San­li­urfa: City of Prophets

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Lo­cated in south-east­ern Turkey and in the north­ern arc of the Fer­tile Cres­cent, anl urfa (or Urfa, as the lo­cals call it) is a city with a truly an­cient pedi­gree. More an­cient, in fact, than al­most any place on earth. There is ev­i­dence of con­tin­u­ous hu­man habi­ta­tion go­ing back as far as 10,000 BCE and the old­est, mon­u­men­tal, free­stand­ing (and life-sized) im­age of a hu­man be­ing, the enigmatic “Urfa Man” or “Bal klig l statue” dat­ing back about 12,000 years, was dis­cov­ered in the city’s cen­tral Yeni Ma­halle dis­trict op­po­site the an­cient citadel which dom­i­nates the Urfa sky­line. The Yeni Ma­halle dis­trict is an area of nu­mer­ous nat­u­ral springs and a wa­ter course, which at­tracted a num­ber of Ne­olithic set­tle­ments, the route of which took in the site of Haleplibah e, the mod­ern day Bal kl g l and looped around to the old bazaar dis­trict. Es­sen­tially, this is his­toric Urfa. The stream feed­ing th­ese springs, the Karakoyun

Deresi (the Black Sheep Creek) was above ground un­til 525 CE un­til it was blocked and re-routed by a dam built dur­ing the reign of the Em­peror Jus­tinian. This Jus­tinian pub­lic works pro­gramme is one of the ear­li­est flood con­trol sys­tems for which we have ex­ten­sive in­for­ma­tion. The loop of the Karakoyun and the sad­dle formed by the river was an ob­vi­ous place for set­tle­ment dur­ing the Ne­olithic pe­riod and the ev­i­dence of a Ne­olithic set­tle­ment is con­sid­er­able. Apart from Urfa Man a num­ber of build­ings with ter­razzo floors, sev­eral “T” shaped an­thro­po­mor­phic stele sim­i­lar to find­ings at other sites in the re­gion and sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties of flint tools along with the re­mains of flint-tool man­u­fac­ture were found dur­ing ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion projects. Some­thing im­por­tant is dis­cov­ered with each new ur­ban de­vel­op­ment.

How­ever, the gully formed by the river was prone to flash flood­ing and while this was not sig­nif­i­cant for the low-den­sity Ne­olithic set­tle­ments on the slopes of the hill, as pop­u­la­tion den­si­ties grew it did be­come a prob­lem. There are records of a se­ri­ous flood in Novem­ber of 201 CE in which about 2,000 peo­ple were killed. An­other flood was recorded in 301 which de­mol­ished a large sec­tion of the city walls, an­other in April 413 caused

ex­ten­sive dam­age in the city, while in April of 525 a ma­jor flood oc­curred par­tially de­stroy­ing a royal palace and killing, ac­cord­ing to one ac­count of the time, about 30,000 peo­ple. It was this event that re­sulted in the dam project which rerouted the body of the river away from the old city. A sub­ter­ranean river, re­duced in vol­ume, re­mains to feed the Pools of Abra­ham and the bazaar dis­trict be­fore it rejoins the new river course east of the city. The foot­ings for the dam and a num­ber of im­por­tant aque­ducts which chan­nelled the wa­ter flow across Urfa’s nu­mer­ous gul­lies, can still be seen to­day to the north and north-east of the city cen­tre. While later floods did oc­cur, the last as re­cently as 1928, there was noth­ing that matched the cat­a­strophic scale of the floods prior to Jus­tinian’s great flood con­trol project.

An­cient sites sur­round Urfa

Just a few kilo­me­tres out­side the city there is G bekli Tepe, the Stone Age sanc­tu­ary which dates back to around 10,000 BCE or even ear­lier. G bekli Tepe, like no other site, es­tab­lishes the great age and un­ex­pected so­phis­ti­ca­tion of hu­man habi­ta­tion around Urfa. Gobekli Tepe is the old­est ex­am­ple of mon­u­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture to be dis­cov­ered and it is re­mark­able to con­sider that more time sep­a­rates the builders of Stone­henge from the last builders at Gobekli Tepe than sep­a­rates us from the builders of Stone­henge. Archaeolog­ists be­lieve that the last en­clo­sures at Gobekli Tepe were buried and fi­nally aban­doned in around 8,000 BCE and that it was used as a reli­gious and cer­e­mo­nial sanc­tu­ary for about 2,500 years, which is a greater time than that which sep­a­rates us from the birth of Christ. At Gobekli Tepe we see ev­i­dence of an enigmatic, elu­sive faith and a cul­ture that lasted longer than the time Chris­tian­ity has ex­isted but which sim­ply van­ished with­out trace, only to re-emerge in re­cent times.

