Urfa, recently renamed Şanlıurfa, is a major pilgrimage site for Muslims. The city was home to Abraham, and Job spent time praying in a mosque on the outskirts of town to cure him of his ails. Beyond the historic and Biblical importance, Urfa is one of the most beautiful and welcoming cities in southeastern Turkey. A river winds through the center of town and is full of fish. People stop to feed them just outside of the cave in which Abraham was born and adjacent mosques. If you join the masses in Gölbaşi Park, be sure not to touch the fish; local legend says that those who touch them go blind (if you watch patiently, sighting a white fish means you’ll go to heaven). The river itself was purportedly created to catch Abraham when he was catapulted in flames from the nearby castle by Nimrod.
The Hazreti Ibrahim Doğum Mağarasi, where Abraham was born, is not much to look at, but is widely visited for its importance.
The castle offers little but the pillar from which Abraham was thrown, but if you walk along the walls there are astounding views of the city, built of the same honey-colored stone as Mardin and Midyat.
The town’s bazaar is full of buckets of red pepper that the city is known for, and the air is filled with the sounds of men hammering copper into bowls, pots, and coffee boilers.
The city is made for walking, each area breathtaking in its own right. The Assyrian church complex Il Ozel Idaresi Vali Kemalettin Gazezoğlu Kultur ve Sanat Merkezi is a cultural center woth visiting, if not for the building itself for the walk there, which winds you through alleys housing a series of old restored homes.
After a day on your feet, sit back and have a coffee in the hills just next to the Castle. The restaurant there has tiered seating, and offers the staples of Turkish coffee and tea. They also offer an herbal coffee that has a slightly floral flavor.
If you make it out to the Eyyub Pegamber district, where Job’s cave lies under a beautiful mosque, be sure to drink from the fountain….the water is said to cure diseases, and you can look down into the well which Job drank from.
Urfa is a city not to be missed on your Eastern Turkey itinerary. With flavors of the Middle East grounded in Turkish life, Urfa offers a glimpse into a culture very different from that of the surrounding Turkish cities. It’s also a great place to stay while visiting Harran, another important Biblical city just one hour south (and home to beehive houses!).