Şanlıurfa, often referred to as Urfa, is a city in south-eastern Turkey, and the capital of the Şanlıurfa Province. Located 80 kilometres to the East of the Euphrates River, Şanlıurfa is known as “The City of Prophets,” and is thought to be the historical motherland of the prophet Abraham, in addition to a number of other prophets from Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths.
Each year, the city draws hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims, who come to visit the many historical and religious sites dotted around the area. Here is my pick of the best of them:
The Pool of Abraham, known as Balikli Göl in Turkish, is a significant historic site in region and is visited by many local and foreign tourists each year.
This pool is alleged to be the location where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. Abraham is cited in three religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism but in Islam, he is called Ibrahim.
The pool is considered a site of importance for practicing Muslims because Ibrahim was the prophet who was willing to sacrifice his son for Allah.
The story goes that when Ibrahim came to rest in the fire, Allah transformed the flames to water and the fiery wood into fish, hence the literal translation of Balikli Göl is “lake of fish”.
The fish at Balikli Göl are carp and are considered blessed. As a result of their protected status, breeding now means there are literally hundreds of them, both at Balikli Göl and the nearby lake of Ayn Zeliha. Whilst all the fish are all dark in colour, it is said that there are also white carp in the pool. Seeing one is a good omen and a sign that you are truly blessed in life.
Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site, positioned atop a mountain ridge, roughly 12 km North-east of the city.
It comprises circles of monolithic columns linked together by sections of crudely built stone walls to form a series of circular or oval structures. There are two large pillars in the centre of each, which are surrounded by smaller stones. Archaeologists believe that these pillars may once have held up roofs.
43 megaliths, or large stones, up to around 16 feet in height have been exposed so far. However, geophysical surveys suggest that there are as many as 250 more lying buried around the site.
Göbekli Tepe is said to be “The World’s First Temple”, built roughly twelve thousand years ago, circa 10,000 BC and is therefore thought to be one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
Rumkale, meaning “Roman Castle” in English, is a fortress 50 km West of Şanlıurfa.
The castle had strong defences and a strategic location dominating a section of the Euphrates, and has been occupied by the Hittites, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Romans and Arabs over the centuries. Edifices that can be seen at the fortress today include the Aziz Nerses Church and the Barshavma Monastery.
Rumkale played a notable role in the history of Christianity; it is said that St. John (disciple of Jesus) stayed here in Roman times, hiding a Bible manuscript in a cave and later taking copies from here to Beirut.
The fortress is currently accessible by boat either from either Zeugma or Halfeti.
Harran is located 44 South-east of Şanlıurfa and is an archaeological site dating back to the Early Bronze period.
Harran is famed for its traditional “beehive” houses, formed entirely without wood. The design makes them cool inside and some were still in use as homes until the 1980s. Those remaining today are now tourist exhibits, with Harran’s residents living in a small village about 2 km away.
At the site you can see the Grand Mosque, also known as the Paradise Mosque, ruins of the city walls and battlements, one city gate, along with some other structures. It is thought that the forefathers of the villagers settled here during the 18th century by the Ottoman Empire.
Şanlıurfa is an awe-inspiring cradle of cultures, faith, and myths and has many other fascinating sites to be explored. With a local airport, it is easy to get to, with regular bus service from nearby Gaziantep.