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The mosque built on the site where, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was born.
Location of Şanlıurfa within Turkey.
Coordinates: 37°04′N 37°23′E / 37.067°N 37.383°E / 37.067; 37.383
Country  Turkey
Region Southeastern Anatolia
Province Şanlıurfa
Population (2007)
 - Total 1,237,874
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 - Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Postal code 63x xx
Licence plate 63

Şanlıurfa (often simply known as Urfa in daily language), formerly cited as Edessa or in Kurdish; Riha , or in Armenian Urhai, Arabic الرها ar-Raha) is a city with 462,923 inhabitants (2006 estimate[1]) in south-eastern Turkey, and the capital of Şanlıurfa Province. Urfa is situated on a plain under big open skies, about eighty kilometres east of the Euphrates River. The climate features extremely hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters.



Costumes of the rich females of Urfa.

The city has been known by many names in history: Ուռհա in Armenian,Urhai in Aramaic, ܐܘܪܗܝ, Riha in Syriac, الرها, ar-Ruhā in Arabic, Ορρα, Orrha in Greek (also Ορροα, Orrhoa). For a while it was named Callirrhoe or Antiochia on the Callirhoe (Greek: Αντιόχεια η επί Καλλιρρόης). During Byzantine rule it was named Justinopolis. Although, prior to the Turkish rule, it was often best known by the name given it by the Seleucids, Εδεσσα, Edessa.

'Şanlı' (from Arabic: shan, شأن dignity + Turkish adjectival suffix -lı) means great, glorious, dignified in Turkish and Urfa was officially re-named Şanlıurfa (Urfa the Glorious) by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1984, in recognition of the local resistance in the Turkish War of Independence. The title was achieved following repeated requests by the city's members of parliament, desirous to earn a title similar to those of neighbouring rival cities 'Gazi' (veteran) Antep and 'Kahraman' (Heroic) Maraş.


The history of Şanlıurfa is recorded from the 4th century BC, but may date back to the 12th century BC, when there is ample evidence for the surrounding sites at Duru, Harran and Nevali Cori.[2] It was one of several cities in the Euphrates-Tigris basin, the cradle of the Mesopotamian civilization. According to Turkish Muslim traditions Urfa (its name since Byzantine days) is the biblical city of Ur, due to its proximity to the biblical village of Harran. However, many historians and archaeologists claim the city of Ur in southern Iraq.

Urfa is also identified as the birthplace of Abraham, which is commemorated by a mosque in the city, and as the birthplace of Job.

According to the traditional, Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish.
The pool of sacred fish remains to this day.

Urfa was conquered repeatedly throughout history, and has been dominated by many civilizations, including the Ebla, Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Hurris, Armenians, Mittannis, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Macedonians (under Alexander the Great), Seleucids, Arameans, Osrhoenes, Romans, Sassanids, Byzantines, Crusaders.


The city of Edessa

In the Byzantine period Edessa was a powerful regional centre with churches, schools and monasteries.

The age of Islam

Islam first arrived around 638 C.E., when the Rashidun army conquered the region without a fight. Islam was then established permanently in Urfa by the empires of the Ayyubids (see: Saladin Ayubbi the Kurdish warrior), Seljuks and Ottoman Turks. In the aftermath of the First Crusade, the city was the center of the Crusader County of Edessa, until 1144, when it was again captured by the Turk Zengui, and most of its inhabitants were slaughtered together with the Latin archbishop (see Siege of Edessa). For the ten years following the Turkish capture, Urfa was at the center of European history, since the very reason for which the Second Crusade was launched was the city's recapture. While it began with an enthusiastic massacre of Jews in western Europe and the presence of an Emperor and a King of France gave it much lustre, it was a disaster, its only success recorded resulting from auxiliary operation when an English fleet took from the Arabs and passed into the hands of the future King of Portugal the city of Lisbon.[3]

Under the Ottomans Urfa was a centre of trade in cotton, leather, and jewellery. There were three Christian communities: Syrian, Armenian, and Latin. The last Syrian Christians left in 1924 and went to Aleppo (where they settled down in a place that was later called Hay al-Suryan "The Syriac Quarter").[4]

The First World War and after

In 1914 Urfa was estimated to have 75,000 inhabitants: 45,000 Kurds and Turks, 25,000 Armenians and 5,000 Syrian Christians. There was also a Jewish presence in the town, most of which fled to Istanbul, Egypt and other countries due to antisemitism caused in accordance to the creation of Israel.

At the end of World War I, with the Ottoman Empire defeated, and European armies attempting to grab parts of Anatolia, first the British and then the French occupied Urfa. The British occupation of the city of Urfa started de facto on 7 March 1919 and officially as of 24 March 1919, and lasted till 30 October 1919. French forces took over the next day and their uncomfortable presence, met by outbursts of resistance, lasted until 11 April 1920, when they were defeated by local resistance forces (the new Turkish government in Ankara not being established, with the National Assembly declared on 23 April 1920.

