Sanliurfa: The Ancient City of Prophets


Sanliurfa is an important region where the world’s oldest megalithic structures are found. But mostly, it is a sacred place touted as the ‘City of Prophets’.

Situated in southeastern Anatolia is the ancient city of Sanliurfa (Urfa), which boasts a rich history dating back to the agricultural revolution. The world’s oldest megalithic structures at Gobekli Tepe bear witness to the area’s significance in human settlement. With connections to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Sanliurfa has been dubbed the “City of Prophets,” and the legend of Abraham’s hometown adds to its allure.

But Sanliurfa’s past is also marked by tragedy. The 1895 massacre of 3,000 Armenians who sought refuge in the city’s cathedral serves as a somber reminder of the violence that has plagued the region. Today, the city is grappling with poverty (over 50% of its population lives below the poverty line) and the fallout from the Syrian conflict, with a quarter of its population made up of refugees.

To make matters worse, the recent twin earthquakes that rocked the city with a magnitude of 7.9 and 7.7 have left many homeless.



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Sanliurfa – The Hometown of Abraham

Sanliurfa - Place of Abraham
Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishmael. Source: By Guercino (1591–1666) via Wikimedia Commons

It was widely believed that the great city of Ur, located in southern Mesopotamia near modern-day Basra in Iraq, was the birthplace of Abraham. However, Cyrus Gordon, an American scholar of Near Eastern cultures and ancient languages, raised an issue with this theory. He pointed out that if Abraham’s father, Terah, and his family left Ur-Kasdim to travel to Canaan but stopped in Harran, then Ur-Kasdim must be located to the north of Harran.

Taking this into consideration, a more appealing suggestion is that Abraham’s hometown was the city of Ur in northern Mesopotamia, which is now modern-day Urfa in southeastern Turkey, located 44 km north of Harran. This city is likely the same Ura mentioned in cuneiform tablets from Ugarit, where it is associated with the Hittite realm. A journey from Urfa to Canaan would have gone directly through Harran.

Local Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions in Turkey all identify this city as biblical Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. In fact, this notion was commonly accepted in 19th-century biblical scholarship.

The names of Abraham’s father and grandfather, Nahor and Serug, respectively, are also the names of cities in the region of Urfa. The city of Ur-Kasdim, also known as Ur of the Chaldees, is a place of pilgrimage for Jews and Muslims, who hold it sacred to the patriarch Abraham.


The Pool of the Sacred Fish in Sanliurfa

Lake of Fish in Sanliurfa city
Source: Immanuelle via Wikimedia Commons

The Lake of Fish in Sanliurfa city is known as one of the world’s largest natural fish ponds and an incredibly beautiful natural area. Besides its natural allure, the lake of fish in Sanliurfa is also imbued with religious and historical significance. According to a local legend, Nimrod, a biblical figure, attempted to throw the prophet Abraham into a fiery pit. However, God intervened, causing the fire to transform into the lake and providing peace to Abraham.

Additionally, the lake of fish in Sanliurfa boasts two notable mosques situated along its shores, namely the Khalil Rahman Mosque and the Radwaniyah Mosque. During autumn, the lake is surrounded by verdant trees that take on multiple hues, enhancing the lake’s already stunning beauty.


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