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Metropolitan Municipality
Şanlıurfa skyline
Şanlıurfa skyline
Şanlıurfa is located in Turkey
Coordinates: 37°09′30″N 38°47′30″E / 37.15833°N 38.79167°E / 37.15833; 38.79167Coordinates: 37°09′30″N 38°47′30″E / 37.15833°N 38.79167°E / 37.15833; 38.79167
Country Turkey
Province Şanlıurfa
 • Mayor Celalettin Güvenç (AKP)
 • District 3,668.76 km2 (1,416.52 sq mi)
Population (2012)[2]
 • Urban 526,247
 • District 788,956
 • District density 220/km2 (560/sq mi)
Website www.sanliurfa.bel.tr

Şanlıurfa , pronounced [ʃanˈlɯuɾfa], often simply known as Urfa in daily language (Arabic الرها Ar-Ruhā, Armenian Ուռհա Uṙha, Kurdish Riha, Syriac ܐܘܪܗ Urhoy), in ancient times Edessa (Έδεσσα in Greek), is a city with 1,845,667 inhabitants (2015 estimate) in south-eastern Turkey, and the capital of Şanlıurfa Province. It is a city with a primarily Kurdish and Arabic population. Urfa is situated on a plain about eighty kilometres east of the Euphrates River. Urfa's climate features extremely hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters.


The city has been known by many names in history: Ուռհա Uṙha in Armenian, ܐܘܪܗܝ Urhai in Syriac, ره, الرها, Ar-Ruhā in Arabic and Ορρα, Orrha in Greek (also Ορροα, Orrhoa).[citation needed] For a while during the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175 - 164 BCE) it was named Callirrhoe or Antiochia on the Callirhoe (Ancient Greek: Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Καλλιρρόης). During Byzantine rule it was named Justinopolis. Prior to Turkish rule, it was often best known by the name given it by the Seleucids, Ἔδεσσα, Edessa.

Şanlı means "great, glorious, dignified" in Turkish, and Urfa was officially renamed Şanlıurfa (Urfa the Glorious) by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1984, in recognition of the local resistance in the Turkish War of Independence. The title was achieved following repeated requests by the city's members of parliament, desirous to earn a title similar to those of neighbouring cities 'Gazi' (veteran) Antep and 'Kahraman' (Heroic) Maraş.


Costumes of the wealthy women of Urfa in the early 20th century.
According to tradition, Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. The pool of sacred fish remains to this day.
Abraham's Pool in Şanlıurfa
Old drawing of Abraham's Funtain.

The history of Şanlıurfa is recorded from the 4th century BC, but may date back at least to 9000 BC, when there is ample evidence for the surrounding sites at Duru, Harran and Nevali Cori.[3] Within the further area of the city are three neolithic sites known: Göbekli Tepe, Gürcütepe and the city itself, where the life-sized limestone "Urfa statue" was found during an excavation in Balıklıgöl.[4] The city was one of several in the upper Euphrates-Tigris basin, the fertile crescent where agriculture began. According to Turkish Muslim traditions Urfa (its name since Byzantine days) is the biblical city of Ur of the Chaldees, due to its proximity to the biblical village of Harran. However, based on historical and archaeological evidence, the city of Ur is today generally known to have been in southern Iraq, and the true birthplace of Abraham is still in question. Urfa is also known as the birthplace of Job.

For the Armenians, Urfa is considered a holy place since it is believed that the Armenian alphabet was invented there.[5]

Urfa was conquered repeatedly throughout history, and has been dominated by many civilizations, including the Ebla, Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Armenians, Hurri-Mitannis (Armeno-Aryans), Assyrians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Macedonians (under Alexander the Great), Seleucids, Arameans, Osrhoenes, Romans, Sassanids, Byzantines, and Crusaders.

The city of Edessa[edit]

Main article: Edessa, Mesopotamia

In the Byzantine period Edessa was a powerful regional centre with churches, schools and monasteries.

The age of Islam[edit]

Islam first arrived in Urfa around 638 AD, when the Rashidun army conquered the region without a fight. Islam was then established permanently in Urfa by the empires of the Ayyubids (see: Saladin Ayubbi), Seljuks and Ottoman Turks. In March of 1098, the Crusader Baldwin of Boulogne established the County of Edessa. The city remained in Christian hands until 1144, when it was captured by the Turk Zengui who had most of its inhabitants slaughtered together with the Latin archbishop (see Siege of Edessa). By the end December of 1145, a Second Crusade was launched to recapture the city, but failed in this objective.[6] Subsequently, Urfa was ruled by Zengids, Ayyubids, Sultanate of Rum, Ilkhanids, Memluks, Akkoyunlu and Safavids before Ottoman conquest in 1516.