The French retreat from the city of Urfa was conducted under an agreement reached between the occupying forces and the representatives of the local forces, commanded by Captain Ali Saip Bey assigned from Ankara. The withdrawal was meant to take place peacefully, but was disrupted by an ambush on the French by irregular forces at the Şebeke Pass on the way to Syria, leading to 296 casualties among the French, and more among the ambushers.

Şanlıurfa today

Şanlıurfa's old town contains many atmospheric backstreets.
The skyline of Şanlıurfa as viewed from the Castle which dominates the City Centre.

Modern Şanlıurfa presents stark contrasts between its old and new quarters. The old town is one of the most evocative and romantic in Turkey, with an ancient bazaar still visited by local people to buy fruit and vegetables, where traditionally dressed and scarfed Arab and Kurdish villagers arrive in the early morning to sell their produce. Much of the old town consists of traditional Middle Eastern houses built around courtyards, invisible from the dusty streets, many of which are impassable to motor vehicles. In the narrow streets of the bazaar people scurry to and fro carrying trays of food, which is eaten on newspapers spread on low tables in a corner of the little shops, many people drinking water from the same cup. This very oriental atmosphere is bewitching but below the surface parts of the old city are very poor indeed, with people still living in cave houses (built into the side of the rock).

Şanlıurfa's newer districts meanwhile, are a sprawl of modern concrete apartment blocks, with many surprisingly tidy leafy avenues, containing modern restaurants, sports facilities and other amenities with air-conditioning, a refuge from the roasting summer heat.


Although a lot of residents are ethnically Kurdish and Kurdish is widely spoken, the local population is largely assimilated into Turkish society, and there is little open political support for Kurdish nationalism. There is also a large Turkmen population, mainly consisting of the Baraks. Urfa is regarded in Turkish popular sentiment as being, second only to Konya, the most devout in Turkey and it is a stronghold of the governing Justice and Development Party.

The strength of political Islam is perhaps partly due to Urfa's having an established population of ethnic Arabs, whose adherence to the traditions of Islam are naturally stronger than speakers of Turkish or Kurdish. (The traditional Middle-eastern hospitality is much in evidence, you will be offered tea by shopkeepers in Urfa). (Another Middle-eastern pastime, horse-racing is also popular in Urfa, where there is a hippodrome and a number of stud farms).

Food and drink

The cuisine is typical of the south-east; bread and meat are at the centre either kebab, doner or kavurma (fried meats or liver), with lots of use of aubergine, tomato and hot pepper, including the legendary local red pepper isot (a very dark cultivar that becomes almost black when dried). Other dishes include: the spicy appetiser çiğ köfte (in Urfa even spicier than usual); the rich sweets such as the hot butter and syrup künefe or the walnut pastry sillik; the bitter Arabic-style coffee mırra and the coffee-like drink made from terebinth menengiç kahvesi.

  • The legend of isot goes that during the French occupation in the 1920s the people of Urfa were at first not much concerned about the town being invaded or losing their homes and only began the resistance when they saw the French marching in the pepper fields. Now they even make isot flavoured ice-cream.

Urfa is not a huge metropolis and in many ways feels like a conservative country town (albeit a largish one). You will not be served an alcoholic drink with your dinner in Urfa and even the tea-gardens (the only public social venue that Urfa provides) are strictly segregated for families or single-men (not the case in western Turkey for example). One local tradition is the sıra gecesi, where groups of men gather at home, especially in winter evenings, to play lutes (ud or bağlama) and sing folk songs. However, today there are a couple of smart hotels where you can get a drink and with the new economic growth, plus the growing university, Urfa's social infrastructure must surely develop soon.


In this roasting climate the plains of Urfa and Harran are hot and dry. However, since the early 1990s Şanlıurfa has prospered on the back of the Southeastern Anatolia Project, which has provided a reliable supply of water for local farmers and fostered and agricultural boom, including cotton production. This in turn is driving significant development of light industry in the city. Unemployment and poverty, while real problems, are on a smaller scale than in other eastern Turkish cities, and luxury automobiles can be seen on the streets of Urfa (incidentally one phenomenon is common to many Eastern cities: the newer smarter cars usually carry Istanbul or Ankara number-plates, not the local plate). The huge reservoir is also a spectacular sight, and now there are waterfront restaurants popping up.

