If you switch on your smartphone or go online anywhere else and check out a satellite map of Turkey you will of course easily locate our very own resort of Kuşadasıtowards the far left on the southern shores of the Aegean coastline.
If you would then move your finger eastward navigating for example via the Turkish capital city of Ankara and continue direction south-east you shall find Sanlıurfa, or as is the case with my map, simply Urfa. Both names are widely used with Urfa being the most recent ‘original’ one although for a number of years the official name is Sanlıurfa indeed.
Data from the 201 0 census show that just over 1 .66 million people live in the district with 922 000 inhabitants in the urbanized parts alone, aka the city of Sanlıurfa!
I recently had the pleasure to spend three activity packed days in here and must admit that it is a highly recommendable destination for those of us expatriates who love to explore and in particular for those who all too often limit their tours in this fascinating country to what I often refer to as ‘the western triangle’, i.e. visiting either Ankara, Izmir, or Istanbul but nothing much else.
The easiest option to find out more about Sanlıurfa without being there (yet) is to go the local municipality’s website which is available in both the Turkish and English languages. By ‘available’ I mean not simply giving away a few contact details as is the case with many other e-government websites; this city offers the entire set of relevant city and district information in both languages. Their website is www.sanliurfa.bel.tr.
Let me give you only three examples of what Urfa is famous for out of a seemingly never-ending list of things-to-do. First, right in the city center situated beneath Urfa Castle is Balıklı Göl (The Pond of the Holy Fish) which for many Turkish people is one of the most important religious as well as historic places to visit in the entire country as it is here where the Prophet Ibrahim was saved by God from Nimrod who cruelly had planned to bring his life to an end; God then turned the stake’s fire into water and the coals into fish, hence until today the fish in Balıklı Göl are considered as untouchable and sacred.
Second, about an hours drive away from the city centre you will find Harran (population: 6 500), another very important historic site where what used to be the first university of the Islamic World had been built. There are the famous Harran Cube Houses, too.
Third, once back in town (and/or on the next day of your stay) and heading further east from downtown for about half an hour or so you shall reach Göbeklı Tepe (charmingly translatable as Belly Mound or Hill), a recent excavation site which makes Sanlıurfa most probably the birthplace of modern
civilization as the stone statutes which are supposed to have been a temple site date back 1 2 000 years, amazing in itself.
Whether Balıklı Göl, Harran or Göbeklı Tepe (or any of the countless further attractions) you will perhaps for the first time whilst living in Turkey become exposed to what I would refer to as ‘historic Turkey’. Although you may have seen those highly frequented places closer to Kusadası such as Efes, Didim or Miletos the South-East is positively speaking different. By labeling the area in this way I do not disregard the astonishingly successful modernization process as witnessed by the citizens and their ancestors during the time-span of the current Republic of Turkey, aka since 1 923. What I rather want to convey is to put today’s Turkey with all its modernity and fast-track economy into a much wider historic perspective and letting us understand from where not only today’s Turkish achievements stem but from where on a global scale our various dimensions of religion, culture, academia, and indeed civilization as such originate. It puts our own history and past and present lives regardless of whether back in the United Kingdom or now in Turkey into perspective.
Pausing in Sanlıurfa and taking in the atmosphere makes us neither forget the chores of daily life nor should it of course let us neglect the stream of breaking news which most definitely will fill up our inboxes whilst visiting this (or any other city) for that matter.
What it did for me is nevertheless besides having come here for work to reflect about mankind and in particular why after 1 2 000 years of civilized life on these lands we call Earth we have not as of yet managed to live in peace and harmony regardless of where we happen to be on this shared planet.
Questions as always Klaus.firstname.lastname@example.org