Under the Ottomans Urfa was part (Sanjak) of the Aleppo Vilayet. The area became a centre of trade in cotton, leather, and jewellery. There was a small but ancient Jewish community in Urfa,[7] with a population of about 1,000 by the 19th century.[8] Most of the Jews emigrated in 1896, fleeing the Hamidian massacres, and settling mainly in Aleppo, Tiberias and Jerusalem. There were three Christian communities: Assyrians, Armenian, and Latin. According to Lord Kinross,[9] 8,000 Armenians were massacred in Urfa in 1895. The last Assyrian Christians left in 1924 and went to Aleppo (where they settled in a place that was later called Hay al-Suryan "The Syriac Quarter").[10]

The First World War and after[edit]

In 1914 Urfa was estimated to have 75,000 inhabitants: 45,000 Muslims, 25,000 Armenians and 5,000 Syriac/Assyrian Christians. There was also a Jewish presence in the town, most of whom fled to Constantinople, Egypt and other countries.[citation needed]

While the Ottoman Empire was engaged with the German and Austro-Hungarian empires in a battle against the British and tsarist Russians, Urfa was hit by the Young Turks' Armenian Genocide and Assyrian Genocide in 1915 and 1916. On August 19, 1915, Turks inaugurate the first attempt to uproot Armenians of Urfa by commencing a massacre.[11] On August 23, 1915, a second massacre against the Armenians by the Turks commenced.[11] On September 23, over 300 Armenians are murdered by the Turks.[11] At the end of World War I, with the Ottoman Empire defeated, and European armies attempting to take over various parts of Anatolia, first the British and then the French occupied Urfa for incorporation into the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon. They found the town nearly without any Christian pre-war inhabitant left alive. The British occupation of the city of Urfa started de facto on 7 March 1919 and officially de jure as of 24 March 1919, and lasted until 30 October 1919. French forces took over the next day and their uncomfortable presence, met by outbursts of resistance, lasted until 11 April 1920, when they were defeated by local resistance forces (the new Turkish government in Ankara not being established, with the National Assembly declared on 23 April 1920).

The French retreat from the city of Urfa was conducted under an agreement reached between the occupying forces and the representatives of the local forces, commanded by Captain Ali Saip Bey assigned from Ankara. The withdrawal was meant to take place peacefully, but was disrupted by an ambush on the French units by irregular Turkish and Kurdish Muslim forces at the Şebeke Pass on the way to Syria, leading to 296 casualties among the French, and even more among the ambushers.

Şanlıurfa today[edit]

The skyline of Şanlıurfa as viewed from the Castle which dominates the City Centre.

Modern Şanlıurfa presents stark contrasts between its old and new quarters. The old town is one of the most evocative and romantic in Turkey, with an ancient bazaar still visited by local people to buy fruit and vegetables, where traditionally dressed and scarfed Arab and Kurdish villagers arrive in the early morning to sell their produce. Much of the old town consists of traditional Middle Eastern houses built around courtyards, invisible from the dusty streets, many of which are impassable to motor vehicles. In the narrow streets of the bazaar people scurry to and from carrying trays of food, which is eaten on newspapers spread on low tables in a corner of the little shops, many people drinking water from the same cup. This very oriental atmosphere is bewitching but below the surface parts of the old city are very poor indeed, with people still living in cave houses (built into the side of the rock).

Şanlıurfa's newer districts are a sprawl of modern concrete apartment blocks, with many surprisingly tidy leafy avenues, containing modern restaurants, sports facilities and other amenities with air-conditioning.


It is a stronghold of the governing Justice and Development Party. However, in the 2009 local elections, the city elected an independent, Ahmet Eşref Fakibaba, as mayor.[12]


The climate of the region being mostly arid, the plains of Urfa and Harran are hot and dry. However, since the early 1990s Şanlıurfa has made huge leaps of development thanks to the Southeastern Anatolia Project, that provided a reliable supply of water for local farmers and fostered a real agricultural boom in every cultivar, but especially organic cotton production. This in turn is driving the development of medium and light industry in the city itself. As a result the amount of unemployment and poverty is much less than in other Eastern Turkish cities. Many luxury cars can be spotted on the streets of Urfa. The huge reservoir is also a spectacular sight, hosting regular water-sports tournaments, also offering the commodity of many waterfront restaurants.


