The province of Şanlıurfa is located in the Middle Euphrates region of Southeastern Anatolia and was one of the most important junctions on the historic Silk Road. Şanlıurfa has been settled by many civilizations over the millennia. Dating back to around 11,500 BC, this is one of the most important centers of human history. Different faiths have always coexisted in Şanlıurfa, known as a city of prophets. Much of the city is covered in plateaus. Mount Karacadağ to the northeast of the city is the highest point in the province.
The surrounding regions are dotted with cisterns, artificial lakes and caves. The Euphrates is the lifeblood of the region. Şanlıurfa is the center of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), one of Turkey’s most ambitious projects. The earliest recorded name of the city is Urhay, its Aramean appellation. Şanlıurfa was frequently occupied throughout its history.
The city was annexed by the Ottomans in the 16th century, but was occupied by the French in the aftermath of WWI. The area was emancipated in 1920, and was declared a province in 1926. In 1984, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey awarded the city the honorific epithet of ‘Şanlı’, meaning ‘Glorious’. While the local economy is based mainly on agriculture and livestock breeding, the industrial and tourism sectors are rapidly developing.
A Centre of Religion
Şanlıurfa is renowned as a major center of religion, and a city of prophets. Legend has it that Abraham, a prophet in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was born in the city. According to local tradition, King Nimrod ordered Abraham to be burned to death for his refusal of idolatry. Many other tales related to the lives of the prophets Lot, Jacob, Job, Elisha, Jethro and Moses are told in the city, which is said to be the final resting place of Job, Rahime Hatun and Elisha.
Landscape and Climate
Şanlıurfa is located on the southern slopes of the middle of the Southeastern Taurus mountain range. The mountainous, northern sections of the city slope down towards the wide plains to the south. Şanlıurfa’s plains are dotted with hills and peaks. From west to east, the major plains in the province are the Suruç, Harran, Viranşehir, Ceylanpınar, Halfeti, Bozova and Hilvan plains. The region has chalky soil and a continental climate marked by very hot, dry summers and warm, rainy winters. Due to the dry climate, daily and annual temperatures vary greatly.
Social Fabric and Languages
Harran University has had a profound impact on the social and cultural environment of the city. The city center population mainly consists of Türkmen and Arab Turks, while the outskirts are largely settled by Kurdish Turks who have left their villages. Both Arabic and Kurdish are widely spoken in the region.
Inns, Markets and Bazaars
Şanlıurfa boasts many historic inns, markets and bazaars, as well as eleven large caravanserais dating from the Ottoman era.
Rivers and Dams
The Euphrates is the lifeblood of the region, but there are many other small rivers and artificial lakes in the province. The Atatürk Dam is one of the most important investments in Şanlıurfa.
Water and the Local Economy
Şanlıurfa has changed dramatically as a result of the GAP initiatives, with rapid developments in the fields of agriculture, industry and tourism. In 1995, there were a total of 59 industrial businesses in the region; by 2004, this figure had reached 333. Şanlıurfa is a major producer of wheat, barley, red lentils, pistachios, grapes and sesame. Thanks to the GAP irrigation schemes, the region has seen important developments in its cotton industry, greenhouse industry and farming under cover.
Şanlıurfa Houses and Mansions
Şanlıurfa has over 200 historic houses and mansions. Traditional Şanlıurfa houses consist of a public area known as the ‘oda’ and a private area for the family known as the harem. The ground floor rooms have no windows, and the windows of the upper floors face onto the inner courtyard rather than onto the street. The ‘oda’ consists of a courtyard, one or two rooms, an iwan, a ‘develik’ or stable for the guests’ animals and a toilet. The harem is usually larger than the ‘oda’ section. A marble ornamental pool stands at the center of the main courtyard known as the ‘hayat’. Compartments known as ‘zerzembe’ located under the iwans or rooms are used as larders. Birdhouses known as ‘kuş takaları’ can often be seen high up on the walls near the roofs. Şanlıurfa has 200 houses and mansions that are registered historic buildings. The houses have many niches. The interior walls of the house facing onto the courtyard are decorated with elaborate stone carvings including plant and geometric motifs, hexagons, octagons and rosettes.
Inns, markets and bazaars
Şanlıurfa is home to many well-preserved historic bazaars and ‘bedesten’ - a type of covered bazaar that usually sells valuable items. Many Ottoman inns, bedesten and bazaars can still be seen in the city, mostly in the region of Gümrük Han, the historic center of trade and commerce.
