Urfa Tourist Attractions
Southeast AnatoliaSituationUrfa is situated on the northwestern edge of the Harran Ovasi not far from the Turkish-Syrian border. Many researchers regard the town as one of the oldest in history.
Sumerians and Hittites called it Urshu and the Babylonians called it Hurri (caves) from the caves in the citadel hill. The Greeks christened it Orhai and from the time of the Macedonians to the Middle Ages the place was called Edessa and then Urfa, a corruption of Orhai. During the French occupation of the region in the Turkish War of Independence, the town put up staunch resistance and since 1983 "sanli" (famous) has been prefixed to the name in recognition of its bravery. Urfa is an important regional and commercial center for the predominantly agricultural area. When the "Urfa Tunnel" is completed as part of the GAP Euphrates project (Southeast Anatolian Project), an additional 6,910sq.km/2,667sq.miles of land will be irrigated and the Harran Ovasi is likely to become one of the most favorable agricultural areas in Turkey, similar to Adana in the Cukurova.TownscapeModern Urfa is a fascinating mixture of the traditional and the contemporary with Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish features. In the bazaar and old town, oriental influences predominate. Hectic commercial activity and high summer temperatures characterize the town.ClimateAs early as March, the average daytime temperature can reach 29°C/84°F and in November 31°C/87°F is not unusual. In July and August, the thermometer at midday can sometimes reach 45°C/113°F. During these months rainfall averages are as low as Antalya.HistorySumerian, Akkadian and Hittite texts all make references to Urshu as an important center for the Hurrians. By the 18th century B.C. these Indo-Iranians had penetrated as far as Syria and were trying to bring Hittite expansion to a halt. About 1370 B.C. the Hittites destroyed the town which was later to become a part of the kingdom of Karkamis or more precisely, the Assyrian vassal state of Haddatu. Abraham is said to have been born in the town and spent some time here on his way from Ur to Canaan. As he was revered as a prophet and founding father by Jews, Moslems and Christians, Urfa has been a traditional destination for pilgrimages.In the fourth century B.C. Seleukos I "re-founded" Orhai as the capital of his eastern Hellenistic Empire, settling Macedonian veterans here who named the town Edessa after their home province.In the fourth century A.D. Ephraim of Nisibis (Nusaybin) established the "Persian Academy" here. Alongside a similar academy in Nisibis, it became a focus for Hellenistic learning, but Emperor Zeno closed it down. When the Roman provincial ruler Abgar the Great (A.D. 9-46) was converted to Christianity, after a miracle when Christ's handkerchief cured him of a skin ailment, Edessa soon became receptive to Christian teaching. Before the town was plundered by the Sassanids (502-505), the bones of St Thomas had been buried here. Under Justinian, Edessa became a center for Monophysite Christians.In 1098, the Crusaders under Baldwin de Bouillon captured the town and founded the flourishing Christian state of Edessa which survived for nearly 50 years. In 1144 Arabs conquered the town and some of the inhabitants were deported, enslaved and later killed. The town was completely destroyed.
Exhibits at the Archeological Museum which is situated on the northwestern edge of the old town of Urfa include finds from Urfa, Sultantepe and Harran. Also on display is a third century Syrian mosaic from a cave in the citadel hill.
To the south of the medresesi in Urfa lies the Birket Ibrahim, Abraham's Pool or sometimes Halil Rahman Gölü. It is linked with other ponds in an adjoining park and fed by water from the so-called Spring of Roha at the foot of the citadel. A legend surrounds the "holy" fish which can be found in the pool and are fed by visitors. On his way from Ur to Canaan in the 18th/19th century B.C. when many nomadic tribes were heading west from Mesopotamia, Abraham stopped in Urfa. The cruel King Nimrod wanted to burn him at the stake because of his monotheistic beliefs, but God intervened to save him and a violent storm swept him and the embers into the air. He landed comparatively gently in a specially-created pool together with the ashes and glowing embers. These turned into holy carp whose descendants are now fed chick peas and lettuce leaves by visitors.
Hali Rahman Medresesi
Sometimes known as the Yesil Kilise, the mosque and Koran school (ca. 1211), situated beneath the citadel in Urfa, now occupy the site of the old St Mary's Church. It is thought that the minaret dates from the time of the Omayyads around the eighth century.
Hasan Pasa Camii
Due east of the Birket Ibrahim in Urfa stands the Hasan Pasa Camii. It was formerly the site of a synagogue and later a Roman tetrapylon.
