The fertile lands irrigated by the Euphrates-Tigris basin made Mesopotamia one of the earliest settlements of civilization
About 12,000 years ago, there occurred a turning point event that affected the history of humanity in Şanlıurfa, which is located at the very heart of upper Mesopotamia, where the history of civilization began. This event, known as the agricultural revolution, marked the transition from a nomadic lifestyle of hunter-gatherers in the region to a sedentary lifestyle. Many civilizations living in this area such as Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Turks left valuable artifacts that have survived to this day. Almost like an open-air museum, Şanlıurfa bears the traces of this deeply rooted heritage at every corner. With Göbeklitepe, Balıklı Lake, Harran, Halfeti and the largest archaeological museum complex in Turkiye, Şanlıurfa offers a visual feast for enthusiasts.
Șanlıurfa's Living Culture
Being home to different religions and ethnic groups throughout history has created a rich and diverse culture in Şanlıurfa. This ethnic and cultural diversity is reflected in the music, folklore and clothing of the local people and largely influenced its cuisine specialities. The crops grown on the arid Şanlıurfa plains and the sheep raised on the steppes are the sources of delicious foods produced by the local cooks. Besides being the home of Göbekli Tepe, Şanlıurfa is also renowned as a major centre for faith and it is often referred to "the city of prophets." Abraham, considered to be the forefather of all the monotheistic religions, is believed to have been born in Şanlıurfa.
Urfa in Pagan Times
Şanlıurfa boasts the ruins of many important pagan sites such as Göbekli Tepe, Harran and Soğmatar. Göbekli Tepe is believed to be the oldest monumental temple of mankind while Harran was an important religious centre for Assyrians for its famous Sin Temple. To the northeast of Harran, another pagan religious centre Soğmatar can be found. Best known as the seat of the Babylonian pagan belief systems that worshipped the moon, sun and planets, legend says that it was here that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gave him the rod that he used to part the Red Sea.
Şanlıurfa is the first region that was ruled by a Christian king. During the reign of King Abgar V, Christianity rapidly spread among the local people of Şanlıurfa. Edessa (name of Şanlıurfa in the ancient times) is acknowledged to be the birthplace of Syrian-Christian literature. It is possible to observe inscriptions from the reign of King Abgar inscribed on two monumental columns erected on the hill of the castle around 240-242 AD by Manu, King of Edessa. In the 12th century during the Crusades, Şanlıurfa hosted the County of Edessa for 48 years. County of Edessa was established by Baldwin of Boulogne and he reigned over Urfa from 1098 to 1144. The most remarkable artifact that has survived until today is a tower dating back to 1122. This tower was known as "Mahmutoğlu Tower" in the Ottoman period. The restored tower has been transformed into a museum and has taken the name of City Museum.
In 1182, after decades of attacks by the Turks Sultan Saladin Ayyub succeeded to take over Şanlıurfa signifying the start of the adoption of the Islamic faith. After the conquest Islamic structures such as mosques, masjids and madrasas as well as cemeteries were built mainly around the Balıklıgöl area. Some churches such as Red Church (Grand Mosque) were converted into mosques. For those interested in religion, the most important Islamic religious sites to visit are: the Balıklıgöl Area, home of Rızvaniye, Halil-ül Rahman, Mevlid-i Halil mosques, Rızvaniye madrasa and the birthplace of Abraham.
Located in the Eyyub Peygamber neighbourhood in the southern outskirts of Şanlıurfa is the cave and well of Prophet Eyyup (Ayyub). The Prophet Eyyup is known around the world as the symbol of virtue and patience. According to legend, inside the cave the well containing the holy waters from which Prophet Eyyup bathed and was healed can be found. It is also believed that the tomb of Prophet Eyyup is located in Eyyup Nebi Village near Viranşehir District, east of Şanlıurfa Province, where hundreds of people visit every day.
Göbekli Tepe: Zero Point In Time
According to archeologists, Göbekli Tepe predates Stonehenge in England by 6,000 years and the Egyptian Pyramids by 7,000 years. Humans living in this area during the time when Göbekli Tepe was built were still hunter-gatherers. They had no metal tools, pottery or wheels and writing and engineering had not been invented.
Göbekli Tepe upends the theories on how civilizations and hunter-gatherers evolved. Archeologists began to question in what way it was possible for humans to build these massive T-shaped pillars in a time when the only tool available was a sharpened piece of stone. Visiting Göbekli Tepe at sunrise or sunset will help you understand the evolution of civilization and take you on a mystical journey to the roots of humankind.
