Though officially known as Şanlıurfa (Glorious Urfa), for its contribution to the struggle for Turkey’s independence, this city is known as Peygamberler Şehri to Muslims: City of Prophets. Urfa is a place of pilgrimage, being the putative birthplace of Abraham and the home of the prophet Job, as well as ten other Biblical figures including as Jethro, Joseph, and Moses. Şanlıurfa is old, mind-bogglingly old, with newly-excavated temples at Göbeklitepe dating back to 9000 B.C. Urfa has changed hands many times along the millennia: from Hitit to Assyrian to Alexandrine to Commagene, Aramacn, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Arab, Latin, Selçuk, before finally joining the Ottoman Empire in 1637. These diverse influences have simmered gently in the city to form a distinctive style of architecture, still visible today. Meandering through old narrow streets, you can still catch glimpses of the old stone carvings. Urfa’s mansions have open courtyards and cool shaded summer terraces, elegantly carved with crescent moons and vine leaves. Recently, many old mansions have been restored as guest houses and restaurants, and a series of green parks and çay gardens have sprung up.
Urfa’s economy has boomed with the Southeast Anatolian Project’s (GAP’s) Atatürk Dam, which, to the chagrin of those downstream, controls the flow of the Euphrates (Firat) River. Despite oppressive summer heat (up to 50°C by day), the city is a fascinating destination for both travelers and pilgrims, meriting a couple of days for sightseeing and a daytrip the nearby ancient city of Harran.
The otogar is 12km from the town center. Take a taxi for $4-5, or stop any dolmuş and mention your preferred hotel ($.20), as all listed are on the main route. Some bus companies have free shuttle service to the otogar.
- Flights: THY (215 33 44), on Atatürk Cad., next door to ŞanMed Hospital, has flights to Ankara, Antalya, İstanbul, İzmir, Kahramanmaraş, and Trabzon.
- Bus: Urfa’s otogar is a bustling transport hub. To: Adana (5hr., 17 per day, $7); Ankara (12hr., 8 per day, $16); Antakya (6hr., 3 per day, $8); Diyarbakır (3hr., 20 per day, $5); Doğubeyazıt (16hr., 4 per day, $22); Erzurum (15hr., 2 per day, $16); Gaziantep (2hr., 20 per day, $3); İstanbul (17hr., 9 per day, $23); İzmir (17hr., 2 per day, $23); Kahramanmaraş (3hr., 3 per day, $3.50); Kars (20hr., 1 per day, $24); Konya (12hr., 3 per day, $14); Malatya (6hr., 3 per day, $6); Mardin (4hr„ 5 per day, $6); Mersin (3-4hr., 20 per day, $9); Trabzon (15hr., 4 per day, $22); Van (12hr., 1 per night, $13). Dolmuş and minibuses leave from the same parking lot.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Roads from Diyarbakır (north), Mardin (east), and Gaziantep (west) all meet above the city, at the Mustafa Kemal Paşa Fountain. From here Atatürk Cad., changing to Sarayönü Cad. and Divan Cad., runs south across the Karakoyun River through the center and the old part of town before splintering around the fortress.
- Tourist Office: 20m from the doors of the Hotel Edessa (opposite Hasan Pasa Camii), the state tourist office (©215 24 67) is heralded by marble steps and a small sign. Locals are oblivious to its existence. The office organizes a $17 Harran taxi tour. Open M-F 8am-noon,1:30-5:30pm. Tourist police are one flight down, while the cultural affairs office is in an alley around the comer. The unusually helpful Mahmut Çoban heads the office and speaks excellent English. ((532) 225 12 18.)
- Tourist Agencies: Local English teacher Özcan Aslan runs Harran and Nemrut Tours (215 15 75; mobile (542) 761 30 65; fax 215 11 56). Look for a big yellow canvas sign above the footpath next to the Şan Med Hastenesi, down from İpekpalas Oteli. Open daily 8am-7:30pm. Özcan offers short Harran tours in the morning or evening (3- 4hr.; $8 per person, minimum $32 for entire dolmuş). His Nemrut Dağı tour includes Atatürk Dam, Kahta, Karakuş tumulus, the Roman bridge, Arsemia, and Yeni Kale (9am- 11pm, dusk at Nemrut; 1am-1pm, dawn at Nemrut; either option $30 per person, 2 person min.). Sunset/sunrise option includes 2 meals and overnight in Kevansaray Hotel for $50 per person. The Mardin tour (6-9pm) visits Deyrul Zafaran Monastery ($25 for 4 people or more). The 2-day option adds Nusaybin, Jacob’s grave, Medyat, Hasankeyf, Batman, food, and lodgings ($60).
- Banks: Those with ATMs are concentrated around Fuar and Sarayönü Cad.
- Hamam: Urfa’s oldest hamam is the Vezir, just opposite the PTT. Entry $2. Open 8am- 12pm for women, 6-1 lpm for men; hours fluctuate with demand.