Abdürrahman Medresesi and Zülmiye Camii
To the north of the carp pool in Urfa the skyline is dominated by the extensive 17th century Abdürrahman Medresesi complex and the Zülmiye Camii (1736). The three-domed mosque with its slender minaret is also known as Ahmet Pasa, Ridvaniye or Zulumiye Camii. It is thought to occupy the position of the former Church of St Thomas.
The Dergah Camii (or Dersa Cami) in Urfa with its large inner courtyard is hidden away to the southeast behind the Hasan Pasa Camii directly beneath the citadel. It is noted for its Hermitage of the Prophet Abraham (Makram Ibrahim) and the curative powers of its spring water. Once a year the faithful gather here to seek blessings for their pilgrimage to Mecca. This site was previously occupied by the Byzantine Church of the Redeemer.
Eyüp Peygamber Camii
To the southeast of the citadel in Urfa at the far end of the town stand the tomb and mosque of the prophet Eyüb, who corresponds with the Old Testament Job. A staircase leads to a rock chamber (hermitage).
Between the Ulu Camii and Hasan Pasa Camii in Urfa to the southeast of the main street lies the lively business quarter and a special attraction for visitors. It consists of a covered bazaar still without any facilities for tourism. An Ottoman caravanserai with an inner courtyard ought not to be missed. The colorful tea-room (Cayhane) is a popular haunt of the locals (mainly men!).
The only preserved church in Urfa is found west of the Ulu Cami and dates from Edessa's Christian heyday. It was restored, having been used as a prison.
To the east of the old town of Urfa near the Harran road, modest remains of the old town wall (Mahmutoglu Kulesi) are still visible. The course of the wall has scarcely changed since Roman times. Whenever the town's river, known as Karakoyun Deresi (Skirtos in antiquity, later Daisan), burst its banks, large parts of the town's fortifications disappeared under water, so in Byzantine times it was re-routed. Barrages have been constructed from large stone slabs in the north and east of the town and they have prevented further flooding.
The 12th century Grand Mosque in Urfa was erected on the site of the former Church of St Stephen. A synagogue is believed to have preceded the church. One interesting feature is the octagonal minaret in the west of the complex. It would probably have been retained from the church which was built at the time of Justinian. The prayer rooms are laid out as a cross vault and above the prayer niche is a small, simple dome. The mosque was commissioned by Nur Eddin, son and successor to the Seljuk governor of Mosul, Imad Eddin Zengi, founder of the Zengi dynasty.
The remains of the 300m/984ft long and 80m/262ft wide fortress in the foothills of the Top Dagi dominate the southwest of Urfa. The hill is known by the locals as Nimrud Kürsesi (Nimrud's Pulpit) and whole colonies of hermit ibises nest on the steep rock faces. A 12m/40ft man-made ditch separates the castle from the hinterland. It was probably here that the Hurrians established themselves and it was also the winter palace of the Abgars (Abgar IX 179-244). Two 15m/50ft high pillars with Corinthian capitals provide evidence of the latter's presence. The Crusaders were the last settlers to make alterations. The external wall still has three gates, while inside the ruins of 25 fortified towers can be seen.
Ancient Harran, which is today known as Altinbasak, shows evidence of settlement as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C.
Harran - Trulli Houses
After its decline Harran never became a center of habitation again but gradually a hamlet called Altinbasak grew up at the foot of the "tell" (inhabited hill). Beehive-shaped "trulli" houses in the north Syrian style with their domed roofs made from crushed clay recall the old Harran and are also somewhat reminiscent of southern Italy. This type of house is far better suited to the climatic conditions than the modern concrete structures which are increasingly replacing the traditional dwellings. Nevertheless the latter are subject to preservation orders.
About 15km/9mi south of Urfa on the east side of the road to Harran a massive hill rises up from the plain. It conceals the tiny village of Sultantepe. Excavations on the hill have unearthed remains of a eighth/seventh century B.C. Assyrian settlement (citadel). Discoveries include countless clay tablets forming a library of epic poems, including parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh, prayers, letters, texts relating to mathematics, astronomy, astrology and medicine and an exercise book belonging to an eighth century B.C. scholar. The writings ended two years after the destruction of Nineveh. Some of the finds are on display in an Ankara Museum.
Sumatar Harabesi is an ancient pre-Christian site with groups of ruins containing underground chambers with a hill, likely a temple, in the center. A Sabian sect lived here and believed in human sacrifice.
Map of Urfa Attractions