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Urfa 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. People are extremely friendly, and the bazaar is great. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Sanliurfa
- 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 pyre into water and the coals into fish, thus saving Abraham.
Legend also names it as the birthplace of Job.
- The atmospheric bazaar with its 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. Almost mystical crimson and hazy sights from the terrace at the entrance of the castle over the old city during the evening call to prayer is hard to beat and well worth the effort the climb there, even if the grounds of the castle is closed already. 9AM-5PM. 3 TL.
- Gobekli Tepe. Famed as the oldest temple in the world, Gobekli Tepe has changed the way that archaeologists look at history. Its exisitence pre-dates farming and settlements, and so it proves that man had religion before he even lived in a village or a town. Dated to 9000 BCE
Popular events in Sanliurfa in the near future
Since 1984, Urfa is officially renamed as Şanlıurfa (i.e. "Glorious Urfa"), which is how it is shown on maps and highway signs. Şanlıurfa is usually abbreviated to Ş.Urfa on non-official signs, such as those on buses or restaurants. However, colloquially and locally, the city is still almost always referred to Urfa.
As it can get scorchingly hot during summer (40 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.
Join the locals and make a wish while feeding the holy fishes at the pond. According to the local belief, if you happen to feed one of the obviously rare white fishes, your wish will come true in a short time. Feeds, which are available from numerous vendors around the pond, are regulated by the local environmental association—it's highly discouraged to use anything other than the designated feed—and the standard fare of a small box of feed is 0.50 TL—don't pay anything more if the vendor tries to rip you off.
Have a Narghile (hookah) at the lake in the park near the mosques.
- Abraham's Path. Sanliurfa is at the northern end of the international trekking route, Abraham's Path, which follows the footsteps of the Patriarch Abraham throughout the Middle East. Walks from 1 to 10 days in length are possible from Sanliurfa. The Path in Sanliurfa joins together the sacred sites in the area.
Be careful with food hygiene as very many people suffer stomach trouble in Urfa. Suspects include the water, the ice cream and the kebabs. This only refers to summer visits.
Famous are the çiğ köfte or raw kebabs. In Winter they are made with raw mince meat; in Summer they are made with fried egg. Definitely one of the most delicious dishes of the area.
Have a breakfast at the wonderful Zahter Kahvalti in Köprübasi Caddesi opposite the entrance of "Hotel Ipek Palace".
Urfa is famous for local pistachio desserts. You can find different versions in every bakery in the city center.
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).
The section of Urfa just over the Karakoyun River houses a few small, simple bars and the local Turkish beer Efes can be purchased to take away from a very few small shops in that area. The few small bars are humble affairs, frequented by men and playing local Kurdish and Turkish music.
Drink "murra" in the Gümrük Han - this is a very strong 1/2 teaspoon-sized cup of coffee. It is not overly pleasant, but it is a local experience.
More welcoming to the palate is Menengic (menen-gich) coffee - this is made from a paste of coffee and Menengic beans, and gives the cup a sweet, nutty flavour.
As Urfa is both a conservative and hot place, headscarves are popular with both the city's men and women. Particular to Urfa, is a shade of lavender with white embroidered or sequined patterns. The story goes that the Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993-1996 wore a scarf in that style when she visited Urfa, and now all the women wear them. They are worn by both men and women. They can be found in the bazaar. Pay to more than 10TL per scarf.
Likewise, the patterned Pos(h)i scarves are both popular and politically-charged purchases. They come in all manner of meaningless colours, however the Kurdish men wear those of black and white check, and the Arab men the red and white ones.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Urfa on Wikivoyage.