Excursions to the Far East and Black Sea Coast: Places to Explore

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Şanlıurfa (Urfa)

With its golden-colored stone houses, religious shrines filled with visiting pilgrims, and a very authentic bazaar displaying mounds and mounds of the local specialty, crushed red pepper, in various shades and levels of spiciness, Şanlıurfa has a timeless quality to it. The city lies at the edge of the Syrian desert, not far from the border with Syria and, like Gaziantep, also has a strong Middle Eastern flavor—literally as well as figuratively, because the local food has a distinct Armenian influence. Formerly a sleepy and arid frontier town that underwent a huge boom due to GAP (the Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, or Southeast Anatolia Project, a large-scale damming and irrigation program undertaken by the Turkish government), Urfa is most famous as the supposed birthplace of the biblical patriarch Abraham. A half-dozen mosques crowd around the cave where many Muslims believe Abraham was born, and a pool near the cave is filled with what are believed to be sacred carp.

Şanlıurfa is more commonly called Urfa by Turks and in maps and tourism literature; şanlı, or "famous," was added by an act of parliament to the city's name in 1984 to commemorate the city's resistance to the French military occupation of the area following World War I. Urfa's old town, at the southern foot of Divan Caddesi, is a remarkable mix of Babylonian, Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture, albeit heavily eroded over the centuries.

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