We arrived in Şanlıurfa with realistic expectations of our booked accommodation which was advertised as a “back packer” regular. It was!! We couldn’t help comment on how we had come down in the world form the 5 star Antalya accommodations to a boutique hotel and now backpacker status. But it was clean. We had booked a room with “private bath”. Private is a relative word – the bathroom was an enclosed section of the room but the walls were barely thicker than cardboard and only went about 6 feet up. Cathy insisted she wanted to get a picture of herself on the toilet while I was in my bed which was about 4 inches away.
At first Urfa felt a bit of a let-down after our amazing time in Gaziantep, but it grew on us. The market/bazaar was the most amazing I have ever encountered. As usual it was an absolute maze of alleys and had everything from good jewelry to fabrics to metal workers creating copper objects lined with tin, and a whole section of men working on sewing machines. They were doing everything from fancy women’s chadors to hemming pants on electric and treadle machines.
The Bazaar was in and around a caravanserai (old stopping place from the days of the silk road and camel trains) and in the centre was an original “food court” with lots of restaurants and coffee shops. Have I mentioned the heat???? Every day was nearly 40 degrees and in a lot of restaurants and especially in the Bazaar they had misting machines at ceiling level which provided mist to cool things down.
We continued to have god luck with restaurants – one dinner at a street café sharing a table with a German photographer who travelled all the eastern countries on a motorbike! One night at a more western restaurant where we had a very great pizza!!
Urfa is famous as the birthplace and home of Abraham – considered an important figure by Muslems, Christians and Jews. Urfa of course focuses on the Muslim traditions and includes a number of beautiful mosques as well as a number of very large pools full of carp which play an important role in Muslim lore. The site is large and very park-like with rose gardens, lawns, tea houses and restaurants. It is also beautifully lit at night. We spent quote a lot of time there just soaking in the ambience and being approached by locals (men) wanting to speak English – some more persistent than others but all very polite.
One of our more amusing incidents was in response to our futile search for some specific houses in an area of medieval homes. The street numbering simply did not make sense, it was stinking hot, and we were completely unsuccessful in finding the house numbers. A young fellow came by and we thought he understood our request so off we went behind him. After about 15 minutes walking he bought us each a water and triumphantly pointed out the brand new museum he thought we were looking for. We had no choice but to go in. There was not a soul around and the staff were so thrilled to see us they not only let us in for free but gave us the neatest English audio guide. We couldn’t disappoint them either so spent the next hour in the air conditioned museum learning about the Urfa area.
About 50 km from Urfa is Harran – where Abraham lived for a time. There is an ancient university site (they claimed the first accurate calculation of the distance from the earth to the moon) , the remains of a mosque, a crusader castle and the famous “beehive houses”. The clusters of structures actually make one hone – each “hive” being a room connected to the others to make a house.
We also visited Göbekli Tepe which is a site reminiscent of Stonehenge – just about 6000 years older. It is a fairly recent discovery and burst into international prominence as a result of a National Geographic cover story in 2011. The site is very much a working archeological site but all the mechanics and support structures of a dig really limit ones’ ability to see the structures. The find has caused archeologists to revamp their theory about the development of civilization. Formerly they thought that religious practise did not begin until people lived in community, but this site (thought to be of religious significance) dates back to the time when people were hunters/gatherers.