Imagine being teleported 12,000 years back, and going through all the progress made by humanity, step by step. Imagine the dozens of religions, cultures, civilizations you will know and the experience you will have. In Şanlıurfa this is possible even without time machine.
It is not known how old history of humanity goes back in Şanlıurfa. Because every piece of information, we know and learn, changes with a new discovery and goes back even further. According to the legends, the story of Şanlıurfa begins with the arrival of Adam and Eve to the earth. Adam and Eve, planted the wheat grain they brought with them from Paradise on the Harran plain, and thus started agriculture and therefore civilization for the first time here.
Being the city of the first, the oldest and the most important events, Şanlıurfa pushes you to question, rethink and relearn what you know with every step you take. If you want to see the world’s oldest temple, oldest statue, oldest mosaic, and learn the story of its first university and the discoveries that spread from here across the world, and if you want to make a journey to your inner world whithin the mystical atmosphere of a city, that is considered sacred by many religions, you should definitely see Şanlıurfa.
Discvoering Göbeklitepe, the oldest known monumental structure in the world, turned upside down what we know so far about hunter-gatherers, our prehistoric ancestors. We knew them as groups of people who migrated from place to place, stayed in the same place as long as they found animals to hunt and plants to gather, living in quite primitive and small communities. However, Göbeklitepe, dating back to 9600 BC, revealed that they were not as primitive as we thought. They were socially organized; they were able to come together for a belief or a purpose, and they were able to erect Göbeklitepe’s T-shaped stone pillars with carved animal reliefs, which were made with magnificent workmanship and weighed up to 15 tons, and built a cult/gathering center for themselves in a period when there were no mines, agriculture, engineering or even writing.
There are multiple round structures in Göbeklitepe, which is not used as a settlement area, but served only for ritual purposes. These structures, 6 of which have been unearthed until today, rise on T-shaped pillars up to 6 meters in height with similar shapes. Considering other structures that have not yet been unearthed but have been identified, it comes to mind that this region was the center of belief in the Neolithic Age. In this sense, it can be regarded not only as the oldest, but also the largest religious center for its age in the world.
Since there were no metal tools at that time, it is thought that all of the pillars that make up these structures were carved with polished stones which were harder, and certain animal shapes and figures were engraved on them, some of which were depicted three dimensionally. These are the oldest sculptures in the world, and therefore the oldest artworks of humanity.
Göbeklitepe was included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 2018 and became the 18th UNESCO World Culture Heritage Area of Türkiye. If you want to learn much more about this intriguing 12,000 years old history, and feel the power of faith, then Göbeklitepe is waiting for you.
Şanlıurfa Archeology Museum
The Şanlıurfa museum complex is Türkiye’s largest museum complex. It contains the Şanlıurfa Archeology Museum, Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum, Archeopark, Roman Bath and Sakıp’s Mansion. As a result of intensive recovery excavations conducted in the region since the 1960s due to the dams built upon Euphrates River, the Şanlıurfa Archeology Museum is one of the richest museums of Türkiye in terms of artifacts. In the museum, you can visit the halls designed in a chronological concept, starting from prehistoric times and reaching to our days. In addition to the numerous archaeological artifacts found in Şanlıurfa and its surroundings, the statue of the Urfa Man, which is considered to be the oldest sculpture in the world (9300-8700 BC), and a miniature display of the Temple of Enclosure D in Göbeklitepe are also exhibited in this museum. Additionally, the cultic area from the Nevali Çori period has been moved to this museum as a whole. The Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum, located right next to the Şanlıurfa Archeology Museum, is famous for both its magnificent hunting scene mosaics depicting Amazon women, whose names are frequently mentioned in mythology, as well as the Orpheus mosaic.
Halil ur-Rahman Lake (Balıklıgöl)
One of the most interesting places in Şanlıurfa is, without any doubt, the Halil ur-Rahman Lake, also known as Balıklıgöl. Within the Balıklıgöl complex, there are the Halil-ur Rahman and the Ayn Zeliha lakes, canals connecting these two lakes, historical mosques and madrasas. Balıklıgöl is Şanlıurfa’s coolest, greenest and biggest wetland in the region. It also has a mystical and spiritual atmosphere. The fish in the Halil-ur Rahman Lake are considered sacred, respected by the people and cannot be eaten. According to narrations, Prophet Ibrahim’s mother had to hide in a cave near the lake to give birth to him, because the cruel ruler Nimrod slaughtered baby boys by sword. Afterwards, Prophet Ibrahim was fed and raised sometimes by his mother and sometimes by gazelles. When Prophet Ibrahim started to teach the monotheistic belief, he entered into a tough struggle with the Nimrod and the pagans. And when he destroyed the idols in the temple, Nimrod wanted to burn him on a large pile of wood as an exemplary punishment. The moment Prophet Ibrahim was set on fire, the fire turned into a clear pool. The burning wood turned into fish. This is why we call this lake Balıklıgöl today, and why the fish are considered sacred.