To date, 400 prehistoric settlements have been identified in the region, 30 of which have
been excavated. Many stone tools dating from the Paleolithic Era have been uncovered in and around Birecik. Prehistoric settlements such as those at Göbekli Tepe, Nevali Çori and Mezraa Teleilat serve as a window on the cultural developments in the between from the establishment of the first villages to the rise of the first kingdoms. Artifacts uncovered during the excavations are on display at the Şanlıurfa Museum.
15 km northeast of Şanlıurfa, on the highest point of an elongated ridge in the village of Örencik
The remarkable findings at Göbekli Tepe suggest that it was once an important sacred site and sanctuary. The monumental cult complex is thought to date from 10,500- 8,600 BC, and was probably the largest sacred site in the region during the Neolithic Age. Hunter-gatherers established the complex as a place of communal worship. The site also serves as a fascinating window on the transition to agriculture. Excavations at the site began in 1995, revealing temple structures that seem to have been deliberately buried in the Neolithic Age. Around 44
T-shaped pillars measuring around 1.5 meters tall have been uncovered. A number of these half-buried pillars are monumental in size, measuring up to 5 meters tall and weighing around 10 tons. Many of the monumental pillars feature reliefs of snakes, foxes, bulls, wild boar and cranes. One fascinating relief depicts human arms, a fox and abstract pictograms. Excavations continue to be conducted under the direction of Prof. Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute.
Near the village of Kantara in the Hilvan district
Neolithic, Copper Age and Early Bronze Age levels have been uncovered at the tumulus. The site boasts a stunning Neolithic temple with two pillars ornamented with stylized human figures. The capitals of the pillars are T-shaped, much like the monumental pillars found at Göbekli Tepe. Statues and reliefs of wild animals such as bears, wolves, foxes, turtles, snakes and birds have been uncovered. Most of the human figures are male. The statues and reliefs suggest that the site was used as a temple.
Immediately to the west of the village of Mezraa, 5 km south of Birecik
Excavations have been conducted since 1999 at the tumulus, which covers an area measuring around seven hectares. The first settlement is thought to date from around 8000 BC, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Age. The area was subsequently continuously settled until around 5200 BC. Teleilat was abandoned during the Halaf Period, and lay deserted for some 5500 years. Then, near the beginning of the Iron Age, the area was reestablished as a rural palace complex. Another large palace complex was built by the Neo- Assyrians
The Pool of Abraham and its shores
After the people of Şanlıurfa adopted Islam, Islamic structures such as mosques, masjids and madrasas as well as cemeteries and houses were built around the Pool of Abraham, also known as Lake Halil-ür Rahman or Balıklı Göl (Fish Lake). The sights around the Pool of Abraham make up the heart of the city, and are some of the most important attractions in Şanlıurfa. The shores of the lake are not only popular with tourists but also with the locals,
The Pools of Abraham and Ayn Zeliha
Synonymous with the city of Şanlıurfa, the Pool of Abraham is said to mark the spot where the prophet landed when was thrown into a burning pyre. According to legend, King Nimrod sentenced Abraham to be thrown from the hill where the citadel now stands into a burning pyre for refusing idolatry and promoting monotheism. As Abraham was flung into the fire, God is said to have turned the flames into a flowing stream and the logs into fish. Abraham landed, unharmed, in a rose garden. The Pool of Abraham is said to mark the place where Abraham fell. The nearby Pool of Ayn Zeliha is believed by some to be the spot where Nimrod’s daughter, sentenced to death by her father for believing in Abraham, was similarly saved by God.
A short distance from Şanlıurfa, Harran has been settled continuously since around 6000 BC. Throughout history, Harran has been an important center of trade and agriculture in the region. According to one story, Harran was the first city established after the flood by
Canaan, one of Noah’s grandsons. Written sources, including the Ebla tablets, state that the city was a hub for all the civilizations in the nearby regions. The skies of Harran are extremely clear, and the ancient population is known to have worshipped the Moon and the Sun gods. For example, the Moon and Sun are shown as witnesses to a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitanni. Even after Urfa adopted Christianity, the people of Harran maintained their pagan beliefs. Harran was also center of learning and philosophy. The temple of Sin established around 2000 BC was an important center of astrology. A village during the Ottoman Empire, Harran Harran was declared a district of Şanlıurfa in 1987.