site located in Syria's ῾Afrin valley, upstream from the ῾Amuq plain, about 67 km (42 mi.) northwest of Aleppo and 7 km (4 mi.) south of the new city of ῾Afrin (36°56′ N, 36°55′ E). It is not far from the archaeological site of Ha-za-za/A-za-za, modern I῾azaz, about 25 km (15.5 mi.) to the northeast, and from Tell Rifa῾at/Arpad, about 30 km (18 mi.) to the east. ῾Ain Dara῾ is named after a spring about 700 m east of the mound. The tell is enormous. Its citadel rises about 30 m from the level of the plain; its lower city covers an area of 24 ha (59 acres).

῾Ain Dara῾ is not mentioned often in the scholarly literature. Some researchers passed through the area while studying the ancient city of Kunulua. It was generally ignored, however, until the chance discovery of a monumental basalt lion In 1955. The Department of Antiquities of Aleppo then initiated a series of seasons of excavation on the tell.

Excavations at its southern corner and on the northwestern edge of the summit were conducted In 1956, 1962, and In 1964 under the direction of Feisal Seirafe, assisted by the French archaeologist Maurice Dunand. [See the biography of Dunand.] In 1976 and again In 1978, an expedition from the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums, under the direction of Ali Abou Assaf, excavated at the site.

In seasons 6–11 (1980–1985) a temple was uncovered. In 1983 and 1984, Paul Zimansky and Elizabeth Stone made soundings in the lower city near the western and northern corner. From surface exploration and a sounding in the citadel and the lower city it appears that the lower city was settled from the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. thirteenth century BCE) until the Iron Age II (c.740 BCE). Except for the Roman period, the citadel was settled from the Chalcolithic through the Ottoman periods.

The following levels, dated by their artifacts, were distinguished in the area above and around the temple, which belongs to level VII (three phases: 1300–1000 BCE; 1000–900 BCE; and 900–740 BCE).

  • Level I: Seljuk period (1100–1400 CE)
  • Level II: Late Byzantine period (650 CE)
  • Level III: Umayyad and ῾Abbasid period (650–900 CE)
  • Level IV: Hellenistic period (330–75 BCE)
  • Level V: Late Aramean and Achaemenid periods (530–330 BCE)
  • Level VI: Aramean and Neo-Babylonian periods (740–530 BCE).

The temple, oriented to the southeast, consists of six architectural components.

  • 1. Paved courtyard. A well and a basin for washing hands before entering the sanctuary for prayers were found in the courtyard.
  • 2. Entrance. Three basalt steps decorated with a guilloche pattern led to the entrance, which was a portico with two columns. Two huge limestone threshold blocks were situated in the successive doorways; there are impressions of two footprints on the first, and the print of a left foot on the second (97 × 31 cm). Two towers or rooms may have flanked the entrance. Through a room on the right a staircase between the anticella and the corridor was reached. Two sphinxes and four colossal lions flank the entrance, guarding the portico.
  • 3. Facade. Reliefs of lions and sphinxes arranged in two levels decorated the facade. The upper level was comprised of huge lions in protome, and the lower of opposing lions and sphinxes.
  • 4. Anticella. The decoration of the oblong anticella is very impressive. Above the floor on the lower part of the wall is a series of orthostats decorated with a pair of guilloches. Large basalt slabs are decorated with figures of mountain gods; the ornamentation above the orthostats is geometric.
  • 5. Stairway. Three steps of a stairway join the anticella with the cella. The cella must have once have been very impressive. Only a few orthostats decorated with guilloches remain. The podium opposite the door was badly destroyed. Its profile is only suggested by the series of facing basalt orthostats, decorated with figures of mountain gods and geniuses (see below).
  • 6. Raised corridor. In the latest phase of the temple the builder surrounded it with a raised corridor. Orthostats of opposing lions and sphinxes grace its exterior, and lions flank its entrance. On both sides of the corridor the builders originally erected thirty opposing stelae with different scenes (e.g., a throned king, a palm tree, a standing god, offerings).

῾Ain Dara῾

῾AIN DARA῾. Basalt bas-relief on a socle, depicting a mountain god and two bulls with human heads and arms. National Museum, Aleppo, Syria. (Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)

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The sculpture in the temple at ῾Ain Dara῾ is integrated into the building's design: lions line the passage through the gates, lions and sphinxes are carved in protome on the slabs in the anticella and on the socle in the niche of the podium in the cella. The stelae on both sides of corridor exhibit the same technique: eighty-two reliefs form a dado around the sides of the temple terrace. The repertoire is very limited—only lions and sphinxes. It is well known that the lion is an attribute of the goddess Ishtar, and it is known from Phoenician works of art that the sphinx is an attribute of that goddess. Ishtar-Šawuška, the lover of the mountain god, ruled the mountains in northern Syria and southern Anatolia. [See Phoenicians.] Because the mountain god is dipicted on the orthostats and socles in the cella and anticella, it can be assumed that the temple was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. In its plan the temple at ῾Ain Dara῾ repeats the main features of temples at Tell Chuera, Munbaqa, Emar, Ebla, Hazor, and Tell Ta῾yinat. [See Chuera, Tell; Emar; Ebla; Hazor.] At ῾Ain Dara῾, however, the following principal changes appear: the platform is higher, a corridor is situated on three sides of the temple, the decorations include more than 168 reliefs and sculptures in protome, and a deep well and a large chalkstone basin opposite the east corner were found in the paved courtyard. The lions and sphinxes on the main facade and the facade of the cella resemble those guarding the gates at Boğazköy and Alaca Höyük and may be said to follow Canaanite and Hittite prototypes. [See Boğazköy; Hittites.]

[See also Temples, article on Syro-Palestinian Temples.]


  • Abdul-Hak, Sélim. “Les musées syriens et l'éducation.” Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes 15 (1965): 3–12.
  • Abou Assaf, Ali. Der Tempel von ῾Ain Dārā. Mainz am Rhein, 1990. Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes 10 (1960): 87–103.

Ali Abou Assaf