Upon this, Zeliha, the daughter of Nimrod also believed in the God of Prophet Ibrahim. Thus, Nimrod also threw his daughter to the fire. For this reason, the small pond right next to Balıklıgöl is popularly known as Ayn-ı Zeliha.
The Şanlıurfa Castle rises with all its majesty right to the south of the Balıklıgöl complex. It is an extraordinary experience to climb the steep stairs up to the top of the castle and overlook Şanlıurfa from a bird’s eye view. Do not leave Balıklıgöl without feeding the fish, sitting and resting on the grass, drinking tea, coffee and Mırra (bitter coffee) in the tea gardens next to the Ayn-ı Zeliha Lake, and taking a photo by the Balıklıgöl in local clothes, and seeing the cave where Abraham is believed to be born in.
The Şanlıurfa Castle is thought to have been built on a Neolithic settlement dating back to 10,000 BC. The first written sources about the castle belong to the 11th century. It is thought that the castle was built between the years 812-814 AD during the Abbasid Period.
Edessa King Ma’nu IX has erected two Corinthian style monumental columns on the top of the castle in 240-242 AD. The local people believe that these two columns are the legs of the catapult mentioned in the legend of Abraham. The height of the columns is 17.25 meters and there is an inscription in Syriac on the east column. It reads “I am AFTUHA, son of military commander BARSHAMASH (son of the Sun). I have erected this column and the statue on it for crown prince MA’NU’s daughter, king MA’NU’s daughter, my lady and precious queen Shalmeth.” These columns represent the twin gods.
When you climb to the top of the castle, a wonderful view awaits you where you can see Balıklıgöl, Şanlıurfa Museum Complex and old Şanlıurfa. On the western sides of the castle, there are rock tombs, most of which date back to the Edessa Kingdom and the Roman Period.
These caves, which were used as settlements by the people of Şanlıurfa until recently, are lined up along the slope of Tılfındır Hill to the east of the Şanlıurfa Museum Complex. In the works conducted in the Kızılkoyun region revealing the historical texture of the city, 387 houses in the region were demolished and the Edessa necropolis was unearthed. 72 rock tombs were found on the slope of the hill where the destroyed houses lean on, and it is understood that these houses were once used as cellars. Rock-cut tomb chambers were built for the person himself, his wife, children and heirs.
Kızılkoyun necropolis, which was declared an archaeological site in 2012, is very rich in terms of tomb sizes and decorations. In the region, there are examples of embossed, ornamented sarcophagi and sculptural tombs from pagan and early Christian periods. Floors of some of these tombs are covered with mosaics. These mosaics are dated to the Roman, Oshroene (Edessa) Kingdom and Byzantine periods. In one of the rock-cut tombs, 2 Roman period statues and 1 limestone sarcophagus were found. It is thought that the statues with 1.85 cm length in the right and left of the main tomb are sculptures of warriors from Roman period from 3rd-4th century and might be built to protect the tomb. After the scientific documentation studies, the sarcophagi and their sculptures were moved to their new location, the Şanlıurfa Museum.
Soğmatar Ancient City
Many examples of religions and beliefs can be seen together within the historical plane in Şanlıurfa. One of them is Soğmatar, which is important to Christianity and Judaism as well as to Paganism. Soğmatar is an extremely mysterious place with dozens of rock tombs, the Pognon cave, which a secret place of worship, its mound, its central “Sacred Hill” and the ruins of buildings on the surrounding hills.
It is thought that the Soğmatar Cult Center was built in the 2nd century AD to worship the Solar, Lunar, Stellar and Planetary gods. The open-air temple, i.e. the Sacred Hill, which represents the main god of this religion, Mare-Lahe (Lord of the Gods), constitutes the center of the settlement layout of Soğmatar. The Soğmatar Castle is also on this hill.
Initially it was thought that 7 circular structures, which are located around the Sacred Hill and on the hills, represent Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. However, it was understood that there was a tomb monument and a sacred area according to the researches conducted later. It is now thought that Pagans of Soğmatar, who climbed the Sacred Hill, used to face towards these temples to pray.
What makes Soğmatar unique is the Syriac inscriptions carved on the rock surface at the top of the Sacred Hill instead of the tombstones, the pedestals of the statues or the gates of the artefacts as expected. These writings describe the monumental columns and altars that some important people erected on this hill in the name of Marelahe. There are two god reliefs in human form carved on rocks on the part that is close to the top on the north side of the Sacred Hill. The one on the right is a male figure standing 1.10 meters tall. There is an image in oyster shape that symbolizes the sun, behind the head of this figure, with a kneelong dress.
