Home Travel In Sanliurfa, the Silk Street Meets the Stone Age

In Sanliurfa, the Silk Street Meets the Stone Age

In Sanliurfa, the Silk Street Meets the Stone Age


As we climbed the slope towards one of many world’s most momentous archaeological websites in a gusty December drizzle, a futuristic form loomed into view. It was the swooping white cover erected over the principle excavation at Gobekli Tepe, a bunch of Neolithic buildings as much as 11,400 years outdated in southeastern Turkey. Their unearthing within the mid-Nineties triggered a reconsideration of the usual timeline of human civilization. From below the space-age cover, my accomplice, Anya, and I stared down into the monumental Stone Age panorama earlier than us, like awed and barely spooked time vacationers.

Awarded UNESCO World Heritage standing in 2018, Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) has spawned sensational Netflix reveals and the woolliest of speculative theories. Not too long ago, the positioning and its mysteries have been drawing file numbers of holiday makers to this place close to the provincial capital of Sanliurfa within the borderland with Syria — 850,000 in 2022. February’s earthquake, which devastated different components of Turkey, solely minimally broken the positioning, which reopened in April.

A brief flight from Istanbul, Sanliurfa is an historic Mesopotamian Silk Street metropolis, richly textured with multicultural custom and historical past. It has essential non secular pilgrimage websites, a vivid meals tradition and a historic bazaar quarter that resounds with Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish.

Town is a palimpsest of civilizations as properly. It was referred to as Urhai below the Aramaeans; Edessa below Alexander the Nice, the Romans, Byzantines and Arabs; after which renamed Urfa by the Ottomans in 1607. Its honorific title, Sanli, which means “superb” in Turkish, was bestowed in 1984 for itsheroics within the Turkish Battle of Independence, however locals nonetheless name it Urfa.

This historical past was laid out for us by our tour information, Emine Yesim Bedlek, a vivacious former assistant professor of English literature at Turkey’s Bingol College, whom we’d employed by means of Istanbul Tour Studio, a boutique company. She picked us up from the Tessera Lodge in Sanliurfa’s Eyyubiye district. Previously an Armenian monastery, constructed of the ever-present native limestone, Tessera opened in 2021, one in every of various small, atmospheric lodges within the neighborhood, most of them renovated Nineteenth-century konaks, or Ottoman mansions.

“Our Urfa is famed as town of prophets, of Abraham and Job and others,” Dr. Bedlek started her exposition on our method to dinner within the huge courtyard of a many-centuries-old Ottoman inn, become a restaurant referred to as Cevahir Han. It’s run by Cevahir Asuman Yazmaci, a granddaughter of a famend Kurdish tribal chief, and a pioneering feminine entrepreneur on this patriarchal tradition.

Southeastern Turkey is the cradle of kebab, and shortly our desk held a mammoth platter of Urfa’s signature patlican kebab with patties of hand-chopped native lamb nestled between sections of eggplant. “Our eggplant selection is licensed,” famous Dr. Bedlek. “It’s very lengthy and slender and grows on the banks of the Euphrates,” she added poetically. “And the pepper right here is God,” she declared of the shiny aromatic-hot native selection — Urfa biber — eaten grilled with most meals and in addition dried into smoky flakes referred to as isot.

The subsequent morning we took a winding route by means of Eyyubiye towards one in every of Urfa’s nice non secular jewels, the Pool of Abraham. On the best way Anya beelined to a carsi firin, a communal oven the place prospects waited by the window with pans of Urfa’s shiny peppers and eggplants to be char-roasted and handed again with chewy flatbread straight from the wood-fired stone oven. These cheap public hearths are such a metropolis important, Dr. Bedlek mentioned, that actual property adverts record how shut a spot is to a firin.

Revered by Muslims and traditionally Christians and Jews, the lyrically good-looking complicated of the Pool of Abraham — Balikli Gol, or Fish Lake in Turkish — marks the spot the place in legend the prophet Abraham was flung from close by Damlacik Hill onto a blazing pyre by Nimrod, the idolatrous Assyrian king, solely to have God flip the flames into water and the fiery logs into carp. Dr. Bedlek reprised the main points as we strolled across the massive, rectangular stone pool the place pilgrims and vacationers have been feeding the plump sacred fish.

The poolside options the picturesque repeating arches of the 18th-century Rizvaniye Mosque and its madrasa. All about, {couples} posed in gaudy rented Ottoman outfits — and regardless of my protests, Anya pressured me into dressing up likewise. Ordeal endured, we headed on to a smaller miraculous pool, the place Nimrod’s daughter, Zeliha, was herself flung onto a pyre for supporting Abraham’s beliefs. Simply past lies the Dergah complicated of a park, a rose backyard and extra mosques alongside a honored small cave. Right here Abraham was supposedly born and hidden away from Nimrod in his early years. Inside, the religious drank holy spring water, and prayed in silence.

Urfa’s bazaar, components of which date again over 5 centuries, sits shut by. Actually an agglomeration of bazaars, it’s a bustling sprawl of small retailers, alleys and crowded passages, the congestion relieved by Ottoman courtyards.

Villagers come from the countryside for his or her buying — every part from wedding ceremony materials to gold, knives, watermelons and handmade cradles. “From north of town they’re Kurds, south they’re Arab,” Dr. Bedlek defined. “And so they gown up for the journey.”

Round us wandered middle-aged Kurdish males in conventional saggy trousers, their lavender or checkered headdresses trailing again onto their fitted grey jackets. Arab ladies in darkish robes and hijabs glittering with sparkles edged previous others in floral head scarves and robes of azure and gold.

