Şanlıurfa, the ‘2023 City of Tourism’ of the Islamic World, awaits its guests

Şanlıurfa, the ‘2023 City of Tourism’ of the Islamic World, awaits its guests

Şanlıurfa, a global focal point due to recent archaeological discoveries in the area, was designated the “2023 City of Tourism” at the 11th Tourism Ministers Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. To celebrate its selection by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 57-member countries, Şanlıurfa will host several events, including the International Halal Expo, the Islamic World Scientists Symposium, and the Islamic World Symposium in Travel Books, bringing the Islamic world together under the same roof throughout the year. In line with its status as a tourism city, Şanlıurfa is expected to attract double the number of domestic and foreign tourists this year.

Şanlıurfa: The bridge between archaeology and the history of religions

Often described as an open-air museum of Türkiye’s southeast, Şanlıurfa presents extraordinary historical, religious and archaeological discoveries. With 12,000-year-old history, Şanlıurfa bears the traces of different religions, cultures and civilizations and draws attention as the city of “firsts and oldests”. The city, considered sacred in terms of many religions, is home to important sites such as Balıklıgöl and Ayn Zeliha (Zeliha’s Eye / Spring). The UNESCO World Heritage Site Göbeklitepe, the oldest known monumental structure in the world which turned what we know so far about hunter-gatherer’s upside down and the broader ‘Taş Tepeler’ region of the Neolithic period are also in Şanlıurfa. Last but not the least, the historical Harran dome houses and Halfeti, the ‘slow city’ that stands out with its natural beauties are also the must-see destinations of this ancient city.

Traces of the past and human history in Göbeklitepe…

Göbeklitepe, which reshaped the history of humanity by changing how archaeologists look at the beginnings of civilizations and religions, contains findings proving that hunter-gatherer societies were much more advanced than previously thought. The site’s T-shaped obelisks, constituting the first examples of monumental architecture, demonstrate that Neolithic communities had a social organization and were able to come together for the sake of faith. ‘Taş Tepeler’ the larger area that consists of 12 archaeological sites with similar features to Göbeklitepe, continue to reveal previously unknown aspects of prehistoric life with findings obtained in the ongoing excavations. Şanlıurfa is also set to host the 2023 World Neolithic Congress in September later this year.

Türkiye’s largest museum complex is in Şanlıurfa

Şanlıurfa is also a city of museums. The Şanlıurfa Archaeology Museum, Türkiye’s largest museum complex, hosting the world’s biggest Neolithic collection and the Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum, home to huge and magnificent Roman villa mosaic depicting the life of Achilleus and Amazons take visitors on a journey through time with a chronological concept, while presenting key elements in art history through magnificent mosaics featuring mythological depictions.

Wishes are made in Balıklıgöl…

Balıklıgöl draws attention as a cultural complex with bazaars as well as both religious and Şanlıurfa-specific symbolism. According to legend, the Prophet Abraham, after engaging in a fierce struggle with King Nimrod and the idol-worshippers, was thrown into a fire by King Nimrod. However, when the Prophet Abraham fell into the fire, the flames were replaced by a clear lake and the burning wood transformed into fish. It is believed that Balıklıgöl is this very lake. Zeliha, who believes in Abraham and is the daughter of King Nimrod, also threw herself into the fire and Ayn Zeliha (Zeliha’s Eye / Spring) is formed right next to Balıklıgöl where she fell. An important site for cultural tourism and the three Abrahamic religions, the rituals that visitors perform around the lake include making wishes and feeding the fish.

The Lost City of Halfeti fascinates visitors

Halfeti, enchants visitors with its scenic landscapes. Halfeti was included in the ‘slow city’ network by the Cittaslow International Coordination Committee in 2013. The submerged settlements can be seen during boat tours, as can Rumkale, a rock-carved fortress on the borders of Gaziantep. Halfeti is also home to the registered black rose, which takes its unique colour and smell from the soil where it grows.

The world’s first and oldest known university with ‘Kümbet Evler’ is in Harran

Şanlıurfa’s fertile Harran Plain is home to funnel-shaped dome houses, the world’s first university and one of the oldest mosques in Anatolia. The Grand Mosque of Harran (744–750) is the oldest mosque built in Anatolia as a part of Islamic architecture. Constructed with mortar made by mixing terracotta with rose oil, straw and egg whites, these dome houses are cool in summer and warm in winter, thanks to their architecture and materials. Also notable in Harran is the archaeological site, which features the remains of a 12th-century madrasa. The Harran Madrasa draws attention as the first and oldest known university in the world.

Do not leave Şanlıurfa without sampling…

Şanlıurfa’a cuisine is based on the oldest known recipes. Among the local specialities are çiğköfte, lahmacun, tirit, and liver kebab prepared with local isot (red pepper), and dark mırra (bitter) coffee. The city also has a Culinary Center where visitors can learn about the importance of gastronomy in Şanlıurfa culture via animations and exhibits. From time to time, the centre offers various cooking workshops focused on local and regional dishes.