As the city of Urfa is deeply rooted in history, so its unique cuisine is an amalgamation of the cuisines of the many civilizations that have ruled in Urfa . Dishes carry names in Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, and Turkish, and are often prepared in a spicy manner. It is widely believed that Urfa is the birthplace of many dishes, including Raw Kibbé (Çiğ Köfte), that according to the legend, was crafted by the Prophet Abraham from ingredients he had at hand.[13]

Urfa is also known throughout Turkey and the bordering Syria for its very rich kebab culture, making extensive use of lamb meat, fat and offal. The offal has also a primordial place in the regular Urfa cuisine, being prepared in more than two hundred different ways.

Urfa's meze menu is also very rich, and carries a great variety, mostly unknown in other parts of Turkey, such as the "Ağzı Yumuk" or the "Semsek".

Many vegetables are used in the Urfa cuisine, such as the "'Ecır," the "Kenger," and the "İsot", the legendary local red capsicum that is a smaller and darker cultivar of the Aleppo pepper that takes a purplish black hue when dried and cured. It is used to flavor many dishes, even a variety of ice cream.

The cuisine also makes an extensive use of the eggplant with more than a hundred recipes containing eggplant.

Unlike most of the Turkish cities that use different versions of regular butter in their regional cuisine, Urfa is, together with Antep, Mardin and Siirt a big user of clarified butter, made exclusively from sheep's milk, called locally "Urfayağı" ("Urfabutter"). Other than that, Urfa is a heavy consumer of quality Olive oil, that mostly arrives into the city from nearby Syria.

Among Urfa's classic sweets is the "Şıllık", a coarse walnut ground covered in sweet pastry, the Kahke, flavored with aniseed and baked in a steamer, and the "Külünçe", a masonry oven-baked pastry item similar to the Iraqi Kleyça.

The bitter Arab coffee "Mırra" and the coffee substitute drink made from wild terebinth "Menengiç kahvesi" are among the most common hot beverages of Urfa.

Cultural Notes[edit]

The legend of the "isot" goes that during the French invasion and subsequent occupation of the early 1920s, the people of Urfa were at first not much concerned about their city being invaded and their homes looted. They apparently only began the armed resistance when they heard the French were marching in their capsicum fields.

Although well connected to Turkey's highways and with a decent industrial production, Urfa is a large city though not a huge metropolis. Known for its relative conservatism (most restaurants do not serve Alcohol), 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 sitting area.

With roughly 500,000 Syrian refugees currently living in Urfa, there have been a number of protests against the growing Syrian population.[14]

An important local tradition usually associated with Urfa and Mardin is the "Sıra Gecesi", where groups of young men gather at each other's home following a preestablished sequence, especially in winter evenings, to play Ottoman Instruments such as Kanun, Ud and Bağlama, sing regional classics and to eat together. Kebab and Çiğ Köfte are the indispensable staples of these evenings.


Şanlıurfa has a hot summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa). Şanlıurfa is very hot during the summer months. Temperatures in the height of summer usually reach 39 °C (102 °F). Rainfall is almost non-existent during the summer months. Winters are cool and wet. Frost is common and there is sporadic snowfall. Spring and autumn are mild and also wet.

Climate data for Şanlıurfa (1960-2012)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 10.0
Daily mean °C (°F) 5.6
Average low °C (°F) 2.3
Precipitation mm (inches) 86.5
Avg. rainy days 12.4 11.3 10.9 9.8 6.5 1.5 0.3 0.2 2.9 5.3 8.1 11.2 80.4
Average humidity (%) 74 72 61 51 43 27 22 24 28 43 57 72 47.8
Mean monthly sunshine hours 127.1 137.2 195.3 228 310 363 381.3 350.3 303 238.7 174 124 2,931.9
Source #1: Devlet Meteoroloji İşleri Genel Müdürlüğü[15]
Source #2: Weatherbase[16]

Places of interest[edit]

