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Urfa - Sanliurfa - TurkeyŞanlıurfa (glorious Urfa), or just Urfa, with a population of about 460,000 is a city of pilgrimage, sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews and is considered by many as the birthplace of the prophet Abraham (Abram, Ibrahim). Urfa is old, very old. The history of the city dates as far back as 8000 BC. Urfa was dominated by many civilizations, starting with Ebla, the Sumerians, Assyrians, Hittites etc.. After Alexander's arrival, the city was renamed to Edessa in Mesopotamia, a name under which it was known until 1637 when the Ottomans conquered it.

According to legend, Abraham fervently believed in a single god. He fought idolatry and smashed idols for the spread of monotheism. As a response, the vicious and cruel King Nemrut (Nimrod) had Abraham launched from a catapult from the city's citadel to fall into a pile of burning wood. Luckily, God intervened and turned the fire into water and the faggots into fish. Both now make up the water and fish of the pool called Halil-ür Rahman or Balıklı Göl (fish lake). King Nimrod's daughter, Zeliha, was infatuated with Abraham and pleaded with her father not to have him sent into the flames. When she saw Abraham jump into the blaze, she plunged in after him. The place where she fell turned into the Ayn-i Zeliha Pond.

The cruel ruler's giant slingshot is represented by two Corinthian columns still standing atop the citadel. The enormous carp in Balıklı Göl and Ayn-i Zeliha is considered sacred and, according to legend, anyone catching it will turn blind. Next to the Gölbaşı area is the Dergah complex of mosques and parks which surroundings the birth cave of the Prophet Abraham, the Hazreti Ibrahim Halilullah (Prophet Abraham, Friend of God). This complex of mosques and medresses was built and rebuilt over the centuries and is a place of pilgrimage. Apart from the holy places, Urfa's bazar is perhaps the most colorful of Anatolia.

I was in Urfa in 1992, 1997 and 2002. Both in 1997 and 2002, we stayed at Hotel Harran which is really the most comfortable place to stay. Ezel Tourism (Tel. +(90) 414 316 88 18, Atatürk Bulvarı; Avşaroğlu Apt. Kat 2, No. 6, 2nd floor) offered a friendly private tour to Harran and was of great help in the hotel booking. Ask for Mahmut Çakallı he was an excellent guide.

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