Urfa (also Şanlıurfa, formerly Edessa) is a city in Southeastern Anatolia, and the provincial capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The modern city of Urfa is situated about eighty kilometers east of the Euphrates River. It has a rapidly growing population.
Urfa has many excellent old buildings and plenty of connections with the Old Testament and Islamic tradition. The general atmosphere and feel of the city is absolutely Middle Eastern, with all those traditional yellow stone, arched architecture, people (ladies and gentlemen alike) in Middle-East dresses, and so on... When coming from West, you'll certainly feel like you are entering the Eastern world right in this place.
Since 1984, Urfa is officially renamed as Şanlıurfa (i.e. "Glorious Urfa"), which is how it is shown on maps and highway signs. Şanlıurfa is usually abbreviated to Ş.Urfa on non-official signs, such as those on buses or restaurants. However, colloquially and locally, the city is still almost always referred to Urfa.
Buses connect to most big cities. Free transfers to and from the bus station provide by some accommodation choices.
Three flights a day into and out of Sanliurfa's new airport: two Istanbul and one Ankara flight. Reasonably priced transfers from and to the airport with the Havas bus service. Some accommodation choices also provide free airport transfers since the airport is out of town. Flights available from Turkish Airlines: www.thy.com
- Cave of Abraham. Urfa is supposedly the birthplace of Abraham (called Ibrahim in arabic, he was an important prophet) and henceforth an important islamic place of pilgrimage. Around the site of the cave are a number of mosques built around a park with water features. One of these mosques, the Halil-ur-Rahman has a pool (called the Balikligöl) occupied by a rather large number of holy fish. It is said that anyone who catches one of these will go blind. That said the story behind the pool is quite interesting: The pool is at a site where Nemrut (there's a legend claiming him to be the builder of the tower of Babel) wanted to burn Abraham as a sacrifice. God however intervened and turned the pire into water and the coals into fish thus saving Abraham.
Legend also names it as the birthplace of Job.
- The atmospheric bazaar with it's hustle and bustle is quite charming as is the old town.
- The ancient ruined castle with newer walls dating from around 814 AD on the rocky promontory at the south side of town. A lone column is just about all that remains of the older structure but the views are spectacular.
As it can get scorchingly hot during summer (50 degrees C or above), you'll be hard pressed to do anything during the afternoon. In the park around which the mosques are you can wait for the midday heat to subside while enjoying ice tea or other cold drinks (though obviously: no beer or alcoholics) before exploring the old town , the bazaar or the mosques. That's also the extent of what you can do in the evening. Sit down, have a cold non-alcoholic drink and play backgammon or just have a chat.
Be careful with food hygiene as very many people suffer stomach trouble in Urfa. Suspects include the water, the ice cream, the kebabs, and possibly the people making or selling them.
Famous are the cigkofte or raw kebabs.
As Urfa is a city of pilgrimage, beer or any other alcoholic beverage is near impossible to get. Apart from that you're able to find any of the soft-drink brands sold in the rest of Turkey or stick to Turkish or Arabian tea (which is sweeter or minted).
Urfa has many hotels.
- Lizbon Guest House, Otogar Balikli Göl yolu Yeni Mah. No: 1286 (Hotel Number 21). Telephone: 05353738926. Free pick up from the Otogar. A couple runs the guest house. There are 8 rooms (three new, which opened in 2009). Homecooked Kurdish food (with beer available). Unfortunately, Aziz the owner, will insist on being a guide to sites around Urfa, and if refused, will become pushy and rude. This has been somewhat problematic for some tourists looking to explore unguided. The price for a single person is 25 TL.
- Hotel Bakay, Asfalt Cadessi 24, Tel: 0215 2689 has aircon, tv, showers and a friendly staff though breakfast is a bit of a let-down. It's also about 45 YTL for a double and 30 YTL for a single.
- Hotel Kilim, aircon wifi: 45 YTL.
- Hotel Arte, Ataturk Bulvari No:7 (Just next to municipality building), ☎ +90 414 314 7060, . checkin: 12:00; checkout: 11:00. 33 individually designed rooms offer amenities such as wi-fi internet connection, satellite TV, air-con, direct telephone, and hair-dryer.
- Village home stays, Yuvacali Koyu, Hilvan, Sanliurfa, ☎ 90 414 553 3842/ 90 533 747 1850, . checkin: flexible; checkout: flexible. A unique opportunity to experience rural life in Sanliurfa. With free pick up from the centre of Urfa, the bus station or the airport, Nomad Tours has organized home stays in Kurdish villages for travellers from all over the world. Sleep on handmade woollen matresses under the stars just as the locals do, learn how to make village bread, join in with the milking and the cheese making, enjoy food that is not only home cooked but also home grown, and see how local people really live. An English speaking guide is available whenever required. A range of packages are available from accommodation only to full board and excursion packages. from 20YTL.
- Nomad Guest House, 12 Eylül Cad.1351 Sok. No:10 (free pick up from bus station for parties of two or more), ☎ 90 414 553 3842/ 90 533 747 1850, . checkin: 12.00; checkout: 11.00. Set in an elegant nineteenth century stone built house, Nomad Guest House welcomes backpackers. A variety of dorm style and private rooms are available in a tranquil stting around a central courtyard and fountain. All rooms have A/C. Beds are a mixture of eastern style floor bedding and western style divans. Nomad Guest House is situated in the very heart of historical Sanliurfa, only minutes' walk from the center. from 20.00 TL.
Urfa seems to be a very safe city. There is a police sentry box in the Balıklıgöl/Pond area where you can report any problems.
However, according to the local youngsters, there is a possibly dangerous substance abuse going on around the gate of the citadel on the hill after night falls, so better avoid hanging around the stairs leading there at night.
- Go to Harran (about 40 km south), and see some reconstructed beehive huts and the remains of the trading "fortress" around which they're situated.
- Mardin, about 200 km to east, with its stonework architecture and Syriac Orthodox churches is also another interesting place to visit in the region.
- The Ataturk Dam to the north of the city is a huge engineering project harnassing the waters of the Euphrates and irrigating former semi-desert lands around Urfa.
- Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known temple in the world dating from 9,000 years B.C.
- Visit villages in the region and see rural life virtually unchanged since biblical times. Go to Karacadag where it is still possible to see nomads in their yurts, and from where wheat first originated about 8,800 BCE
- Take an excursion to Nemrut or Diyarbakir, both of which are within a day's reach of Urfa