Sanliurfa is the winner of our favourite town of the trip so far. It’s beautiful, exotic, friendly, interesting, atmospheric and so much more. It’s a town steeped in biblical and islamic legend, with architecture to match.
Welcome to Sanliurfa.
Our favourite place in Sanliurfa was the Pool of Sacred Fish (or Balikligol in Turkish) where according to legend (or your religious book of choice – The Bible, Koran etc) it’s believed Abraham was thrown into the fire by King Nimrod. God came to the rescue and turned the fire into water and the embers into fish. The pool is in front of the Halil-ur-Rahman mosque and it’s very popular to come here and feed the fish.
It’s a beautiful place and great for people watching.
Of course, we had to join them. Even though these are probably the most over-fed fish in all of Turkey. And the safest – legend states you’ll go blind if you catch one. Feed a rare white one and the rumour is the heavens will open up and you will have a wish granted.
Still in Goblesi park, we also visited the Mevlid-I Halil Magarasi mosque. This is also the site of the cave were Abraham is reported to be have been born. Muslim pilgrims come from far and wide to pray here.
It was really interesting for us, travelling in this part of the world, to learn how many stories are shared across religions. Abraham plays a big part in three of the worlds major faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As does the story of Noah, and I’m sure many others.
The cave experience itself was strange. We joined the separate lines for men and women and made our way to the cave. There was no fancy entrance and the cave itself was, well, just a cave. Lit up with green lights behind a big pane of glass. With women (or men depending on which side you were on) praying in the small space in front. I can’t speak for the men, but on the women’s side, the religious fever inside was palpable so there was no doubting the importance of the cave to those praying.
Although we’d been in Turkey’s southeast for a few weeks now, we saw a lot more different types of traditional clothes here than we’d seen anywhere else. The women wore beautiful deep purple headscarves, and the older men of town wore what I can only describe as tailored baggy pants. Most also carrying their prayer beads.
Sanliurfa Markets and Bazaar.
Sanliurfa also has a large market and bazaar area, which was a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time wandering the streets and alleys to see what was on offer.
Spices, herbs and dried vegetables were everywhere of course.
In the middle of the market, there is also a beautiful place for a çay (tea). Backgammon playing is optional.
Our favourite snack food in Turkey was the simit – a pretzel-like bread covered in sesame seeds. Delicious! And what a way to deliver it.
We were also in town during pomegranate season.
The alleyways and the people.
Off the main streets, Sanliurfa is made up of a labyrinth of alleyways. Wandering the streets we saw kids playing, firins busy baking bread and people sharing food on the streetside – all of who would offer some food to us. Sanliurfa was the friendliest town we’ve ever visited.
And here’s proof. Wherever we went, everyone wanted to say hello and ask where we were from. Most people we met didn’t speak English and our Turkish doesn’t extend beyond hello, thank you and 1-10, so the conversations were short but full of smiles. We did meet a couple of people with excellent English and enjoyed being able to ask some of the questions we’d been building up.
Each of these photos has a story (the one with the old man bottom right is my favourite – he was so friendly and curious, although he looks unhappy in the photo) but for now, we’ll sum it up by saying we’ve never been to a place where we felt more welcome than in Sanliurfa. And we haven’t even told you about our time on the rooftops of Sanliurfa with the pigeon fanciers yet!
The Syrian Conflict and Refugees.
To end on a more sombre note, Sanliurfa is very close to the Syrian border and the closest Syrian town to Sanliurfa is Kobane. You might remember the fighting that happened there in September 2014 when ISIS tried to take the town. We left Sanliurfa just 3 days before it all kicked off in Kobane. These things feel so much more real, the closer you are to them. 1.7 million people have fled Syria into Turkey since the start of the Syrian conflict. We weren’t sure what the refugee situation would be like in the towns we were visiting close to the border and we wanted to help but weren’t sure how. In the end, we weren’t asked for money from a single person and we didn’t see anyone begging in the streets. It was strange. Maybe the police keep them out of certain parts of town. I’m not sure.
We did meet one Syrian refugee who had a job selling corn as a street vendor. In Syria he had been a chef. He spoke excellent English and was excited to meet us as he wanted to apply for refugee status in Australia. We wished him luck but secretly our hearts sank, not confident he’d be successful due to Australia’s strict border policies. Surely these are the people we should be trying to help.