Places of interest[5]

  • A traditional birthplace of the prophet Abraham - a cave to the south of the city
  • Urfa castle - built in antiquity, the current walls were constructed by the Abbasids in 814AD.
  • The legendary Pool of Sacred Fish (Balikligöl) where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. The pool is in the courtyard of the mosque of Halil-ur-Rahman, built by the Ayyubids in 1211 and now surrounded by attractive gardens designed by architect Merih Karaaslan. The fish are not a pretty sight as they thrash about frantically devouring bread thrown by visitors. But the courtyard is very peaceful and it is said that if you see a white fish you will go to heaven.
  • Rizvaniye Mosque - a more recent (1716) Ottoman mosque, adjoining the Balikligöl complex.
  • Ayn Zeliha - another pool nearby, named after a lady follower of Abraham.
  • The Great Mosque of Urfa was built in 1170, on the site of a Christian church the Arabs called the "red church," probably incorporating some Roman masonry. Contemporary tradition at the site identifies the well of the mosque as that into which the towel or burial cloth (mendil) of Jesus was thrown (see Image of Edessa and Shroud of Turin). In the south wall of the medrese adjoining the mosque is the fountain of Firuz Bey (1781).
  • Ruins of the ancient city walls.
  • Eight Turkish baths built in the Ottoman period.
  • The traditional Urfa houses were split into sections for family (harem) and visitors (selam). There is an example open to the public next to the post office in the district of Kara Meydan.
  • The Temple of Nevali Cori - Neolithic settlement dating back to 8000BC, now buried under the waters behind the Atatürk Dam, but some artefacts relocated above the waterline.
  • Göbekli Tepe - The world's oldest known stone temples, dated 10th millennium BC (ca 11,500 years ago).

Famous people

  • Yusuf Nabi - 17th century Ottoman poet
  • İbrahim Tatlıses - singer, Urfa's own beloved working class hero, one of Turkey's wealthiest music and TV stars. His oft-quoted remark on his hometown Was there an Oxford (university) in Urfa and we didn't go to it?.
  • Ferhat Göçer - popular singer
  • Kazancı Bedih (b 1929 - d. 2004)- folk singer, known nationally for his conributions to the Eşkiya film soundtrack.
  • Bekir Yıldız - Columnist in Hürriyet
  • Bekir Coşkun - Columnist in Hürriyet
  • Bekir Fırat - Columnist in Güneydoğuhaber
  • UR - Band formed in the 1940s.
  • Matthew of Edessa - Historian
  • Ahmet Özhan - Singer of Turkish Sufi music, and movie actor
  • Abdullah Öcalan - Leader of the group; PKK, Now in prison.
  • Knai Thomman
  • Neodim - Rapper

See also


  1. ^ Turkey Population statistics Retrieved on 2009-06-30.
  2. ^ Segal, J. B. (2001) [1970]. "I. The Beginnings". Edessa:'The Blessed City' (2 ed.). Piscataway, New Jersey, United States: Gorgias Press. pp. 5. ISBN 0-9713097-1-X. "It is certainly surprising that no obvious reference to Orhay has been found so far in the early historical texts dealing with the region, and that, unlike Harran, its name does not occur in cuneiform itineraries. This may be accidental, or Orhay may be alluded to under a different name which has not been identified. Perhaps it was not fortified, and therefore at this time a place of no great military significance. With the Seleucid period, however, we are on firm historical ground. Seleucus I founded—or rather re-founded—a number of cities in the region. Among them, probably in 303 or 302 B.C., was Orhay."  
  3. ^ Roberts, J. M.. "II/4. Frontiers and neighbours". The Penguin History of Europe. London: Penguin Books. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-140-26561-3.  
  4. ^ Joseph, John (1983). Muslim-Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East: The Case of the Jacobites in an Age of Transition. United States: State University of New York Press. pp. 150. ISBN 0873956125.  
  5. ^

External links

Coordinates: 37°09′N 38°48′E / 37.15°N 38.8°E / 37.15; 38.8

Redirecting to Şanlıurfa

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Şanlıurfa (also Urfa, formerly Edessa) is a city in Southeastern Anatolia, and the provincial capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The modern city of Urfa is situated about eighty kilometers east of the Euphrates River. It has a rapidly growing population.

Urfa has many excellent old buildings and plenty of connections with the Old Testament and Islamic tradition. The general atmosphere and feel of the city is absolutely Middle Eastern, with all those traditional yellow stone, arched architecture, people (ladies and gentlemen alike) in Middle-East dresses, and so on... When coming from West, you'll certainly feel like you are entering the Eastern world right in this place.

Get in


Buses connect to most big cities. Free transfers to and from the bus station provide by some accommodation choices.

