Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day #7 of Land Tour: Şanliurfa

Tony, Mark & Gwen outside a
mosque beside very old cemetery
We arrived well after dark the previous evening to our very nice hotel in Şanliurfa.  We had stopped in Şanliurfa previously during this trip; our return flight to Izmir would depart from the local airport last this afternoon.  

As I noted in a previous blog about our short overnight stay here, this city is ancient. 

It has been known as Ur, Urwa and Urfa, as well as Odessa or Adessa or Edessa.  I believe it was called Edessa when the French Crusaders were here very long ago; but for Biblical references I think the more recognized name is Ur.  The Turkish have given this city the preface of Şanli in honor of the battles that happened here with the French; a recognition of the religious significance of those battles.  The squiggly beneath the 'S' means it is an 'sh' sound.  Therefore, the correct pronunciation of this city today is SHAHN-lee-UR-fah.  The Black Sheep Tribe was sent here to fight the Crusaders;  that tribe were descendants of the great Saladin.

Şanliurfa is known as the Prophets' City, where prophets Job and Abraham left their marks.

Judy, outside a mosque again
One of the sites I read described it thus:  "Here one begins to feel you have reached the Middle East, courtesy of its close proximity to Syria.  Women cloaked in black chadors elbow their way through the bazaar streets.  Mustachioed gents wearing salvar (shalvar) -- traditional baggy Arabic pants swill tea and clickk-clack backgammon pieces in shady courtyards.  Pilgrims feed sacred carp in the shadows of a medieval fortress.  First sight of the Dergah complex of mosques and the hole Golbasi (gool-bash-i) area is a magical moment, especially with the calls to prayer.  The Hittites imposed their rule over this area around 1370 B.C.  Then the Assyrians ruled until Alexander the Great rolled in.  He renamed the city Edessa and it was the capital of the Seleucid province until 132 B.C. when the local Aramaean population set up an independent kingdom and renamed the town Orhai.  Independence was short-lived when the Romans rolled in and conquered the entire region, completely encircling the entire Mediterranean.  Orhai was one of the first areas to adopt Christianity, circa 200 A.D., well before it became the official religion of the conquering Romans."

Taş is on stairs trying to take photos of our
whole tour group while people try to figure
out what he is doing.
The city is still called Urfa in common daily language.  It is a large city though not a huge metropolis, and is known for its relative conservatism.  Most restaurants do not serve alcohol; no beer or wine was a big deal for a few members of our tour group.  Many coffee houses and restaurants have separate sections for families or groups of single men.  This is called the 'salon of families' and is often on the second story above the main seating area of a restaurant.  We did not see any such coffee houses or restaurants during either of the short times we were in Urfa.  We had seen such separations in dining when we were in Cochin, India -- females not allowed where the men dined.

A local tradition usually associated with Urfa and Mardin, where we had visited a few days earlier, is the "Sıra Gecesi."  This is where groups of young men gather at each others' homes following a pre-established sequence, especially during winter evenings, to play Ottoman musical instruments and sing regional classics and to eat together.  Another all-male past time.

The rest of the information in this posting comes from what we were told by our guide Taş.
The great prophet Abraham was born in Urfa in 1976 B.C.  The place where he was born is known today as Abraham's Cave.  Many thousands of Muslims visit Abraham's Cave each year. (Taş thinks this is incorrect.  He believes that Abraham was really born nearby in what is now known as northern Iraq, but all sources credit Abraham's birth as being at Urfa.)  Abraham is considered a prophet by all Christians, Muslims and Jews. 

(For those who might not remember, according to the Book of Genesis and the Books of Chronicles, Nimrod was the son of Cush and the great-grandson of Noah.  He became the King of Shinar, even though he had no right to that title.  He gained the title because he was a very powerful man.)
Men rowing boat on Zeliha Lake
Zeliha, or Aynzeliha as the Turk's say, was the daughter of King Nimrod.  Zeliha turned against her father and accepted the miracle of Abraham's new religion of only one God.  This angered King Nimrod and he threw both Abraham and Zeliha off the high cliffs (where the ancient castle ruins are located today).  Miraculously, two lakes were formed in the spots where Zeliha and Abraham landed.  King Nimrod 'proudly watched on' as his daughter Zeliha died.  But Abraham did not die from this fall.  (By the way, the sign at the lake used that verbiage: Nimrod proudly watched on as his daughter died.)
Sign at Zeliha Lake
Abraham Lake
Sacred area set aside at
Abraham Lake; like a mosque

So, King Nimrod threw Abraham into a fire.  Abraham still did not die and lived on.  Where Abraham fell the fire turned into water and the coal turned into fish. 

