Sanliurfa... City of Prophets

Trip Start Aug 15, 2007
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Sunday, April 18, 2010

For our spring break this year we decided to not head to the Mediterranean or the Aegean, but instead to immerse ourselves in the cultural diversity of Southeast Turkey, an area straddling the borders of Syria and Iraq. This section of the world is so deeply steeped in early human history that we found ourselves often trying to wrap our heads around the mysteries that we consistently bumped into. 

Upon our evening arrival in Urfa (the city of prophets) we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed out to grab a bite to eat. Unlike many other cities we have traveled to in Turkey, Urfa is a pious city that shuts down quite early, and finding a restaurant that was open for business was a bit challenging.   After a brief walk down the cities most fashionable street we spied a pida place (Turkish Pizza) and headed into a tree clustered courtyard to dine in quiet solitude... a rare moment to be found in Turkish cities. Throughout our stay we enjoyed some of the best food in Turkey, as this region is famous for many spicy dishes with distinct flavors that are an amalgamation of the various cultures that inhabit this region.    

The next day started early as we grabbed a bit of breakfast and awaited the arrival of the rector of the regions most important school of higher learning, Harran University.  It just so happened that two days prior I had spent some time talking with a current student's aunt, with a close family friend living in Urfa. We had quite a lively conversation about the recently discovered site of Gobeklitepe, an 11,500 year old treasure that many archeologists are claiming to be the oldest man made religious site ever found.  She offered to contact her friend to have him pick us up and show us the site with a translator who was familiar with the ancient archeology of the area.  The rector arrived with a vehicle, a driver and a Ph.D. student that spent part of the day showing us around the city and environs. The hospitality that we have encountered in Turkey has been second to none... and having a personal chauffeur and guide for a good part of the day was excellent.  

Our first stop was Gobekli Tepe, a Kurdish word meaning belly hill, as the site sits on top of a high hill overlooking the Mesopotamian Plains.  I will not further any points about this site, as I created a separate blog entry for this amazing place.

After spending some time looking around at Harran University, a beautifully designed campus on the outskirts of the city, we were dropped back off at our hotel and splashed a bit of water on our faces, hung out for a quick spell and headed out to the Golbasi area... Urfa's sacred section of town containing the cave where Abraham was born... eventually being targeted by King Nimrod for his idol destroying ways.  It didn't take long before we were immersed into the crowds of religious pilgrims making their way through the various holy sites amongst the complex... praying beside the pools where Abraham was supposedly burned on a funeral pyre, which God turned into water with the burning coals becoming fish... legend has it that anyone who eats of these overfed fatties would go blind, personally I think that if someone tried to poach one of them the thousands of pilgrims would probably tear them limb from limb before they had the fish out of the water... leaving the perpetrator praying for mere blindness... I have been to many holy sites around the globe and have found some of the devout to be a unpredictably dangerous, as I have witnessed a strange fervor that seems to well up inside, temporarily blinding them from their earthly existence... and realities... I remember in India watching a group of Hindu pilgrims literally tear sections of an old mosque apart with their bare hands... because of the damage that had been done by muslims to one of their temples...  It might also be attributed to the fact that many wars and acts of brutality riddling human history have been committed in the name of some religious disagreements... Of course for some of this religious commitment comes a calmness with a few of the practitioners... a serene sense of peace in knowing and understanding something that most around them can't quite comprehend... I can honestly say that the extreme diversity in the practices and behaviors of the faithful is what intrigues me most.  
The entire complex was quite beautiful as it is adorned with fanciful christian and islamic architecture, towering trees, spring fed pools of water, row upon row of rose bushes... crowned off with the ruins of an ancient castle perched on a towering cliff, which happens to be the site where the religious believe that King Nimrod threw Abraham off of... landing on a bed of roses that god had created to cushion his fall. 

We also visited the prophet Job's cave where the story goes that he patiently awaited many years for god to return all that the devil had taken from him... helping him to become more devout in his faith. To enter the cave was a bit crazy as the throngs of people trying to reach the sacred spring inside pushed and positioned for at least a touch of the water... with many of them collecting it in plastic jugs... to be consumed at a later day, when they believed it would help them build patience, a virtue that we all could have a bit more of.  
We spent quite a bit of time at this site... climbing up to the castle, which provided an excellent birds eye view of the various pilgrims as they dutifully visited the multitudinous holy sites located within the grounds... representing various muslim and christian sects from around the World... set apart by their veritable clothing, head scarves and jeweled religious symbols...
On our way back to the hotel we decided to take a stroll through the local Bazaar... like many others it was an interesting maze of worm tunnels filled with every kind of shop imaginable... with the occasional leafy courtyard filled with fast talking men playing backgammon and drinking ubiquitous amounts of strong tea.  After Deb found a few silk scarves we were on our way out... back to the hotel to spend a quiet evening... relaxing before our car rental pick up the next morning and our journey to the high mountains just north of the city, to climb up to Nemrut Dag.  
The next morn we headed out toward the cool air of the mountains... but decided to take a quick detour to one of the last breeding populations of the Northern Bald Ibis, along the banks of the Euphrates River up river of the small town of Birecek. It was a real treat to observe the birds as they flew around where they continue to maintain a rookery on the steep limestone cliffs near the river. We met a few older men that ran the facility... and luckily enough one of them spoke excellent english... explaining numerous details about this critically endangered bird that numbers around 500 in only three sites... one in Morocco and Syria and the site in Turkey. There numbers continue to decrease, mainly due to the pesticides and herbicides that are used to push higher crop yields from the farmland they scour as they search out various insects, lizards and scorpions.  They boys loved watching this strange bird that the Egyptians adopted for the head of their moon god Thoth.... as it's curved beak resembles the curve of the crescent moon.... which in itself invariable becoming the symbol of Islam... Hopefully this magnificent bird will continue to survive the increasing pressures that humans have placed on it.      


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