Main courtyard of the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque
  • The birthplace of the prophet Abraham – a cave to the south of the lake
  • Urfa castle – built in antiquity, the current walls were constructed by the Abbasids in 814 AD.
  • The legendary Pool of Sacred Fish (Balıklıgöl) where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. The pool is in the courtyard of the mosque of Halil-ur-Rahman, built by the Ayyubids in 1211 and now surrounded by the attractive Gölbaşı-gardens designed by architect Merih Karaaslan. The courtyard is where the fishes thrive. A local legend says seeing a white fish will open the door to the heavens.
  • Rızvaniye Mosque – a more recent (1716) Ottoman mosque, adjoining the Balıkligöl complex.
  • 'Ayn Zelîha – A source nearby the historical center, named after Zulaykha, a follower of Abraham.
  • The Great Mosque of Urfa was built in 1170, on the site of a Christian church the Arabs called the "Red Church," probably incorporating some Roman masonry. Contemporary tradition at the site identifies the well of the mosque as that into which the towel or burial cloth (mendil) of Jesus was thrown (see Image of Edessa and Shroud of Turin). In the south wall of the medrese adjoining the mosque is the fountain of Firuz Bey (1781).
  • Ruins of the ancient city walls.
  • Eight Turkish baths built in the Ottoman period.
  • The traditional Urfa houses were split into sections for family (harem) and visitors (selâm). There is an example open to the public next to the post office in the district of Kara Meydan.
  • The Temple of Nevali Çori – Neolithic settlement dating back to 8000BC, now buried under the waters behind the Atatürk Dam, with some artefacts relocated above the waterline.
  • Göbekli Tepe – The world's oldest known temple, dated 10th millennium BC (ca 11,500 years ago).[17]


Famous people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Area of regions (including lakes), km²". Regional Statistics Database. Turkish Statistical Institute. 2002. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  2. ^ "Population of province/district centers and towns/villages by districts - 2012". Address Based Population Registration System (ABPRS) Database. Turkish Statistical Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-27. 
  3. ^ Segal, J. B. (2001) [1970]. "I. The Beginnings". Edessa:'The Blessed City' (2 ed.). Piscataway, New Jersey, United States: Gorgias Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-9713097-1-X. It is certainly surprising that no obvious reference to Orhay has been found so far in the early historical texts dealing with the region, and that, unlike Harran, its name does not occur in cuneiform itineraries. This may be accidental, or Orhay may be alluded to under a different name which has not been identified. Perhaps it was not fortified, and therefore at this time a place of no great military significance. With the Seleucid period, however, we are on firm historical ground. Seleucus I founded—or rather re-founded—a number of cities in the region. Among them, probably in 303 or 302 BC, was Orhay. 
  4. ^ Image
  5. ^ Öktem, Kerem (2003). Creating the Turk's Homeland: Modernization, Nationalism and Geography in Southeast Turkey in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. Harvard: University of Oxford, School of Geography an the Environment, Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TB, UK. For Armenians, the city has a great symbolic value, as the Armenian alphabet was invented there, thanks to a group of scholars and clergy headed by Mesrop Mashtots in the 5th century 
  6. ^ Roberts, J. M. (1996). "II/4. Frontiers and neighbours". The Penguin History of Europe. London: Penguin Books. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-14-026561-3. 
  7. ^ "Edessa". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906. 
  8. ^ "Interview with Harun Bozo". The Library of Rescued Memories. Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation. 
  9. ^ Kinross, Lord (1977). The Ottoman Centuries, The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. United States: Harper Perennial. p. 560. ISBN 0-688-08093-6. 
  10. ^ Joseph, John (1983). Muslim-Christian Relations and Inter-Christian Rivalries in the Middle East: The Case of the Jacobites in an Age of Transition. United States: State University of New York Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-87395-612-5. 
  11. ^ a b c armenian-genocide.org
  12. ^ "Kurds in Southeast Anatolia celebrate DTP’s boost in votes". Today's Zaman. 2009-03-31. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  13. ^ From Kâtib el Bağdadî in p.196Urfa'da Pişer Bize de Düşer, Halil & Munise Yetkin Soran, Alfa Yayın, 2009, Istanbul ISBN 978-605-106-065-1
  14. ^ http://www.todayszaman.com/national_turkish-parents-protest-syrian-children-attending-school-in-sanliurfa_369697.html
  15. ^ http://www.dmi.gov.tr/veridegerlendirme/il-ve-ilceler-istatistik.aspx?m=SANLIURFA
  16. ^ http://www.weatherbase.com/weather/weatherall.php3?s=7271&refer=&units=us&cityname=Urfa-Turkey
  17. ^ The World's First Temple
  18. ^ The World's First Temple

External links[edit]