- Police: (313 70 24), across from Gölbaşı Park.
- Tourist police: (215 60 80)
- Hospital: The Özel Şan-Med Hastanesi is a good private hospital at the center of town (216 27 72, 216 36 16, or 215 43 48). Open 24hr. MC/V. Also downtown, the state run Devlet Hastanesi is on Hastahane Cad., though travelers rarely use it.
- Internet: Maviatnet, off Atatürk Cad. by the main circle, is open late. $.50 per hr.
- Post Office: The main PTT is located between the Şan Med Hospital and the bazaar. Services include poste restante and 24hr. card telephones. Open daily 8am-noon, 1:30- 5:30pm. Internet services are also available here.
Urfa’s daytime heat persists through the night, so is seriously worth considering in summer. If you elect to go without, make sure to buy bottled water for the night. Because Urfa’s visitor flow varies, try negotiating prices from Oct.-May.
- Hotel Uğur Palas (313 13 40), by the Hotel Harran, off Atatürk Cad. on Koprubasi Cad. Clean and breezy: a budget dream. Shared baths. $3 per person.
- Valilik Konuk Evi (215 93 77), on Vali Fuat Bey Cad. Not as budget-oriented as other Urfa options, but hey, how often do you get the chance to stay in an 800-year old mansion. With only 6 rooms, this exquisitely restored mansion books out in advance. Staff wear traditional dress. Singles $22; doubles $40; suite $50.
- Hotel Bakey (215 19 79), on Asfalt Cad., off Sarayönü Cad. Popular with tour groups, this fading giant offers A/C and showers. Singles $10, doubles $18.
- Hotel İpek Palas, 4 Şanmed Hastanesi Arkası (215 15 46). Behind the Şan-Med Hos¬pital on Atatürk Cad., in the town center. Quiet rooms with A/C, private hot showers, TV, and phones; cheaper rooms have fans. Singles $12; doubles $18; triples $24.
- Otel Doğu, 131 Sarayönü (Atatürk) Cad. (215 12 28). With echoing halls and stark, clean rooms, Doğu is a nice choice if you don’t need A/C. Back rooms are quieter. Singles $6; double $8; triples $10.
- Şafak Oteli, on Gol Cad., is the ultimate budget experience. $2 per person.Renowned for its culinary wonders, Urfa’s steaming kitchens have a downside: traditional preparation techniques conspire with the weather to leave numerous unwary tourists locked in their latrines. Many foods, especially meats, can quickly become infested with bacteria in the sw7eltering heat. Local specialties include patlıcanlı kebap (eggplant and meatball on a skewer) and domatesli kebap (meatball and tomato on a skewer). Another specialty is içli köfte (a deep-fried mutton and rice ball), not to be confused with çiğ köfte, raw meat with bulgur. Restaurants often give you a complementary dish of lebeni (fresh yogurt and bulgur wheat) before your meal, and end with a ritual offering of mira coffee.
- Gulizar Konuk Evi (215 05 05), by the Ulu Camli. Walk 20m up Irfaniye Sok. from Sarayonu Cad. Housed in a newly-restored Urfan mansion, with carpeted terraces, pigeon houses, and intricate stone latticework. Full meal $3-4. Open until 10pm.
- Cardakli Köşk Restaurant (217 10 80), next to the Edessa, offers terraces with views of the floodlit fortress, and a remarkable menu of Urfa specialties, $3-5.
- Güney Lokantası, 17 Köprübaşı (313 22 37), across from Hotel İpek Palas., is one of the few welcoming places for vegetarians in the city. They offer about 4 dishes with absolutely no meat, including fasulye (beans with red sauce) and bamya (okra in tomato-oil sauce). Full meal $2. Open 6am-midnight.
- Hotel Edessa has the only Western menu in town, including stroganoff or curry ($4), spa-ghetti ($2), and creme caramel ($2), in addition to local dishes.Çay gardens abound in Urfa. Beneath the floodlit fortress, Gölbaşı gardens encircle the sacred fish lakes. North of town, Guresh and Millennium Çay Bahesi flank each other on Atatürk Bul. with Temigun Bahesi just before the main stadium.
A walking tour of Urfa starts on Atatürk Cad., past the post office. Cross the road and visit Urfa’s oldest hamam, the Vezir, then continue around the corner for a cold glass of biyanbali from Şerbetçi Abdullah (-a-216 77 99), the best source in town. Make sure you visit the Ulu Camii, built between 1170 and 1175. It is on the right toward the fortress. The mosque has a beautiful courtyard and a Byzantine bell tower that now serves as a minaret. The engaging imam Muhammed Guhadaroğiu enjoys guiding visitors ($1 donation). The first mosque on Göl Cad. is the late Ottoman Haşon Paşa Camii. Behind it lies the large Mevlid Halil Camii, which houses the supposed birth cave of the prophet Abraham. There are separate entrances for men and women; women can go all the way into the sacred cave, while men may only look through a barred fence, praying in the proper direction. (Dress respectably.)
