Sunday, August 28, 2011


We were told Şanlıurfa would be a religious, buttoned-down city. Jenna expected to be made to feel uncomfortable if she didn't cover her head and arms.

As it happens, Urfa's true face is much mellower. Plenty of women are dressed modestly and wear headscarves, but plenty of women go about with their hair uncovered, and we never felt uncomfortable. The one sign of religious piety we noted was that we never saw an establishment openly selling alcohol.

Urfa is, as might be expected in southern Turkey, a very old city. It's heavily associated with the biblical Abraham, although the sites there are chiefly associated with aspects of his life story that won't be found in the Judeo-Christian Book of Genesis.

The highlight for travelers is the pool of sacred fish in the courtyard of the Mosque of Halil-ur-Rahman. According to legend an ancient king tried to burn Abraham alive, but God intervened, transformed the fire into water, and the coals into fish. You can buy plates of fish food for one lira each. A popular place to bring families.

The cave where Job lived while undergoing his tribulations is on the outskirts of town (to be honest, it's surrounded by Turkish suburban sprawl). There's a complex of religious buildings built at the site now, set up to receive busloads of religious pilgrims. After taking off your shoes, you descend into the small room where Job is said to have lived; it is courteous to leave a small donation.

Like Gaziantep which we visited before it, and Hatay after it, Urfa has a large, bustling bazaar. Somehow the bazaar seems less touristy than Antep's does (in places), despite the fact that more tourists, domestic and foreign, visit Urfa. Urfa's bazaar is more compact than Antep's, but that doesn't mean it's small. It's a maze of narrow streets and covered passageways, quite easy to lose yourself in. (By contrast, Antep's bazaar seems much more delineated by major roads, although it too has narrow streets.) The bazaar we would find in Hatay would follow a similar pattern.

The oldest thing near Urfa is older than the Bible, older than Job, older even than Abraham. But I'll devote a separate post to Göbekli Tepe.

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