By plane

Three flights a day into and out of Sanliurfa's new airport: two Istanbul and one Ankara flight. Reasonably priced transfers from and to the airport with the Havas bus service. Some accommodation choices also provide free airport transfers since the airport is out of town. Flights available from Turkish Airlines:

  • Cave of Abraham. Urfa is supposedly the birthplace of Abraham (called Ibrahim in arabic, he was an important prophet) and henceforth an important islamic place of pilgrimage. Around the site of the cave are a number of mosques built around a park with water features. One of these mosques, the Halil-ur-Rahman has a pool (called the Balikligöl) occupied by a rather large number of holy fish. It is said that anyone who catches one of these will go blind. That said the story behind the pool is quite interesting: The pool is at a site where Nemrut (there's a legend claiming him to be the builder of the tower of Babel) wanted to burn Abraham as a sacrifice. God however intervened and turned the pire into water and the coals into fish thus saving Abraham.

Legend also names it as the birthplace of Job.

  • The atmospheric bazaar with it's hustle and bustle is quite charming as is the old town.
  • The ancient ruined castle with newer walls dating from around 814 AD on the rocky promontory at the south side of town. A lone column is just about all that remains of the older structure but the views are spectacular.


As it can get scorchingly hot during summer (50 degrees C or above), you'll be hard pressed to do anything during the afternoon. In the park around which the mosques are you can wait for the midday heat to subside while enjoying ice tea or other cold drinks (though obviously: no beer or alcoholics) before exploring the old town , the bazaar or the mosques. That's also the extent of what you can do in the evening. Sit down, have a cold non-alcoholic drink and play backgammon or just have a chat.


Be careful with food hygiene as very many people suffer stomach trouble in Urfa. Suspects include the water, the ice cream, the kebabs, and possibly the people making or selling them.

Famous are the cigkofte or raw kebabs.


As Urfa is a city of pilgrimage, beer or any other alcoholic beverage is near impossible to get. Apart from that you're able to find any of the soft-drink brands sold in the rest of Turkey or stick to Turkish or Arabian tea (which is sweeter or minted).


Urfa has many hotels.

  • Lizbon Guest House, Otogar Balikli Göl yolu Yeni Mah. No: 1286 (Hotel Number 21). Telephone: 05353738926. Free pick up from the Otogar. A couple runs the guest house. There are 8 rooms (three new, which opened in 2009). Homecooked Kurdish food (with beer available). Unfortunately, Aziz the owner, will insist on being a guide to sites around Urfa, and if refused, will become pushy and rude. This has been somewhat problematic for some tourists looking to explore unguided. The price for a single person is 25 TL.
  • Hotel Bakay, Asfalt Cadessi 24, Tel: 0215 2689 has aircon, tv, showers and a friendly staff though breakfast is a bit of a let-down. It's also about 45 YTL for a double and 30 YTL for a single.
  • Hotel Kilim, aircon wifi: 45 YTL.
  • Hotel Arte, Ataturk Bulvari No:7 (Just next to municipality building), +90 414 314 7060, [1]. checkin: 12:00; checkout: 11:00. 33 individually designed rooms offer amenities such as wi-fi internet connection, satellite TV, air-con, direct telephone, and hair-dryer.  edit
  • Village home stays, Yuvacali Koyu, Hilvan, Sanliurfa, 90 414 553 3842/ 90 533 747 1850, [2]. checkin: flexible; checkout: flexible. A unique opportunity to experience rural life in Sanliurfa. With free pick up from the centre of Urfa, the bus station or the airport, Nomad Tours has organized home stays in Kurdish villages for travellers from all over the world. Sleep on handmade woollen matresses under the stars just as the locals do, learn how to make village bread, join in with the milking and the cheese making, enjoy food that is not only home cooked but also home grown, and see how local people really live. An English speaking guide is available whenever required. A range of packages are available from accommodation only to full board and excursion packages. from 20YTL.  edit

Stay safe

Urfa seems to be a very safe city. There is a police sentry box in the Balıklıgöl/Pond area where you can report any problems.

However, according to the local youngsters, there is a possibly dangerous substance abuse going on around the gate of the citadel on the hill after night falls, so better avoid hanging around the stairs leading there at night.

  • Go to Harran (about 40 km south), and see some reconstructed beehive huts and the remains of the trading "fortress" around which they're situated.
  • Mardin, about 200 km to east, with its stonework architecture and Syriac Orthodox churches is also another interesting place to visit in the region.
  • The Ataturk Dam to the north of the city is a huge engineering project harnassing the waters of the Euphrates and irrigating former semi-desert lands around Urfa.
  • Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known temple in the world dating from 9,000 years B.C.
  • Visit villages in the region and see rural life virtually unchanged since biblical times. Go to Karacadag where it is still possible to see nomads in their yurts, and from where wheat first originated about 8,800 BCE
  • Take an excursion to Nemrut or Diyarbakir, both of which are within a day's reach of Urfa
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