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Şanlıurfa - Edessa

urfa.jpg (8242 bytes)Şanlıurfa claims connections with Abraham and Nimrod, and with 1st century Christian missionaries. Its mosques reflect the Muslim presence here from the 12 century on. Perhaps it was the capital of a Mitanni kingdom in the second millennium BC. In the succeeding centuries Hurrians, Hittites and Assyrians must have been its rulers.

Alexander the Great came through here in 333 BC; his inheritor and General Seleucis renamed the place Edessa, referring to a city he knew in Macedonia. It was called that through the time of the Crusades. "Urfa" harks back to the earlier name. Since the Turkish Revolution of 1923 it has acquired the distinguishing title of "Şanlı" - "Glorious" Urfa.

Two late-Roman columns part of what is called the "Throne of Nimrod," rise prominently on the hill southwest of the city; one bears an inscription in Syriac concerning Queen Shalmat, but who she was has not been established.

Şanlıurfa claims the distinction of being the birthplace of Abraham. One of its early names, "Hurri," which is thought to mean "grotto" or "fortress with a spring," is related to the legend that a cave under the citadel of the city is his birthplace. In Muslim tradition this was where Abraham rebuked King Nimrod and his subjects because of their worship of idols (Sura vi:74- 79). For the insult and his refusal to follow the king’s practice, Abraham was condemned to be burned. But God turned the fagots for the pyre into carp and the flames into two pools. These pools are considered sacred by the residents of Şanlıurfa and the tradition makes it a place of pilgrimage for Muslims.

The Christian influence in Edessa, according to the 4th century Christian historian Eusebius, began when King Abgar V (4 BC AD 50) addressed a letter to Jesus asking him to come cure him of his leprosy.

The oldest Muslim building in Şanlıurfa is from the 12 century: Ulu Cami ("Great mosque"), a red stone building on Ataturk Caddesi, was founded by Nureddin and patterned on the Great Mosque of Aleppo; its minaret doubles as a clock tower. (Nureddin was the ruler of Aleppo and Damascus.) The medrese (Islamic school) associated with it is thought to have been built by Saladin in 1191. Other old buildings date back to the 13 century. Reflections of the religious complex of the Mosque of Halil ar-Rahman and of its medrese shimmer in one of the sacred pools associated with the memory of Abraham. Tradition says that anyone so sacrilegious as to eat the fish of this pool will go blind. The Ridvaniye Camii and its medrese and the Abdurrahman Camii and its medrese are from the 18th century. Not far from the pools is the old bazaar, a place whose crowded streets, whose goads and whose methods of manufacture, whose sounds and smells and hubbub, whose merchants, their costumes and their bargaining are reminiscent of the fabled romance of the old Ottoman Empire.

Map of Urfa