Close to the border with Lebanon, Urfa features a middle-eastern profile, with traditional boroughs, chador-covered women and moustached men in Arabic clothes. With a population of almost half a million people, the town houses a mix of Turkish, Kurdish and Arab residents.
One of Turkey’s holiest towns, it draws flock of pilgrims from the surrounding areas due to its connection with Prophet Ibrahim. Urfa also serves as a gateway for exploring the nearby archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe, which became widely recognisable after it was presented on the cover of National Geographic magazine a few years ago.
Public transport is not very reliable in Urfa, but this is not a major problem since most of the town’s points of interested are located inside the old centre and within walking distance from one another. Taxis are also an efficient and relatively inexpensive choice for those who do not wish to walk.
Things to see and do in Urfa
Meet with the town by strolling around its scenic backstreets to discover picturesque traditional limestone houses, local coffee shops, where men play the backgammon in the afternoon, and loud children running up and down narrow alleys. Fine examples of local architecture include İl Özel İdaresi Kültür ve Sanat Merkezi at Beykapı Mahallesi and the building of Güzel Sanatlar Galerisi (Fine Arts Gallery).
Head to Urfa’s Bazaar, near the crossroad of Ataturk and Cabbar Street, to mingle with the locals and lose yourself in its colourful maze. Hundreds of stores stand one next to the other, at the bazaar’s many covered and open-air passageways. Anything you can think of, you will find it here: from clothing to kitchenware and from spices to birds! Look for the fine silks sold under the roof of an ancient caravanserai. Traditional coffee houses and old hammams (Turkish baths) are hidden between the stores throughout the bazaar.
The area of Dergah is where pilgrims flock to see the cave where Prophet Ibrahim was born in according to legend. The holy cave is located on the southern side of a huge courtyard, on the western side of which stands a large mosque in typical Ottoman architecture. Parks and other mosques complement this complex, which is dedicated to Ibrahim. Visitors should dress modestly when coming to this part of the town. Overlooking Dergah, Kale, Urfa’s Fort, is supposed to be the place from where Ibrahim was violently thrown, to miraculously land on his feet on the nearby area. Although almost nothing is left from the fort, the site offers nice views of the city.
Selahattin Eyubi Camii is a large impressive former Christian church, which now serves as mosque. More interesting than Selahattin Eyubi Camii, Ulu Camii dates back to 11th century, featuring Syrian architecture and a clock tower.
Pay a visit to Urfa Museum to discover the town’s pre-Ottoman past. Its collections feature exhibits from Neolithic Era to Seljuk times, including Assyrian, Babylonian and Hittite artefacts. Apart from the displays, the museum’s gardens host a series of interesting sculptures and beautiful mosaics.
Eleven kilometres northeast of the town centre, spreads the archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe. Excavated in 1995, the site features megaliths and pillars from Neolithic era and is estimated to be one of the most important recent discoveries worldwide. The visitors are able to take an up-close look at prehistoric carvings which date back to 9,500 BC and show the figures of several different animals. With only 5% of the total site excavated so far, dozens of fascinating remains are yet to come to light during the following years.