Cave of the Seven Sleepers

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Cave of the Seven Sleepers (كهف السبعة النائمين), known as the Ashabe Kahaf in Arabic, is a cave mentioned in the parable of the companions of the cave in the Quran and Christian tradition. The "Seven Sleepers" or the Ashab Kahf (companions of the cave) are a group of people mentioned in the Quran and in some extra-biblical Christian traditions, who went in to wilderness to escape the pursecution of a cruel king. These people are said to have stayed in this cave where they fell asleep for an extended number of years.

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Different sources give different location for the Cave, some say it is situated in Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Afghanistan and even in Spain.

As the earliest versions of the legend spread from Ephesus, an early Christian catacomb came to be associated with it, attracting scores of pilgrims. On the slopes of Mount Pion (Mount Coelian) near Ephesus (near modern Selçuk in Turkey), the grotto of the Seven Sleepers with ruins of the religious site built over it was excavated in 1926–1928. Other possible sites of the cave of the Seven Sleepers are in Afşin and Tarsus, Turkey.


circa 250 CE

"The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus Discovered by Alexander the Great", Folio from a Falnama (Book of Omens) or The seven sleepers of Ephesus, Folio from a Dispersed Nuzhatnama, 1550 CE. In Christian and Muslim tradition, the Seven Sleepers (اصحاب الکهف), aṣḥāb al kahf, the 'People of the Cave' is the story of a group of youths who hid inside a cave outside the city of Ephesus around 250 CE to escape a religious persecution and emerged some 300 years later.

The earliest version of this story comes from the Syrian bishop Jacob of Serugh (circa 450 – 521), which is itself derived from an earlier Greek source, now lost. The story appears in the Qur'an (Surah Al-Kahf 9–26) and thus is important to Islam. The Islamic version includes mention of a dog, who accompanied the youths into the cave and appears to keep watch. In Islam, these youths are referred to as the People of the Cave.

Notable Locations

circa 250 CE

Turpan, China
The green dome covers the purported cave of Ashab in China, it is situated in a small village, Mazar Aldi, near Toyuq Mosque near the township of Tuyoq, Turpan, China. A cave tomb in a Chinese village is believed by the locals to be the grave of the Seven Sleepers (Ashab Kahf). But the tradition is relatively new, dating back to circa 1600 CE at it's oldest. The tomb was most likely a Buddhist burial/shrine of a holy man later transformed in to a Muslim shrine and tagged as the Cave of the Ashab Kahf (Seven Sleepers).

circa 250 CE

Amman, Jordan
The facade and the main entrance to the cave in Jordan. To the left of the entrance is an ancient olive tree. At one time a small church was built on top of the cave; this was converted to a mosque with the mihrab still being visible above the entrance. The site - sometimes referred to as Kahaf ahl al-Kahaf or Kahaf al-Raqeem or Kahaf al-Rajeeb, is rather small partly natural and partly man-made cave. Outside the 'tomb', there are old ruins of shrines, two mosques and graves. One of the old mosques is right on top of the Cave.

circa 250 CE

Ephesus, İzmir, Turkey
The grotto of Seven Sleepers (Yedi Uyurlar Mağarası) in Ephesus, Turkey. It is a Byzantine necropolis where dozens of rock-cut tombs can be seen. The grotto is one of the several places related to the legend of a group of youths who hid inside a cave and years after woke up to find the world changed. This legend has two versions, Christian, and Islamic. The place known as the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers is now a ruined church carved into the rock. The cave was once lined with bricks that created the impression of a building.

circa 250 CE

Chenini, Tunisia
A small mosque and some cenotaphs mark the spot The legend goes that 7 Christians were imprisoned by the Romans at this spot, and locked away for 400 years. When they were let out, they had grown to heights of about 4 metres. Called by Augustine of Hippo “Kenini” which would draw its origin from Kanaan, everything leads to believe that this is the origin of the word Chenini, the historic Berber village in Tunisia.

circa 250 CE

Mar Musa, Syria
A small cave (designated C34) near the Mar Musa al-Habbashin (Saint Moses the Abyssinian) was discovered and dubbed as the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. The archaeological excavations have revealed at least 30 caves around the area and one watering-hole. A large number of icons of Seven Sleepers were found during the recent restoration process of the building and the artefacts it contains.

circa 250 CE

Tarsus, Turkey
The site known as the Eshab-ı Kehf Cave (Eshab-ı Kehf Mağarası) is an archaeological site where the remains of a Byzantine era church are found carved into the rock. The cave was once lined with bricks that created the impression of a building. In the side walls of the church, there are niches with arched vaults, and in the northern wall of the cave there is an apse. The inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers were found on the walls.

circa 250 CE

Kahramanmaraş, Turkey
Eshab-ı Kehf Kulliye is a historical building complex in Kahramanmaraş Province, Turkey. The külliye is known as the cave of the Seven Sleepers, a legendary people probably lived in the 5th century CE. Originally a church was built by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in 446 CE on this site. During the Seljuks of Anatolia era Seljuk governor Nasretüddin built a mosque, a caravanserai and a fortified barracks between 1215 and 1233.

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