Descendants of those fish (carp) live on today in what many people consider a sacred lake or pool.   It is believed that if one feeds the fish then one goes to Heaven.  (This created the job of selling fish food at small tables situated all around the pool today.)
Sign at Abraham Lake
Abraham's son was named Issac of Ismail.  The name Issac offends Islamics; they prefer the name Ismail.  (I have no idea why.)  Abraham and Issac and Abraham's nephew Lot left Urfa and lived in Haran for one year.  Abraham died many, many years later in Canaan (Lebanon?).

That concludes all I wrote down of what Taş told us about Urfa.  Frankly, I had very much lost interest by this time because I cannot take this stuff too seriously.  I mean, really, how can I believe that men lived to be 900 years old back then.  And that lakes miraculously appeared where people landed when thrown off a mountain.  Anyone can believe whatever they like.  I remain incredulous.
Sign at Abraham's Cave
Entrance to Abraham's Cave
Women at entrance
Everyone in our tour group went in to see Abraham's Cave except for me.  That 'remove shoes' thing again.  Bill went inside and snapped a photo with his iPhone without flash. He said that no one else in there took any photos; the visitors were taking this as a profound religious experience so he did not think a photo flash would be appropriate.  He also said the body odor in that confined space reeked.  Thanks to him for experiencing that without me.
Inside Abraham's Cave.
Mosque in front of Abraham's Cave
Several of us asked Taş about how the local women dress.  Some women wore very colorful clothing; others wore all black but almost always with a colorful headscarf.  He had no idea so he stopped 2 women walking nearby and asked them.  One was colorfully dressed and one was in all black but with colorful headscarf.  They told him that it is simply personal choice.  Any woman can dress however she chooses, but the ones in all black were usually women who had done haj.  Once someone has done haj (trip to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to do at least once during their lifetime if they possibly can), then that person has accomplished the most important thing in their life and some women feel that they should now dress more somberly or peacefully, thus all black, and not frivolously in bright colors.

Outside one mosque was this sign.
It is telling people to not waste bread.
It states how many million lira are
wasted each year on bread that is
thrown out.  Note that the daily loaf
bread has no preservatives.  It is
stale by the end of the day and
people throw it out rather than
toasting it or cooking with it.

Our group separated so each could have free time for a couple of hours before meeting again to drive somewhere for lunch.  We ended up sitting at an outdoor cafe table with Tom and Fran of S/V Hamamas beside the lake formed where Zeliha fell to her death.  I think we were all tired of walking and standing and welcomed some quiet time and a beverage.  We had all absorbed as much history as possible in a week and did not want any more at this point.

Each Turkish meal seems to start with this plate of
green things, onions and lemons.  I have yet to figure
out what we are supposed to do with this stuff; we
never eat it.  The white liquid is yogurt with cooked
bulgur; we don't eat that either.  The red stuff is spicy
liquid with cooked onions.  It is good.

We strolled back through the huge park area and again met up with the group.  Taş suggested we try a restaurant that was highly recommended by the chef at the hotel where we had stayed the previous night.  Sounded good to all of us.  The driver managed to drive straight there even though this was an unplanned destination.  Lunch was very good.  The menu had each item listed in Turkish and with an English translation.  

Note some of these items.
Spleen? Heart? Slut?

One item on the menu caught Bill's and my attention = Slut.  I asked Taş  what in the world 'slut' was and that cracked him up.  He thought that translation was hilarious.  Somehow, I think the translation was incorrect but did not learn what the real English word should have been.  Turned out that I had tried what they were called 'slut' at the hotel the night before.  It was a ground walnut and ground chickpea paste that is highly spiced; spread it on small sections of flatbread.  I liked it very much.  But then I do like spicy food!

Frothy version of ayran.  No, thank you!

We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  Flight back to Izmir was uneventful except once we came much too close for comfort to a mid-air collision with another passenger airliner on an opposing course at exactly the same altitude.  Bill and I saw it and felt our plane bank hard right as the other plane banked hard in the opposite direction.  But no one else on our plane appeared to notice it.   Then there was a 4 hour drive back to Marmaris.  We had planned to stay with Gwen aboard K.W. but we were so tired and knew that she must be tired too.  So we switched plans and called a hotel during the long bus ride and got a hotel room for the night.  Let Gwen have her privacy and much deserved rest.  The next day we took the dolmus to the otogar and then the bus back to Fethiye.  

This was a fun and extremely interesting trip but we were glad to be back home on Bebe!

Added 17 November 2013:  Learned today from one of our tour group members that on the day we were in Şanliurfa a mortar round landed in the city, shot by one of the many rebel factions in Syria.  One Turkish citizen was killed by that mortar attack.  This was reported in The Washington Post.  

Washington Post new article link

That is how close we were to the Syrian border during this trip.  Well within mortar range.  Glad we got to see all the ancient places in peace.

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