Sanliurfa is located on the great fertile plain of upper Mesopotamia in Turkey’s south eastern Anatolia region and is one of the oldest known civilised areas in the world. Its history has been recorded from the 4th century BC, but may date back to the 12th century BC. Urfa has been identified as the birthplace of Abraham and Job.
The city is also known as the ‘City of Prophets’ as it is believed that the prophets Hiob, Jethro, St. George and Abraham lived here. The cave that is believed to be the birthplace of Abraham has been preserved but now has several mosques surrounding it.
Despite its history, there is evidence of modernity, as new districts with modern apartment blocks, shops and restaurants are expanding. However, the city’s old quarters with their stone houses built around courtyards, mosques and villagers still evoke traditional images of the oriental culture that the rest of modern Turkey has tried very hard to shake off. Take a walk through the old bazaar with its old inns and feel yourself being transported to another time.
For western travellers, this is the main attraction of Urfa. It is very easy to be seduced by the oriental charm of the town but the poor neighbourhoods, where people live in caves houses, serve as a stark reminder that the south eastern regions of the country are plagued by poverty, despite Turkey’s relatively good economic performance in recent years.
But Urfa has more to offer than just charm. Tourists generally visit Urfa to experience its archaeological and ethnographical attractions and ancient history lovers will find museums which exhibit remains from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic eras from the lower Euphrates region.
Urfa is famous for its pool full of fish located right in the town centre. The story of this pool known as the ‘Balikli Gol’ (fish lake) dates back to Mohammed’s times when an Islamic holy man was about to be burned by non-believers, who had prepared a fire to burn him with but the logs turned into carp and the fire turned into water and the fish lake was formed.
On the other side of this pool, is the Ottoman Rizvaniye Mosque. The Firfirli Mosque, which was once the church of the Apostles, is also worth a visit. Sanli Urfa Citadel and Ayn-i Zeliha.
Urfa in many ways feels like a conservative country town. Alcohol is not readily available, especially around the fish lake area, due to the number of mosques present. However, the town does have several pubs. The tea gardens are lovely, especially in the evenings, but there is segregation for families or single men.
The population is comprises mainly of Kurds and Turks but there is a significant Assyrian/Syriac community living there. Foreign visitors will feel comfortable; the city has a low crime rate harassment of women is rare. Nevertheless, due to the higher number of men than women on the streets, foreign women may feel better travelling with at least one other person.