About 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of Kiziltepe, in South Eastern Anatolian region, lies the venerably old towns of Urfa (Sanliurfa). According to both the Bible and Quran it is the birthplace of Abraham before his migration to Canaan, now Palestine. Local Muslim legend differs from that of the other great monotheistic faiths by the intervention of one vicious and cruel King Nimrod, who had Abraham launched from a catapult from the city’s citadel to fall into a pile of burning wood. Happily, God intervened, and turned the fire to water and the faggots to fish, and today, the visitor to the town can visit the mosque complex surrounding Abraham’s Cave and The Pool of Sacred Fish (Balikligöl) around it. The cruel ruler’s giant slingshot is represented by two Corinthian columns still standing atop the citadel.
This is an Anatolian city which has figured in all the religions of the book. Old Testament prophets such as Jethro (Hz. Suayp), Job (Hz. Eyup), Elijah (Hz. Elyasa) and Abraham (Hz. Ibrahim) lived in this city, which in ancient times known as Edessa, and Moses (Hz. Musa) lived in the region for seven years working as a shepherd before returning to Egypt with his staff. It was in Sanliurfa that early Christians were first permitted to worship freely, and where the first churches were constructed openly. Pagan temples were converted to synagogues, synagogues to churches and churches to mosques, resulting in a uniquely eclectic architecture.
The city’s history, is far more complex than mere legendary myths. Known to the ancient Greeks as Orrhoe or Osrhoe, the famous Seleucus Nicator of Antioch, first established the capital of his eastern Hellenistic realm here, populating it with Macedonian veterans who preferred to call it Edessa, after their native province. Urfa remained an important garrison town into Roman times, and was one of the first centers of the early church, but one given over to the monophysite heresy.
It was at Edessa that the great scientific works of late antiquity were translated, with commentaries, into Syriac/Aramaic, from whence they made their way into Arabic after the Muslim conquest, only to find their way back to the west following the re-conquest of the city by the Byzantines and then the Crusaders. Under Baldwin I it became the first of several Crusader states in the Middle East.
The city was finally sacked by the Kurdish Zengi dynasty in 1146. Following the standard Mongol conquest of the Middle East, ancient Edessa disappeared from history in the 13th century, reemerging only in the present century. Thanks for its survival should go to the local population who brilliantly resisted French attempts to include it in greater Syria during Ottoman period. Like many of the other towns which offered resistance at the time of War of Liberation, Urfa has received the honorific “Sanli” (Honored) to append to its name.
Today, Urfa is a surprising mix of the old and new, with Turkish, Arab and Kurdish peasants who come from the countryside haggling in the traditional bazaar, while young technocrats and engineers hustle between offices and shops lining the modern downtown section. A city of some 1,7 million (as of 2012), Urfa is earmarked to be one of Turkey’s largest metropolitan areas after the nearby Ataturk Dam 75 km (50 mi) north of town came on-stream in the 1990’s, and has the highest growth rate of population in the 2000’s. Already the city has the single highest growth rate in the country, with many indigent farmers and absentee landlords from the nearby Harran plain returning with the promise of making the city the center of Turkey’s new Fertile Crescent. Restaurants are packed with locals and foreigners dining on the famed Urfa kebab of Turkish Cuisine and other delights of the area.
The province of Urfa covers the plateau which connects Anatolian peninsula to the Arabian peninsula and has a surface area of 18,584 square kilometers. The province has 10 districts (Akcakale, Birecik, Bozova, Ceylanpinar, Halfeti, Harran, Hilvan, Siverek, Suruc and Viransehir) and 772 villages (köy in Turkish).
The economy of the province depends upon agriculture and animal husbandry. Its cultivable land is used mostly to grow cereals. Wheat is the main crop followed by barley and lentil. There is also chickpea farming and pistachio culture. Its industrial crops are cotton and sesame. Upon the completion of GAP, weight will be given to textiles and dress making. Also, the number and capacity of enterprises producing feed and vegetable oil will be enhanced to meet demands from domestic and external markets.
