48 hours in the cultural cauldron that Şanlıurfa is

 Thursday, November 17, 2022 


One might be surrounded by the click of pistachio shells being broken by customers assessing the product quality if the murmuring in Şanlıurfa’s cavernous bedestens (markets) could be muffled. However, the stores in the Bedestens have a lot more to offer than only pistachios, including spices, nuts, fruits, rugs, and even fabrics like zardosi that are meticulously selected from India.

The most significant pilgrimage city in the Middle East is Sanliurfa, usually referred to as Urfa. To honour Sanliurfa’s contribution to the Turkish War of Independence, the name was enlarged in 1984; Sanli is Turkish for magnificent. The city is also known as the “city of the prophets,” partly due to its Christian and Muslim roots. Prophet Abraham was born there, according to both the Bible and the Quran, before moving to the City of Canaan, presently Palestine. These features make Sanliurfa one of the most popular tourist destinations.

Start with a trip to the world’s earliest temple at Gobeklitepe
Despite the scanty ruins, the essence of this great historical site remains intact. Upon excavations on this site around the mid-1990s, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest temple site. Archaeology’s understanding of Neolithic culture—which was previously believed to have excluded religion—has been completely upended by the discovery of Neolithic pillars with animal carvings that date to around 10,000 BC. Only a tiny fraction (about 5%) of the site has been excavated, but this hill slope with the gigantic totem-style pillars, lately covered by a roof, is truly stunning and a must-see for anybody interested in our prehistoric origins.

Trail on to the Euphrates
The jade-green waters of the Euphrates, the location of the submerged city of Halfeti, serve as the province’s natural border, lying 111 kilometres to the west of Sanliurfa. One can reach the Halfeti Marina by travelling downhill down the sweeping arc-shaped road from Halifeti Kusbakisi point, where they will be met by the piercing chants of Maras Dondurma, the renowned chewy, melt-resistant ice cream with origins in the Turkish city of Kaharanmarash. The black rose of Halfeti, a mysterious rose that only grows in the soil of old Halfeti and nowhere else in the world, is used to make a perfume that locals, with permission, massage on the palms of tourists.

Discover Harran
Excavations in the Harran Mound revealed the existence of a Sin temple. In the Harran Plains, 48 kilometres south of Sanliurfa, the Arabs are the majority. The earliest mosque constructed in the Islamic style in Turkey is the Harran Great Mosque (Ulu Camii), which was constructed by Mervan II, the final Umayyad caliph, between 744 and 750 AD. The mosque’s 33-meter-tall tower provides a panoramic view over the contemporary Harran while the remainder of the building is in decay. Women can be seen crouching down in the ground nearby, growing herbs in their farms within 20 kilometres from the Syrian border. Harran has consistently been the target of religious persecution throughout history. The 5000-year-old city was entirely pagan, with a vibrant cult of people who worshipped the moon (Sin) and sun (Samas) in fact. Do explore this cauldron of cultural hues when in Sanliurfa!

Feed the sacred fish of Golbasi
The most significant tourist attractions in Sanliurfa are located in the Gölbaş region, a well-kept park located in the heart of the city. On their north side, the stunning Rzvaniye Vakf Mosque and Medrese complex, and on their west, the Halilur Rahman Mosque, surround the Sacred Fish Ponds (balkl göl). Numerous sacred carp, which are an important part of the tale of the Prophet Abraham, are swimming in the ponds. He touched down precisely where the flames had turned to water and the embers became fish, so the legend goes. Visitors are thus encouraged to feed the fish because they are considered holy carp by Christians. Anyone who kills a carp in the pool is rumoured to lose their sight.

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