Within the textile part we discovered that probably the most in-demand materials got here from South Korea or Dubai. Elsewhere pigeons burbled in cages. “Urfa males are loopy for pigeons,” mentioned Dr. Bedlek. The coppersmiths’ lane gleamed in a tuk-tuk-tuk din of hammering. And Anya’s bag grew heavier with salca (the high-octane native dried pepper paste) and jars of Urfa’s prized clarified sheep’s butter.

On the grand courtyard of Gumruk Han, constructed through the Sixteenth-century reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, we refueled with menengic, a milky scorching beverage created from floor wild pistachios. Then we pressed on to a coated bazaar specializing in carpets, the place older Arab males browsed in majestic darkish cloaks like English barristers’ robes. These was handmade from leather-based. Sadly, they’re all polyester now.

Discovering alcohol is difficult on this conservative Islamic metropolis. And but, improbably, dinner that evening discovered us at Mandelion, a newish meyhane, or tavern, close to our lodge. Underneath a pomegranate tree within the sleekly festive courtyard of a Nineteenth-century home, we swigged raki, Turkey’s aniseed-flavored spirit, at a desk mosaicked with vibrant garlicky dips, adopted by scorching fried liver. Laughter and glass clinking sounded round us. “Are you able to imagine this, in possibly the driest metropolis in Turkey?” Anya mentioned to our dinner companion, Dr. Bedlek’s erudite Kurdish husband, Yakup, a information himself. “Urfa wants a meyhane tradition,” declared Furkan Saracoglu, a 28-year-old co-owner. “Particularly now that so many Gobekli Tepe vacationers are coming wanting a drink.”

We might fortunately have lingered, nursing our rakis. However we had a sira gecesi, actually a “evening in flip” forward. Urfa is a prodigiously musical metropolis, identified for these gatherings, which traditionally are all male and contain conventional music, dialog and recitation, and the ritual making and consuming of cig kofte, spicy raw-meat and bulgur patties. Massive, noisy, touristic variations have not too long ago been created, girls welcome, and we have been quickly squeezing onto flooring cushions at lengthy, low tables in a giant, brilliant salon at Sehr-i Urfa restaurant, opened in 2021. The cig kofte was completed, however the band of string devices was going sturdy. Because the extremely ebullient singer and his thumping drummer labored the gang, Anya introduced that possibly one didn’t want alcohol in spite of everything.

The subsequent morning, the Bedleks drove us the dozen miles within the drizzle to the highest of stony hills. And there we have been, below the space-age cover, gazing down on the dusty, beige Neolithic panorama. 4 open round limestone enclosures stood, dominated by T-shaped anthropomorphic megaliths — the most important towering 18 toes — some embellished with carved reliefs of untamed animals, even lengthy human arms.

Excavation at Gobekli Tepe, presently thought to be residence to the world’s oldest monumental communal buildings, started in 1995, led by the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt. The location, relationship from about 9,400, upended the archaeological consensus, which held that such structure required a sedentary home society working towards agriculture. Schmidt discovered no indicators of home settlement. Calling Gobekli Tepe a pilgrimage “cathedral,” he declared, “First got here the temple, then town.”

Mysteries and questions have swirled ever since, and Dr. Bedlek reprised just a few alongside the guests’ walkway. How was the data to assemble Gobekli Tepe acquired out of the prehistoric blue? Why have been the monumental enclosures finally purposely buried? Why have been diminutive tough variations of them later constructed on the slope simply above?

Schmidt’s evaluation got here into query shortly after he died in 2014. Settlement buildings have been discovered in spite of everything, in 2015 and 2016. One other sheltering cover close by coated an in depth group of them — constructed and inhabited by sedentary hunter-gatherers.

And the good T-pillar enclosures?

Lee Clare of the German Archaeology Institute, the positioning’s analysis coordinator, instructed me later over the telephone that these at the moment are seen because the settlement’s “particular buildings, multipurpose social websites for rituals and sharing frequent identification.”

“For a type of prehistoric sira gecesi?” I urged. “Why not?” Dr. Clare mentioned with fun. “They’d drums and flutes.”

Gobekli Tepe was not a temple in our sense of the time period, he declared emphatically. This touched on what he referred to as the most important downside — the “raving loony” media speculations and misrepresentations. Gobekli Tepe was not the “zero level of civilization,” not the “smoking gun,” because it has been referred to as. It was finest understood as one excellent expression of a momentous Early Neolithic cultural community. As for its purposeful burial, this was a identified observe of the interval, although it might have additionally been the consequence, it’s now urged, of pure occasions.

What’s extra, the positioning and its environment are chockablock with additional monumental candidates for excavation. Gobekli Tepe is without doubt one of the dozen places, ample in megaliths, making up the brand new Tas Tepeler archaeological venture round Urfa. Karahantepe, about an hour east, might even be barely older — and includes a hanging open chamber of phallic pillars confronted by a stone human face rising eerily from a surrounding wall.

We drove again to Urfa for lunch on the brand-new Gobekli Tepe Gastronomy Heart, run by town in a contemporary part of city. The menu, researched within the area’s residence kitchens, is democratically priced for the locals. However the décor is surprisingly flashy, and we ate our lamb soup and plump dolmas below a hanging summary mural of T-pillars below the celebrities.

Our final day we dedicated to town’s epic Sanliurfa Archaeology Museum, that includes a full-scale duplicate of Gobekli Tepe’s greatest particular constructing which you can wander by means of, and the world’s oldest identified life-size human statue, the 11,000-year-old “Urfa man.” Adjoining lies the dramatic Haleplibahce Mozaic Museum, with the haunting flooring mosaics of an A.D. 194 Roman villa. Each museums suffered earthquake injury and are below restore. However their treasures will hopefully be again amongst Urfa’s lures by late December.

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