Sanliurfa Fortress is on the northern slope of Damlacik mountain to the south of the city. The citadel built by the Romans was later enlarged. The citadel has 25 watchtowers. It has remains from the Byzantine and Islamic times. The walls were built in 812 AD by the Christians to defend the city against Arab raids. The outer fortress was enlarged and restored by the Crusaders. The palaces of Molla, Gezer Pasha and Mehmet Pasha known to exist between the citadel and the outer fortress could not survive to our times.
Tek Tek mountains are located about 45 km east of the city to the direction of Viransehir. The area became a national park in 2007 and has several caves and ancient sites to visit.
At a distance of 73 kilometers to Sanliurfa, there is Sogmatar ancient city which is known as “Yagmurlu” today. It was settled by the Syriac in the first and second centuries AD. Sogmatar was the culture centre of Sabiism which had its origin in Harran Sin culture and Marilaha the supreme god. Important remains include an open air temple where planets and the supreme god were worshipped and sacrifices were made. Walls of the temple have inscriptions in Syriac and relief describing planets. These also exist on the surface of rocks standing on a hill to the west of the fortress.
The city of Suayb consists of historical ruins standing in Ozkent village at a distance of 88 kilometers to Sanliurfa. Extending over a large area, the city dates back to the time of the Romans and once surrounded by walls. People believe that the holy Suayb lived here. There is also a cave visited by people as the quarters of Suayb.
Nevali Cori ancient settlement is near Kantara village of Hilvan, on the right bank of the Euphrates (Firat) river. The remains are located on a calcareous hill and cover an area 100 meters long and 50 meters wide, bordered by two brooks.
The ancient settlement reflects the historical period in which settled life was starting and people were hunting while they tried to domesticate plants and animals. Existence of many stone structures that could have been used as storage, cult structure and pieces of art all indicate that Nevali Cori used to be a central settlement of these times.
Lately, one of the most important archaeological sites nearby Urfa is Gobeklitepe which changed everything we knew about the Stone Age people.
The settlement of Kazane (Ugurcuk) near Sanliurfa has a history dating back to 5000-3000 BC. To put it more correctly, findings belong to the Calcolitic age which correspond to these dates. The excavation of the tumulus was conducted in 1992 by a team headed by Adnan Misir, the Director of the Museum. The excavation work was financed by voluntary organizations from US and participated by Dr. Patrick Wattenmarker from the University of Pennsylvania.
Excavations revealed architectural pieces, houses, streets and other articles are exhibited at the museum. There is a water storage at the top of the tumulus. Another finding is an alphabet which translates the Sumerian language into Akad language. This alphabet was purchased from a farmer and it is now in Ankara.
International Herald Tribune spared a wide space to Kazana in its issue dated 11 November 1993. In his article John Noble Wilford wrote: “The ancient city recently explored in Turkey and interesting clay tablets carries the origin of ancient civilizations and script far beyond the Sumerian city states of Southern Mesopotamia. Archaeologists state that these explorations were the most exciting of all those taking place in Mesopotamia and they are quite confident that new excavations to be conducted in the same area will answer one of the most important puzzles of the science of archaeology”.
The archaeological museum of Urfa has been recently renewed and opened to public. On its 3 levels there are several displays with findings and artifacts from Paleolitic, Neolitic and Calcolitic periods, Bronze and Iron Ages, Hellenistic, Roman and Bizantine periods, and Islamic era. There is also a section for Prophets. Other interesting sections of the museum are Gobeklitepe hall and Nevali Cori hall. Next to the archaeological museum there is another museum of the ancient villa with Haleplibahce mosaics.
About 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of Sanliurfa there is the ancient site of Harran, one of the most interesting villages in the region for its history and with its mudbrick dwellings.
Not to forget the Kelaynak (Bold ibis) birds which nestle in Birecik district of Sanliurfa and are on the verge of extinction.