The name of ŞANLİURFA, or “Glorious Urfa” (most of the locals just say Urfa) commemorates resistance to the French invasion and occupation of 1918–1920. A place of pilgrimage for many religions and the reputed birthplace of the prophet Abraham, its chief attraction is a beautiful mosque complex, reflected in the limpid waters of a sacred pool. Just as compelling is the town’s distinctly Middle Eastern atmosphere. Much of the population is Kurdish, a significant minority Arab, and you’ll find the bazaars full of veiled, henna-tattooed women and men wearing baggy trousers and traditional headdresses. In Turkey this “city of the prophets” has gained a reputation as a focus for Islamic fundamentalism – alcohol has almost disappeared from restaurants (though not bars) and the good citizens retire early to bed. Visiting female pilgrims are often fully veiled and clad in black from top to toe.
Urfa is currently Turkey’s second fastest-growing city, thanks largely to the money generated by the GAP project, though it still ranks very low (68 out of 81) in terms of socio-economic development, a fact clear from a walk around its impoverished backstreets.
The first settlers were the Hurri, members of one of Anatolia’s earliest civilizations, who built a fortress on the site of the present citadel around 3500 BC. Later came the Hittites and Assyrians, but only after it was re-founded as Edessa by Seleucus Nicator in 300 BC did the city eclipse nearby Harran. It later became an important eastern outpost for the Romans against Persia.
From the second century AD, Edessa was a thriving centre of Christianity, and Abgar IV (176–213) made it the world’s first Christian kingdom. The city changed hands between Byzantine and Arab several times; according to Syrian Orthodox legend it was once ransomed for the “mandalyon”, a hankerchief bearing the imprint of Christ. As Byzantine control ebbed, the Arabs moved in, staying until the eleventh century. During the First Crusade, a French count, Baldwin of Boulogne, stopped off en route to Tripoli and the Holy Land to establish the county of Edessa, a short-lived Christian state. In 1144 the Arabs recaptured Edessa, giving the rulers of Europe a pretext to launch the Second Crusade. In 1260 it was sacked by the Mongols and never recovered, declining into obscurity before being absorbed (as Urfa) into the Ottoman Empire in 1637.Read More
Around 15km northeast of Urfa, where the southern foothills of the Toros Mountains fade into the scorching flatlands of upper Mesopotamia, lies Göbekli Tepe (Hill of the Navel), one of Turkey’s most intriguing archeological sites. Here, on a hilltop 870m above sea level, is an artificial mound some 300m in diameter and 15m high, containing a series of circular chambers, carbon-dated to a period between 9500 and 7500 BC. The chambers have burnt-lime floors and are lined with stone benches, but most remarkably contain a series of T-shaped monoliths, the tallest of which are 5m high. Clearly anthropomorphic, many of the monoliths are liberally covered with incredible relief-carvings of wild animals, from scorpions and snakes to lions and wild boar.
This site appears to disprove the theory that only settled societies were capable of producing monumental buildings and sophisticated art, as much of the work at Göbekli Tepe was done when man was still in the hunter-gatherer stage of development. Visit between May and October and there’s a chance you’ll see archeologists at work excavating the site; in winter the monoliths are protected from the elements by metal covers. To reach the site with your own transport, head out of town on the Mardin road. After around 10km turn left (it’s now signed Göbekli Tepe) and head some 9km north to Örencik village. Turn right here and follow a track a further 2km to the gated site – a taxi from Urfa should cost around 50TL return, including waiting time. As yet there are no opening hours or admission fees, only a bekçi (watchman).
Sira Geceleri – a night out in Urfa
Sira Geceleri – a night out in Urfa
Originally sira geceleri (literally “nights by turn”) were informal gatherings of male friends at one of their homes, where a meal and conversation was accompanied by traditional live music. The idea was picked up by several Urfa restaurants (invariably sited in an old courtyard house) and now “guests” pay for the experience, sitting cross-legged at a low sofra table and tucking into a banquet of speciality local dishes whilst being serenaded by a traditional band.