About 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of Kiziltepe, in the South-Eastern Anatolian region, lies the venerably old towns of Sanliurfa. According to both the Bible and Quran, it is the birthplace of Abraham before his migration to Canaan, now Palestine.

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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.

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.

Sanliurfa, Balikli Gol

Sanliurfa, Balikli Gol | Image by sulox32 from Pixabay

This is an Anatolian city that 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. Also, 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 the Ottoman period. Like many of the other towns which offered resistance at the time of the War of Liberation, Urfa has received the honorific “Sanli” (Honored) to append to its name.

Today, Sanliurfa 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 2 million (as of 2017), Urfa is earmarked to be one of Turkey’s largest metropolitan areas after the nearby Ataturk Dam 75 kilometers (50 miles) north of town came on-stream in the 1990s, and has the highest growth rate of population in the 2000s. 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.

photography of tower and buildings

Historic Sanliurfa | Photo by Enes Aktas

The province of Urfa covers the plateau which connects the 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, Hilvan, Harran, Siverek, Suruc and Viransehir).

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. By the completion of GAP, weight was given to textiles and dressmaking. 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 remained 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 knew to exist between the citadel and the outer fortress could not survive to our times.

Tek Tek mountains are located about 45 kilometers east of the city in 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’s 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 center 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 was an early Neolithic settlement near Kantara village of Hilvan, on the right bank of the Euphrates (Firat) river. The remains were located on a calcareous hill and cover an area 100 meters long and 50 meters wide, bordered by two brooks. The ancient settlement reflected the historical period in which settled life was starting and people were hunting while they tried to domesticate plants and animals. The 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. The site was excavated around the 1980s and the beginning of the ’90s before it remained under the water from the dam. Some of the artifacts from the site can be seen at the archaeological museum in Sanliurfa.

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 Chalcolithic age which corresponds to these dates. The excavation of the tumulus was conducted in 1992 by a Turkish team with the participation of the University of Pennsylvania. Excavations revealed architectural pieces, houses, streets and other articles are exhibited at the museum. There is water storage at the top of the tumulus. Another finding is an alphabet that translates the Sumerian language into the Akad language. This alphabet was purchased from a farmer and it is now in Ankara. International Herald Tribune spared a wide space to Kazane in its issue dated 11 November 1993:

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.

John Noble Wilford, International Herald Tribune

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.

Lately, one of the most important archaeological sites nearby Urfa is Gobeklitepe which changed everything we knew about the Stone Age people.

Traditions of Sanliurfa

Sanliurfa is a city of ancient traditions, old friendships and mystical associations. One of these traditions is gatherings known as “Sira Geceleri”, which bring together people sharing the same pleasures, world views and ideas. The friendships formed there are even stronger than the ties between old school or army friends. Such gatherings take place in one another’s houses or in rooms hired for the occasion. The name means literally “nights by turns”, since the members of the group take it in turns to host these events, which have a ceremonial character and are based on a sense of fraternity. When the French occupied Sanliurfa after the First World War, the seeds of resistance were supposedly sown at sira geceleri held by the Group of 12, consisting of members of such leading families of the city as the Bozanogullari and Gullulogullari, who today run world-famous baklava stores around Turkey.

Other traditional activities such as country excursions take place in a similar communal spirit of friendship, with each family contributing different and special home-cooked dishes from the famous regional cuisine. Many more customs and traditions make up the rich cultural fabric of the city. In no other Turkish city today do shopkeepers begin the day with a communal prayer wishing their neighbors a prosperous day’s trading as they did for centuries, but in Sanliurfa, this tradition is still kept alive by the tradesmen of the carpet bedesten (exchange) in Sipahi Pazari. This ancient ceremony and religious ritual in the colorful surroundings of the bedesten is a moving sight.

There are many other folkloric traditions in the rest of Turkey.


A tradition took over from Sanliurfa’s past, tattoos are common in Harran and Suruc. It is an art of ornamenting the human face and skin mainly for bringing luck to small children. Most common figures include animals of wildlife, daily life articles, weapons and numerical figures. The paint used for tattooing is obtained from plants and applied under the skin with needles. Paint is used abundantly to prevent disappearance as one ages. As cultures open themselves to the outer world, these kinds of traditions gradually disappear. For example, men give up having tattoos.


Some of the nomadic tribes are those coming to Sanliurfa from other places. These tribes spend their summer on the highlands of Eastern Anatolia and come down to the GAP region in winter. Once used to move on foot or on horseback, these tribes now use motor vehicles. Some tribes living in the Karacadag area lead a nomadic life because of natural conditions. They go up to Karacadag in summer and move down to the plains of Siverek, Viransehir, Sanliurfa and Diyarbakir in winter.


The old trading centre of Sanliurfa dating back to Ottoman times concentrates around Gumruk Inn. Kazzaz Bazaar which was built in 1562 is one of the few which could preserve its authentic values. Inside the bazaar, shops one meter (3 feet) high from the ground are located on both sides of the inner passage. The Kazzaz shopkeepers sell local male and female dresses. Sipahi bazaar also preserves its identity and sells such goods as carpet, kilims and felt. Huseyniye bazaars each of which is covered by 15 cross vaults have been allocated to the coppersmith.

Handicrafts in Sanliurfa
Felt making, tannery, stone working, weaving, woodworks, copper works, saddle making, fur making and jewelry works are the leading handicrafts of Sanliurfa enjoying a long tradition.

Felt making is being practiced for centuries now in the bazaar known by the same name. It has various styles of embroidery including acem, dal, pul, gobek, somun, kantarma, armut and sandik.

What is locally called kurk (fur) is a loose straight collar over cloth made of the skin of sheep dying earlier than a month. There is no other place in Anatolia engaged in such work. Having a long history, this specific activity takes place in Kurkcu Bazaar.

In Sanliurfa, the products of Çulhacilik (weaving) include yamsah (female headscarf), posu (male headscarf) and ihram (female over a cloth) made by using wool, cotton, or silk yarns. Practiced in many looms 30-40 years ago, the trade has now lost its importance leaving behind only 5-6 artisans.

Kazzazlik means hand spinning of silk thread. Similar to culhacilik, this art is now carried on by a few masters.

Airport Name: GAP Şanlıurfa Airport
Address: Merkez/Sanlıurfa, Turkey
Code: GNY
Phone: +90 414 378 11 11
Serves: Sanliurfa and the Surrounding area[/su_box]

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