20 m (66 ft)
Area600 m2 (6,500 sq ft)
Foundedc. 1300 BC to 740 BC
PeriodsIron Age
Site notes
Excavation dates1980–1985
Public accessYes

Massive footprints are carved into the floor; whether of gods or humans or animals is debatable.[4] Also left to speculation is to whom the temple is dedicated. Ain Dara may have been devoted to Ishtar, goddess of fertility;[6] or dedicated to the female goddess Astarte,[7] or the deity Ba'al Hadad.[8]

In late January 2018, the temple was significantly damaged by Turkish Air Force jets in the course of their Afrin offensive.[9] Reports indicate that at least 60% percent of the structure was reduced to rubble.[10]



Ain Dara temple is located in north Syria, 67 kilometres (42 mi) northwest of Aleppo near the Syro-Turkish border. It was built on a terrace known as the "acropolis of the tell". The tell itself is precipitous-faced and overlooks the Afrin Valley. The area is divided in two parts, the main tell that is 25 m (82 ft) above the surrounding plain, and the lower acropolis which covers an area of 25 ha (60 acres).[3][4][11][dubious ]

Just east of the temple site is the modern-day village of Ain Dara.


Colossal basalt lion found in 1955

The discovery of the temple was the result of a fortuitous finding of a colossal basalt lion in 1955. Excavations in 1956, 1962, and 1964 were conducted by Maurice Dunand and Feisal Seirafi; beginning in 1976, Ali Abu Assaf continued the work.[12] He discovered the temple and inferred that it was built in three structural phases in the period from about 1300 BC to 740 BC. The first phase was from 1300 BC to 1000 BC, the second phase from 1000 BC to 900 BC, and third phase from 900 BC to 740 B.C.E. This was preceded by the Chalcolithic period during the fourth millennium BC, and the tell remained occupied until the Ottoman period (1517 -1917).[3][4]

After excavations were done, between 1980 and 1985, its similarities with Solomon’s Temple, described in the Biblical texts though not seen on ground, was discussed by archaeologists and historians. Already the smaller Tell Tayinat temple, discovered during excavations in 1936 and located about 50 miles (80 km) away, had "caused a sensation because of its similarities to Solomon’s Temple."[3][4]

According to extensive subsequent debate among archaeologists, Ain Dara has numerous similarities with Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Ain Dara, as excavated, has revealed a distinctively similar three-part layout with structural blocks of basalt on limestone foundations. However, it has been conjectured that the temple probably had a mud-brick superstructure covered with wood paneling, which has not survived.[3][4]

Destruction by the Turkish militaryEdit

In late January 2018, both the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums and pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported major destruction of the temple following airstrikes by the Turkish Air Force in the course of their Afrin offensive.[13][14] Aerial bombardments of the Ain Dara site were first reported by a local resident via Dutch news network NOS on 23 January 2018.[15]

As reported on MSN news, with the headline "Blown to bits", it is clear the temple was heavily damaged. "For 3,000 years, the lion sculptures of Syria's Ain Dara stood as testaments to the Iron Age. But as Turkish bombardment pounds the region, they have little left but their paws." [16]

As stated by the Directorate of Antiquities in Afrin on 31 January 2018:

“Turkish forces revealed the occupation of Syrian geography in its real face, especially the Turkish state, since the declaration of war on Afrin canton on 20 January 2018, as it escalated Operation Olive Branch to go beyond the targeting of military forces to include shelling villages and towns full of civilians from the elderly, children and women To the rich and varied history and civilization of the province from prehistoric times to the present day."
"On 27 January 2018, the Turkish state warplanes bombarded and damaged the ancient “Ein -Darat” temple, despite its distance from the fighting fronts and the areas of engagement, by about 20 kilometers. Accordingly, the Directorate of Antiquities in Afrin canton and all the bodies and councils associated with Democratic Autonomous Administration and civil institutions condemn this savage shelling of sites and archaeological sites that are the property of all mankind. We call on the international community and all organizations involved in this field to intervene immediately, seriously and Turkish Cultural and Human Heritage in Afrin canton.” [17]

The Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums and Syrian Ministry of Culture issued a statement condemning the attack on the site as "aggression of the Turkish regime on archaeological sites in the northern countryside of Aleppo" and called on international organizations to denounce the attack on Ain Dara.[18]

BBC News reported that "Turkey is indiscriminately shelling civilians in Afrin" where Ain Dara is located.[19]

More than 2,200 people have been "neutralized" in the Afrin region of Syria as part of Turkey's ongoing military operations there, Turkish authorities said March 1, 2018. The Turkish Armed Forced used the term "neutralized" to describe capturing enemies dead or alive, or those who have surrendered to Ankara forces.[20]

Architecture and fittingsEdit

Detail of the outer wall of the Ain Dara temple, showing two lions


A courtyard built with sandstones provides approach to the temple. The courtyard is paved with flagstones where a chalkstone basin for ceremonial purposes is seen.[4] The temple, 30 by 20 m (98 by 66 ft) in size, faces southeast.[3][4] Its exterior contains a cherubim relief.[21] The entrance porch, or portico, marked by two basalt piers or pillars, and a wide hall, were not roofed over and were part of an open courtyard. The entrance pillars appear to have architectural and cultic significance.[3] A sphinx and two lions decorate the temple portico flanking the three steps (out of four) made in basalt.


The main sections include the porch, a middle room and an inner room or sanctum. The middle room measures 6 metres (20 ft) by 15.5 metres (51 ft) in size and is lined with lion reliefs, guilloché, and panels resembling window. The square main hall measures 16 metres (52 ft) by 16 metres (52 ft); at the rear end of this hall reliefs and a stele were added as part of shrine. There are basalt reliefs in the lower wall panels. An elevated podium (0.75 m (2 ft 6 in) high platform), a niche, and a secondary wall are part of the visible remains. In the small shrine area situated at the innermost area of the temple, carved sockets and grooves are seen on the wall,[3] which point to the former presence of a wooden screen. A ramp joins the main room to the platform area and the sanctum. The back wall of the sanctum has a niche which probably housed a statue of a god or goddess.[4] Paved floors and walls reliefs are visible in the multistoried hallways, at least three stories high, that flank three sides of the temple,[3] with at least one southern entrance. Figure-eight lattice patterns are included on two false, recessed windows that were carved into the temple walls.[2] While all these were dated as part of first and second phase creations, material remains unearthed at the site identify additions made in the third phase of construction, an "ambulatory with a series of side chambers on three sides of the temple". It has also been inferred that these chambers were part of the pre-existing temple platform and not linked to the main temple.[4]


Left: The left footprint (ca. 1 metre in length). Right: The right footprint (about 1 metre in length)

A pair of large, bare footprints, each about 1 m (3 ft 3 in) in length, are carved into the stone floors of the portico, followed by a single footprint carved beyond the first two, and another single footprint carved into the threshold, "marking the deity’s procession into the cella".[clarification needed][4][8][11] It is also conjectured[who?] that these foot prints could be of unidentified "immense clawed creatures". The inference[according to whom?] is that the right footprint seen on the threshold, which is spaced at about 10 m (30 ft) from the first footprint, could be of human or goddess, 20 m (66 ft) in height. Monson has also noted that the deities in all the Ain Dara temple reliefs have "shoes with curled-up toes". Hence, the source of the footprints, whether of gods or humans or animals, is debatable.[4]

Similarities with Solomon's TempleEdit

Conceptual sketch of elevation of Solomon's Temple as explained in the Hebrew Bible