Not far from there is the set­tle­ment site of Ne­vali Çori now be­neath the wa­ters cre­ated by the great Ataturk dam on the Euphrates, but which yielded a huge quan­tity of arte­facts from the mon­u­men­tal to the per­sonal and which dates from a sim­i­lar pe­riod. In fact, right across the Urfa re­gion there are many early Ne­olithic sites which have been iden­ti­fied but which are yet to be ex­ca­vated.

A mere 100 kilo­me­tres away as the crow flies, lies the Kara­cada shield vol­cano and the place where the very first do­mes­ti­cated wheat comes from. Every­thing seems to be­gin in this an­cient place be­tween the two great rivers of the Euphrates and the Ti­gris.

Mus­lim tra­di­tion iden­ti­fies Urfa as the bi­b­li­cal city of Ur of the Chaldees and, there­fore the birth­place of the Prophet Abra­ham. While this may be dis­puted, what isn’t ques­tioned is

Abra­ham’s res­i­dence in nearby Har­ran which is men­tioned in the Book of Ge­n­e­sis.

Tra­di­tion also iden­ti­fies Urfa as the birth­place of the bi­b­li­cal Job and it is from th­ese an­cient reli­gious con­nec­tions that Urfa de­rives its so­bri­quet as “The City of Prophets.” Urfa, then called Edessa, also has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first state to for­mally ac­cept Chris­tian­ity as its of­fi­cial re­li­gion and while the cir­cum­stances of this event are shrouded in mythol­ogy, we can say that Chris­tian­ity was firmly es­tab­lished as the dom­i­nant faith in the city by around 190 CE and that one of the early Chris­tian coun­cils was held here in 197 CE. How­ever, it was the city’s Syr­iac ruler Ab­gar I (177-212) who gets the credit. Is­lam ar­rived in 638 in the first surge of the new faith out of its Ara­bian home­land. Edessa was taken and held be­tween 1098 and 1150 by the Cru­saders as an in­de­pen­dent Cru­sader state known as the County of Edessa; the Catholic Church still lists a tit­u­lar Bishopric of Edessa in Os­rhoene, a faint his­tor­i­cal echo.

With the fall of the Cru­sader states and the King­dom of Jerusalem, Urfa be­came a per­ma­nent Mus­lim city un­der a suc­ces­sion of Mus­lim dy­nas­ties cul­mi­nat­ing in the Turk­ish Seljuks, the Mon­gols, the Mam­luks and fi­nally , from 1517, the Ot­tomans. The Sul­tan who took Edessa for the Ot­tomans was Sul­tan Se­lim I, oth­er­wise known as “The Grim.” Fol­low­ing his suc­cess at Edessa, Sul­tan Se­lim con­tin­ued his cam­paign to Cairo where he fi­nally crushed the Mam­luks and in­cor­po­rated their ter­ri­tory into the Ot­toman Em­pire. This had fol­lowed on the heels of a suc­cess­ful cam­paign against Per­sia that was set­tled by the bat­tle of Çalderan in east­ern Turkey, near bi­b­li­cal Mt. Ararat, in 1514.

This is an im­por­tant se­quence of events that still res­onates to this day be­cause th­ese two cam­paigns con­ducted by Se­lim I more or less set the bound­aries be­tween Shia and Sunni Is­lam, di­vi­sions which are still be­ing played out in the first decades of our cur­rent cen­tury. How­ever, there is still a size­able Chris­tian com­mu­nity across the re­gion even to­day.

The Old City of Urfa

A short walk from the mu­seum com­plex is the Bal kl g l dis­trict at the base of Urfa’s citadel. The citadel, as we see it to­day, was con­structed in the early ninth cen­tury CE dur­ing the Ab­basid pe­riod. How­ever, it is con­structed on a Ne­olithic site dat­ing back to about 10,000 BCE. This point has clearly been used as a de­fen­sive po­si­tion for thou­sands of years but prior to the sixth cen­tury there is no doc­u­men­tary ref­er­ence to a for­mal for­ti­fi­ca­tion. The Ab­basid citadel we see to­day is built on a nat­u­ral promon­tory and with the help of a con­sid­er­able piece of en­gi­neer­ing, was lit­er­ally

Gobekli Tepe is the old­est ex­am­ple of mon­u­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture to be dis­cov­ered and it is re­mark­able to con­sider that more time sep­a­rates the builders of Stone­henge from the last builders at Gobekli Tepe than sep­a­rates us from the builders of Stone­henge

Pre­vi­ously: The pools of Abra­ham (All im­ages in this ar­ti­cle are by Nick Kropacek/ Alkans Tours un­less oth­er­wise stated) Above: The an­cient site of Gobekli Tepe (Im­age: Rolf­cosar CC BY-SA 3.0) The site is now cov­ered to pro­tect it

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