Retracing the Footsteps of Abraham
Regarded as the common patriarch of Abrahamic religions, Abraham is believed to have been born in Şanlıurfa. The Prophet Abraham was thrown into the fire by King Nimrod from the hill where the Urfa castle is situated today because he started the fight against the idols worshipped by the tyrant Nimrod and his people and promoted the idea that there was only one God. In the meantime, Allah commanded “Fire! Be cool and safe for Abraham” (Al Anbiya 69). The fire was turned into water and the burning coals into fish by God.
The Balıklıgöl area looks like a garden of Eden with its well-kept gardens and flowers. There are mosques, madrasas, inns and historical bazaars around it. Touring around Balıklıgöl will make you feel like you are on a historical journey to medieval Şanlıurfa.
Although there is no exact information on when the castle was built, recent discoveries revealed some remains which are expected to belong to the Roman period. Manu, the king of Edessa, had two monuments erected on the hill in AD 240-242. The inscriptions on the monuments belong to Abgar's reign. The castle was rebuilt into its current form in AD 812-814 during the Abbasids period. 71 rock tombs, one of which is for a king, 5 cisterns and a mosaic floor were unearthed on the west side of the castle in recent excavations. When you climb the steep stairs and walk around the rock tombs, you will feel the mystic atmosphere of the city and admire the scenery of Balıklıgöl and old town.
The Amazon Queens
The Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum is an ancient villa, which was discovered during municipal construction activities in the city. It is famous for the mosaics depicting Amazon queens, who are frequently mentioned in Greek mythology, hunting. Another famous mosaic depicts Orpheus, a mythological musician and poet, while others show the rich diversity of animals in the region. The special techniques used and the 4 mm mosaic stones brought from the River Euphrates are what make Haleplibahçe mosaics some of the oldest and most valuable works of mosaic art in the world.
Explore the Largest Archeological Museum of Turkiye
Şanlıurfa Archeological Museum covers 34,000 sq m and is the largest in Turkey. The museum has a very rich collection of items found at the prehistoric and ancient sites in Şanlıurfa and its surroundings. It includes the unique remains of Nevali Çori, which was submerged by the Atatürk Dam, and the exact replica of the Temple D at Göbekli Tepe. Among the most interesting works of the museum is "Urfa Man" (9600 BC), regarded as the world's oldest statue. You can spend the whole day exploring numerous archeological finds exhibited in this splendid museum complex.
Harran: A Journey to The Past
Harran has always been a major place for trade, religion and science throughout history. It was the last capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Temple of Sin, which was in Harran according to written sources, is where Şuppililuma, King of the Hittites, and Mattivaza, King of the Mitannis, signed an agreement on behalf of Sin (God of the Moon) and Şamaş (God of the Sun) in the 14th century BC. The renowned Roman General Marcus Licinius Crassus, quite familiar to many from the story of Spartacus, was killed during the Battle of Carrhae against the Parthians in 53 BC. The Roman Emperor Caracalla (188-217 AD) was stabbed to death by his guardians on his way to the Temple of Sin in Harran.
Harran was first introduced to Islam in the period of Umayyad. The first Islamic university, remains of which still exist, was founded in Harran, which made it a significant center for science worldwide in 9th century AD. It witnessed large-scale public works particularly during the reign of Umayyad King Mervan II and the Abbasid period, later on.
Today, you can taste mırra, the local Arabic coffee, see local people in their traditional outfits, try their traditional tattoo called deq and visit the unique beehive houses.
Experience Halfeti, The Lost City
Halfeti is a historical settlement located on the east bank of the river Euphrates. According to written sources, the town was first named Shitamrat. The Assyrian King Shalmaneser III conquered the area in 855 BC. It was named Urima and Qal'a Rhomayta successively after the settlement by the Greeks and the Syriacs. The Byzantine Greeks called it Romaion Koula and the Arabs – Qal’at al-Rum. It is believed that Halfeti was established by the Halvetis, coming from Rumkale, upon the settlement of the Turks. The current name of the city, Halfeti, is considered to be derived from this.
Halfeti was the centre of Urumgala/Rumkale district in the Ottoman period. In 2000, Halfeti’s fate changed completely. Many parts of the town were submerged with the construction of the Birecik Dam.
Halfeti, awarded Cittaslow (Slow City) status, is a perfect place for walking along the river Euphrates and taking photos. Be sure to cross the suspension bridge to the neighbourhood on the northern side where you can enjoy both the history and nature of the area.