The fantastic bazaar begins at the far south end of Atatürk/Sarayönü/Divan Cad, and simply has no peer in Eastern Turkey. Enter any portal for a surreal adventure in the tiny alleys that stretch for kilometers. Each is disorienting, filled with the sounds of machinery and the smell of spices. A few notable space are the dark alleys of the coppersmiths market, the sumptuous displays of silk scarves and hişvali embroidery near the Kazzazpazan bedestan, rows of sheepskins ($3-7), wool, and pigeon-sellers. Most impressive is the local craft of keçe, a wool felt pressed and dyed by the swreat of burly, half-naked men in steam rooms. The market’s culinary peak is the tavuK döner of Kadiz Usta, available near the Gümrük Han. If you want to leave, ask for Gölbaşı, the park near the pools of sacred carp. On the southwestern side, the Halil-ür Rahman mosque stands in a Byzantine church dating to 504 AD. Across the pool is an elegant Ottoman medrese.
The entrance to the city’s citadel is marked by Corinthian columns, constructed in 242 BC, from which, according to legend, Nemrut shot firebrands at Abraham. (Open daily 8am-6pm. $2, students $1.) There are two entrances: the stairway on the front wall in the blazing sun and a cave walkway lit by lamps, 50m east. On top, the view is spectacular-. Three s south is Eyyüp Peygamber, which contains the cave where Job lived for 7 years in physical torture. (Take an “Eyyübe” dolmuş from Atatürk Cad., by (he tourist office ($.20). Open daylight hours. $1.)
Urfa’s Fine Arts Museum is on Atatürk Cad. near Kara Meydanı. More of an art school than a gallery-, the museum is one of Urfa’s old Ottoman houses. One hallmark is the “bearded arch,” which ripples upward to a ship point, like an inverted beard. (Open M-Sa 8am-noon and 1:30-5:30pm; July-Aug. M-F. Free.) The Archaeological Museum houses everything from reliefs to jewelry, and on the 2nd floor you’ll find Christian icons from the Ancient Church of the Twelve Apostles, now the Fırfırlı Camii. (Walk on Nusrat Cad. west for 500m; it’s on the right. 313 15 88. Open daily 8:30am-noon and l:30-5pm. $2, students $1.) From the carp pools at the southern end of the town, walk 1km north on Vali Fuat Bey Cad. to reach the mosque/ church. For Turkish-dubbed western movies, Emek Aile Sinemas can be found 50m from Sarayonu Cad. on Fuar Cad. (Showings M-F 2:15,8:45pm; Sa-Su 3:45pm.)
SOUTHEAST ANATOLIA DAYTRIP FROM ŞANLIURFA; HARRAN
The Akçakale minibus from Şanlıurfa ($1) leaves visitors 10km from the village on the main road. Tam exploit this fact, and locals in vehicles may charge similarly. $2 is a reasonable round-trip. There are two small lokanstasi near the Harran site, but nothing at Sogmatar.
Harran lies 44km from Şanlıurfa, toward the Syrian border. Harran appears in documents from as far back as 2000 BC, and remarkably was continuously occupied even through the Mongol invasion of 1260 AD. Abraham married here, and his family moved to Harran for a sojourn on their way to Palestine. Harran was home to a religious group known as the Sabians in the later centuries of the first millennium. Worshippers of the sun and moon, the Sabians granted equality to men and women, and the citadel that stands at the site is supposed to be the remains of a temple to the god of the moon. Further exploration of the site reveals an ancient castle, the oldest Islamic university, and the supposed site of Abraham’s family’s house. There is a half-buried underground tunnel and an intact 4km town wall. The Ulu Camii, built by the in the 8th century, displays a square minaret.
Today the town’s inhabitants live in peculiar beehive-shaped houses, which are both cool and economical to construct. Youths will often pester and offer to guide visitors; women traveling should be way. Four-hour tours cost $10 per person, while full day tours incorporate Soğmatar and the ruins of Jethro City ($20 per person)
In a cave in Urfa, the prophet Abraham was born in secrecy at a time when King Nemrut had decreed that all children should be put to death. Abraham was fully cognizant of having escaped Nemrut’s wrath, and at age 10, seized with monotheistic fervor, he began smashing the city’s pagan idols. Nemrut, infuriated with Abraham, ordered a massive bonfire to be lit in the plain below the citadel and had Abraham tossed from the castle turrets into the inferno below. God took pity on Abraham and called on nature to protect him: “0 fire, be gentle to Abraham, keep him safe and the fuel cool.” A rose garden sprang up around Abraham, the fire became water, and the burning wood turned into fish in the ponds. The pillars, carp, and cave can still be seen today. You can feed the sacred fish with sacred fish food for $.30.