Seven Journeys to Anatolia: Episode II




Old Şanlı Urfa, with its wealth of biblical associations, is known as the “Jerusalem of Anatolia.”

According to the Old Testament, the Patriarch Abraham (“grandfather of great religions”) was born in the city of Ur, in the Chaldea region. Not far from the Fırat (Euphrates) River in southeastern Turkey, Şanlı Urfa’s ancient name was Ur or Edessa. Abraham and his family lived in Ur for many years. Then, following God’s direction, they migrated to Harran, “home of the patriarchs.” Abraham’s father Terah died in Harran, and Abraham had two sons: Isaac, by Sarah, and Ishmael, by Hagar. Abraham then took Hagar and their son Ishmael to Mecca. The Prophet Mohammed Is a descendant of Ishmael. According to the Old Testament, Abraham’s son Isaac married Rebecca, a woman from Harran, who was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor.

The family ties continued to remain strong in the next generation, Rebecca bore Isaac twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Isaac told his son Jacob to go back to the crossroad of Harran, “the home of Bethuel thy mother’s father, and there find a wife from among the daughters of Laban, thy mother’s brother.”

On Jacob’s journey to find a wife, he met a number of shepherds who were herding their sheep near a well in Harran. Among them was Rachel, a “daughter of Laban” who was fated to become his wife. The well at which they first met is now called “Jacob’s Well.” Rachel and Jacob had a son, whom they named Joseph, whose descendants Included Moses, King David, and Jesus.

Although Abraham did not live in this area for his entire life, he did leave many reminders of his time here. In Şanlı Urfa there is a cave thought to be Abraham’s birthplace. It has become a place of pilgrimage, and is now surrounded by the Halil Rahman Mosque, gardens, arcaded courtyards, a lake filled with sacred fish, and dovecotes filled with pigeons. This wonderful atmosphere is completed by the grandmothers and grandfathers and their youngsters dressed in local dresses that were worn by their ancestors and the founders of great religions.


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The Southeastern Anatolian Project is the largest and most multifaceted development project in Turkey, as well as one of the largest development projects in the world. The project includes active farming with extensive irrigation systems and electricity production. It will also benefit the tourism, mining, petrol, education, health, communication and transportation sectors. The Southeastern Anatolian Project covers the lower parts of the Fırat (Euphrates) and Dicle (Tigris) Rivers and the provinces of Gazi Antep, Şanlı Urfa, Adıyaman, Diyarbakır, Mardin, Siirt, Batman and Şırnak on the plains between the rivers. Both rivers act as natural boundaries for the biblical Garden of Eden. Upon entering the Garden of Eden from Gazi Antep, take a stroll along the western bank of the Fırat (Euphrates) River and dive into the holy past.

Adıyaman and Kahta make good bases from which to visit Nemrut Dağı (Mount Nemrut) National Park. You can hire transportation in either town. On the summit of Nemrut Dağı (2150 meters), the highest mountain in Northern Mesopotamia, sits the gigantic funerary sanctuary erected in the first century BC by King Antiochus I of Commagene. The engineering involved continues to amaze visitors: a gigantic artificial tumulus of crushed rock is flanked by terraces on which rest colossal statutes of Apollo, Zeus, Hercules, Tyche and King Antiochus. The huge statues have been damaged by earthquakes and weather, and the heads of the seated torsos now rest at their feet.

Diyarbakır (Amida) has been the home of 26 civilizations during its 5000-year history. The city is spread across a basalt plateau close to the banks of the Dicle (Tigris) River. The black basalt triple walls encircle the old town. These ramparts— 5.5 km in length, with 16 towers and 5 gates—are decorated with inscriptions and bas-reliefs, and represent a superb example of medieval military architecture.

From a distance, the golden stone houses of Mardin blend into the rock of the hills on which the city is built. On closer inspection, the stone carving and decoration of the houses and public buildings reveal the city to be an architectural treasure chest. The Ulu Mosque, Mardin’s oldest, was built in 1186 during the reign of the Artukid ruler Kutbeddin Ilgaz. The 15th-century Kasım Paşa Medrese is remarkable for its fine stonework. At the İsa Bey Medrese, which dates from the 14th century, you can admire the magnificently carved portal and climb to its roof to enjoy a fantastic view of the Mesopotamian Plain. East of Mardin is the Syriac-Jacobite Monastery of Deyrulzafaran, once a thriving religious community, which still welcomes visitors.


Siirt was an especially eminent city at the time of the Abbasid Caliphate. At Aydınlar (Tillo), northeast of Siirt, the 18th-century İbrahim Hakkı Mausoleum Complex and nearby private İbrahim Hakkı Astronomical Museum are worth a visit, İbrahim Hakkı was a famous 18th-century Turkish author and scholar whose most famous work was the Marifetname. He was also an astronomer and devoted his entire life to astronomy and science. His respected teacher Saint Fakirullah is also buried here.


The Saint Veysel Karani Mausoleum is located in Baykan at the Siirt-Diyarbakir-Bitlis crossroad. This complex was built in honor of the Prophet Muhammed’s beloved friend, St. Veysel Karani, who died during the Arabs’ Azerbaijan campaign and was buried here.

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