When we started this trip, it was more curiosity than anything that led us to South East Turkey. At the time, only a few months ago, there was none of this unrest that is currently happening in the region right now and it saddens be so much to read about all that is going on there at the moment. Şanlıurfa, or Urfa as it is known, is definitely one of my favourite places in Turkey and I cannot wait for when I can go back there again. It definitely has this Middle East atmosphere that most of Turkey lacks, that there are times you do tend to forget that you’re still in Turkey, especially since Arabic and Kurdish seem to be more prominent than Turkish itself in the city.
We went down to the first shop we saw to grab some kurabiye, which served the purpose of lunch, or was it dinner? – we could hardly keep track of time by that point By the end of the whole trip, our eating and sleeping patterns had been thoroughly messed up and we didn’t even taste the famous kebab from Urfa that everyone kept talking about. Not that I’ll be able to now, since I’ve recently turned fully vegetarian. I digress.
From the hostel, Gölbaşı, the first and foremost reason many make the journey to Urfa, was just a few minutes away and we took our sweet time walking there going past the shops and markets, under the curious stares of the locals. The holy Gölbaşı area tells the story of when Abraham (Ibrahim), the prophet, took on Nimrod, the Assyrian King by destroying all the pagan gods that the later worship. Nimrod, enraged, ordered to have Abraham killed by throwing him in the fire but God saved him by turning the fire into water and the burning coal into fish. The lake called Balıklı Göl (Lake with Fishes) found at Gölbaşı is believed to be the very same sacred lake that saved Abraham and is now where Turkey’s most pampered carps now call home. Around the lakes are gardens of roses where Ibrahim apparently landed when he was thrown from the castle as another attempt to kill him.
We entered the area from the dergah (shrine) and mosque complex that has been built around the cave where the prophet Ibrahim is believed to have been born and nursed when his mother ran away to hide her pregnancy. Although there are many arguments about being the actual place being in Iran rather than Turkey, many believers still go there on pilgrimage.
It was quite amusing to see children swimming in the narrow pools supplied with water from the lake in front of the mosque. It definitely must have been quite an effective way to cool down on such a hot day and I would definitely have dived in or at the very least soak my feet, as well if it wouldn’t have been considered ayıp, unacceptable.
As the iftar time neared, families and friends took their place on the grass preparing to break their fast together – we got invited to join one group on our last day but we were in a hurry to go to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Ankara. Then the most beautiful ezan (call to prayer) I had ever heard in Turkey was read, which definitely reminded me of home for some reason. I do have to say, my first visit there was the most spiritually awakening experience I had ever felt.
Its connection to Abraham is not the only reason why Urfa is considered the city of Prophets. Near to the city centre is another sacred place, a little less well known than Gölbaşı but as important for the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This one speaks of the Prophet Job (Ayyub) who had been struck by diseases as a test of god. He was then deserted by his family and lost all his riches, but still stayed true to his faith. We were able to visit the cave where he supposedly stayed when he was ill as well as drink the water from the well which God sent to cure his illness. You can even have a shower, for 5 TL, with the sacred water if you want.
We couldn’t leave Urfa without visiting Gölbaşı again and we were treated to live Arab and Kurdish music as we went it, a special for some TV program. We attempted to visit the castle which was unfortunately closed for renovations so spent our last hours in Urfa sitting in a cafe listening to music. We got our drinks as ikram by the waiters of the cafe, which was felt quite unusual as they were the only things we had ordered. I do hope they didn’t get into any trouble because of that but it was quite a perfect end to our exhausting but mind-opening almost accidental pilgrimage.