The architectural ruins in Büyük Senem Mığar Köyü, which is located 11 km north of Soğmatar, and the houses carved in rock just like in Cappadocia, indicate that the region was an important center in the first periods of Christianity.
It is also believed that Prophet Moses who escaped from the Pharaoh engaged in farming here, and that one of the wells in the village was opened by his miraculous staff.
Fırfırlı Mosque (Twelve Apostles Church, Saint Apostles Church)
The building, which is made of cut stone in a basilica plan with three naves, also known as the Twelve Apostles Church, was named as “Fırfırlı Church” by the people due to the windmill on a water well located around the building during the Ottoman period. A very beautiful stone workmanship can be observed on the western facade and the corner towers of the building. One of the prominent aspects of the building is the half-columns and the decorations on the stone wall on the exterior façade.
According to the sources, the “Holy Cross of Varak”, which is of great importance to Christianity, was found in the Varak Monastery in the Van region, and taken to Şanlıurfa in 1092, and placed in this church. The building was restored and utilized as a mosque in 1956. Today, it serves as the Iyad ibn Ghanm Mosque.
Selahaddin Eyyubi Mosque (Saint Johannes Prodromos Addai Church)
It is estimated that the church, which is also called a cathedral because it was the largest church in the region, was built in the early 19th century on the ruins of the Church of St. John the Baptist, built by Bishop Nona in 457. After being idle for a long time, it was renovated and opened as a mosque in 1993. The entrance of the mosque is in the west, and the last congregation place was built based on the narthex (entrance section) of the previous church. The place of worship is illuminated by wide windows. On the edges of the windows on the building, there are half columns remaining from the church and embossments of dragons entangled with each other. Since the first church was used as a mosque by Selahaddin Eyyubi for some time, the building was called by this name when it was converted into a mosque.
Reji Church (Saint Petrus and Saint Paulus Church)
Constructed in the name of two apostles of Jesus, the building was built in 1861 on the ruins of a church from 6th century. The church was actively used until the Syriac immigration to Aleppo (Syria). The building was used by the Tekel Administration as a tobacco factory and then as a grape warehouse. It was named “Reji Church” by the people because of the French word Regie meaning Tekel (Monopoly). Inscripted gravestones extracted from the church were sent to Şanlıurfa Museum. The church has been restored, and now serves as a cultural center.
Mor Jacob Monastery
The Jacob Monastery, which is also known as “Nimrod’s Throne” or “Genie Mill” among the people, is located on the southern mountains 10 km away from the center. The locals believe that this place is the summer resort of cruel King Nimrod whom Abraham fought against. There is an inscription on the mausoleum to the northwest of the monastery. The first line of this inscription is written in Ancient Greek while the second line is in Palmyra Syriac. The inscription is probably from the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 3rd century. It is estimated that the monastery was built around these dates.
Ulu Mosque and Jesus Well
The mosque was built in the place of an old church called “Red Church”. As it does not have a construction inscription there is no clear information about its construction. The courtyard walls, columns, column heads and bell tower of the old building still exist today. The first narthex in Anatolia, which sits on piers and opens to the courtyard with fourteen pointed arches, each covered with cross vaults, is located in Şanlıurfa Ulu Mosque.
There is a well in the sanctuary part of the mosque. According to a popular belief, Edessa (Şanlıurfa) King Abgar V was the first Christian king. He accepted Christianity and also introduced his people a short time after the prophecy of Jesus Christ. Abgar V suffered from leprosy disease at that time. The king heard that Jesus Christ heals diseases; however, as he was too ill to travel to Jerusalem he sent a messenger named Hannan to Jesus with a letter. This messenger was also a skillful painter. After delivering the letter, Hannan tries to paint the picture of his face, but he could not. Realizing this, Jesus Christ washes his face and wipes it with a cloth, which he gives to Hannan. The copy of his face was imprinted on the cloth. Hannan returns with the cloth and a letter stating that Jesus has blessed Şanlıurfa. Abgar V recovers from the illness thanks to this cloth.
There are two different narrations after this point. According to the first, when Muslims dominated the region, the holy cloth (mandylion) was acquired by Muslim rulers. Some Muslims were taken hostage in a war against Byzantines. The Byzantines set demanded the sacred cloth in return for releasing the prisoners. Finally, they handed the sacred cloth and the prisoners were taken back. Thus, it is rumored that the cloth that arrived in İstanbul, first went to Vatican and then to Turin.
According to the second narration, the cloth is thrown into the well of a church in the place of today’s Ulu Mosque. This well is considered sacred by Christians, and its water regarded to have healing powers.