There are many features in common with Solomon's Temple as described in the Book of Kings. The layout of Dara is similar to that of the Biblical temple, which was also of a long room plan with the three room configuration of a portico at the entrance followed by the main chamber with the shrine. The difference is in the antechamber, which is an add-on in the Ain Dara temple. The size of the Solomon temple was 35 m (115 ft) by 9 m (30 ft) while that of the Ain Dara is 30 m (98 ft) long by 20 m (66 ft) wide without side chambers. Other similarities include: location on a high raised site overlooking a city; erected on a raised platform, with a narrow portico and a roof supported on pillars flanked by reliefs on the walls, and carvings of similar motifs; and the raised podium. In brief, 33 of the architectural elements found in Ain Dara are tallied with 65 of the features mentioned in the Biblical description of Solomon's Temple.[4][22]


  1. ^ King, Philip J.; Stager, Lawrence E. (2001). Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 334.
  2. ^ a b Long, Jesse (January 2002). 1 & 2 Kings. College Press. pp. 110–111. ISBN 978-0-89900-882-0. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Monson, John M. (June 1999). "The Temple of Solomon: Heart of Jerusalem". In Hess, Richard S. & Wenham, Gordon J. (eds.). Zion, city of our God. C.The Ain Dara Temple:A New Parallel from Syria. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 12–19. ISBN 978-0-8028-4426-2. Retrieved 15 February 2011.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Monson, John M. "The New 'Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel" (PDF). Archived from the original (pdf) on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  5. ^ Hicks, John Mark (March 2001). 1 & 2 Chronicles. College Press. pp. 272–. ISBN 978-0-89900-883-7. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  6. ^ Freedman, David Noel; Myers, Allen C.; Beck, Astrid B. (2000). Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 1265–. ISBN 978-0-8028-2400-4. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  7. ^ Lemaire, Andra(c); Adams, Dr Samuel; Baruch Halpern (2009). Book of Kings: Sources, Composition, Historiography and Reception. BRILL. pp. 297–. ISBN 978-90-04-17729-1. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  8. ^ a b Walton, John H.; Baker, David W.; Bodi, Daniel; Paul W. Ferris (30 October 2009). Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel. Zondervan. pp. 494–. ISBN 978-0-310-25576-5. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  9. ^ Syrian government says Turkish shelling damaged ancient temple
  10. ^ Turkish bombing damages 3,000-year-old temple in northern Syria
  11. ^ a b Stone, Elizabeth Caecilia; Zimansky, Paul E. (1999). The Iron age settlement at ʻAin Dara, Syria: survey and surroundings. J. and E. Hedges. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-84171-103-4. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  12. ^ Lehmann, Gunnar (February 2002). "Reviewed work(s): The Iron Age Settlement at ʿAin Dara, Syria: Survey and Soundings by Elizabeth C. Stone; Paul E. Zimansky". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The American Schools of Oriental Research (325): 83. JSTOR 1357717.
  13. ^ "Syrian government says Turkish shelling damaged ancient temple". Reuters. 28 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Syria condemns Turkey's attacks on ancient sites in Afrin". Xinhua. 28 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  15. ^ "Burgers in Afrin over Turkse bombardementen: niemand kijkt naar ons om" (in Dutch). NOS. 23 January 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Syrian government says Turkish shelling damaged ancient temple". MSN. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Directorate of Antiquities- Turkish Occupation Army targets Archaeological Sites". Directorate of Antiquities - Turkish Occupation Army targets Archaeological Sites. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  18. ^ "Turkish forces destroy parts of the ancient Ain Dara temple in Afrin (PHOTOS, VIDEO)". Voice of People Today. 28 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  19. ^ "Turkey is indiscriminately shelling civilians in Afrin". BBC. 1 March 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  20. ^ "Turkish military: 2,222 terrorists 'neutralized' in Syria's Afrin region". UPI. 1 March 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  21. ^ Block, Daniel I. (October 2008). Israel: Ancient Kingdom Or Late Invention?. B&H Publishing Group. pp. 46–. ISBN 978-0-8054-4679-1. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  22. ^ "Searching for the Temple of King Solomon". Biblical Archaeology Society. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2014.

External linksEdit