Birecik Tourist Attractions
Southeastern Anatolia (Urfa plateau)Situation and ImportanceBirecik, principal town of its district, occupies a picturesque location above the left bank of the Euphrates at a point where, from time immemorial, the river has been crossed by a ford. Here, downstream of the cataracts and foothills of the Taurus, the river also becomes navigable. In the last century a Colonel Chesney planned a steamship company to ply the Euphrates and provide a useful transport link between Europe and India. The scheme however came to nothing, in part because the water was too shallow and the volume irregular. Today a 720m/2363ft-long bridge constructed in 1956 spans the river west of the town.HistoryThe name of this once walled town derives from the Arabic "bira" or Armenian "birtha" (fort) and so means "little fort". The Romans knew it as Birtha and the Crusaders as Bile. Captured in 1089 by Baldwin of Bouillon, Crusader Count of Edessa, in 1150 it was sold together with five other fortresses to Byzantium. Ownership changed a number of times in subsequent centuries. In the 1830s the German H. v. Moltke, military adviser to the Sultan, visited Birecik on several occasions, describing the fortifications as the most astonishing structure he had ever seen. In 1838 he himself was required to draw up plans for the defense of the town. These were never acted upon however and on August seventh 1839 at Nizip he witnessed the Turkish defeat at the hands of the Egyptians under Ibrahim Pasa.
The ruins of the citadel, which guarded the Euphrates crossing point at least from Roman times and was considered unassailable, sit perched on a narrow isolated limestone outcrop in the midst of Birecik. According to an inscription the first refurbishment of the fort, called Beda Castle by the Turks, was carried out by Elmelik Ezzahir (1183-1216), Prince of Aleppo. The Mameluke Sultan Baraka Khan (1277-79) and Sultan Ka'it Bay (1482/83) made further alterations. Since then it has been left badly damaged by several earthquakes. In Moltke's time the fortress still had its massive vaulted outer defenses, three or four levels, with slits and crenellations. Beyond was a paved slope crowned by the walls and towers of the citadel itself. Behind the 5m/16.5ft-thick outer wall were battlemented parapets. Beneath the citadel lies a vast labyrinth of subterranean vaults, and a tunnel (gradient 30°) leading down to a groundwater source and so ensuring the water supply.
Bald Ibis Sanctuary
Below Birecik an unmade road runs north along the Euphrates to one of the last refuges and breeding grounds of the hermit ibis, a bald ibis which normally winters in Morocco. It is a species so close to extinction that in 1973 only 25 breeding pairs remained. Prompted by the World Wildlife Fund and with government assistance Turkish conservationists at the sanctuary are now engaged in trying to save it.The hermit ibis, widespread in the Alps as recently as the Middle Ages, had become little more than a creature of legend until its spectacular rediscovery near Birecik in 1839 by the British traveler W. F. Ainthworth. The Turks have long regarded it as almost a sacred bird, since its migration route roughly follows the pilgrim road to Mecca. Of 500 pairs counted in the 1950s most were killed off by agricultural insecticides. Since 1989 there have been no breeding pairs in the wild. None of the birds bred in captivity have yet been successfully released.