The city of Şanlıurfa (Şanlı meaning dignified/glorious, added to Urfa in 1984) sits in Turkey's southeastern basin, at the steps of the eastern Assyrian/Kurdish crossroads. Gone are the arabesque courtyard compounds, Kufic symbols, and Assyrian churches, though what remains are possibly even more devout, conservative Muslims.
We were able to stay a few nights couchsurfing with two Turks, Ozan and Hulya (both microbiologists studying/working at the city's university). Although we didn't spend much time with Hulya (whose name means hallucination by the way), because she was away interviewing for a position in another town, we did enjoy lengthy evenings cooking and talking with Ozan. One of the funniest and most interesting Turkish men I have ever met! Never in a million years would I peg him from Turkey; not only from his impeccable English skills, but also for his intense interest in microbiology and water systems. One minute he's explaining lengthy chemical reactions, the next he's debating the historical consequences of American politics in Turkey, then switches back to technical aspects of water treatment facilities...
Ozan the Cook, probably discussing microbiological compounds
One of the coolest things Ozan taught me is the logistics of hydroponics. While it still seems to me that a personal hydroponic system requires a lot of equipment and fertilizers, which I feel should not be necessary in a natural garden, after watching many YouTube videos together and discussing closed-circuit systems I'm convinced that hydroponics is fantastic for large scale commercial growing because it produces no waste or pollution. I especially like the use of fish (specifically fish pee which is rich in ammonium) to fertilize the plant roots. I'm still a big advocate for permaculture, but at least for lettuce greens, hydroponics is a good way to go (and to avoid nasty E Coli outbreaks!).
Çorba and the Urfa's-everything-plate, recommended by Ozan
We spent two solid days wandering downtown Şanlıurfa, mostly the area around the Golbasi, which includes the beautiful city park, tea gardens, mosques, and Balıklıgöl (Pool of Sacred Fish), as well as the bedestan and castle. The bedestan is a labrynth of covered shopping streets, packed with rows of rugs, clothes, spices, shoes, hookahs, and eveything else you can think of, and of special notice are the lilac purple headscarves donned by an extraordinary number of both men and women here.
Lilac scarves for sale inside the bedestan
Spices, dried eggplant and pepper strings, and shoppers near the Golbasi
The emaculately landscaped (and heavily guarded) Golbasi park sits adjacent to a large mosque, Halil-ur-Rahman, where the pool of 'sacred' carp originates. From there the water channels throughout the park and down through the nearby mosques, althewhile lined by old men selling packets of fishfood. With so many Muslim pilgrims (Urfa is supposedly the biblical city of Ur), families, and young couples tossing in pellets, these must be the fattest carp on earth.
Channels extending from the Sacred Pool of Carp
I think its a bit odd that there are so many policemen employed-- seemingly-- to guard the carp, but in any case I appreciate them because they effectively shooed away all the boys pestering us.
Night view of Balıklıgöl
Up in the castle, which is no longer a castle or anything really except the peak of a hill (Q: How can they charge for this?? A: Stupid tourists like us who are duped into going) at least there is a nice view over the park area, greenspaces, and nearby mosques (or a contrastingly dismal view of the slum housing on the opposite side).
Overlooking the mosque and park from the kale
What remains of the 'kale' from the top of the hill (pillars where İbrahim was launched into the fire)
Legends claim that Şanlıurfa is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham (İbrahim) (Ok I'll believe that). They say that he lived until the age of 7 in a cave, just below the castle, hiding from King Nimrod. A prophet told the king he would be dethrowned by a young boy, so all of the city's male children were killed (hence Abraham hides in the cave). Well, finally Abraham comes out, and one day is walking around smashing idols, which the king does not like so much. Nimrod orders Abraham to be immolated on a funeral pyre (Really? Did they do that to little boys? Because the boys I've seen here are wild little devils that no one seems to chastise) but instead God turned the fire into water and the sticks into carp. Voila! Magical spring full of fish! (In the Islamic version of the story İbrahim is catapulted off the citadel into the fire, represented by the 2 remaining pillars up there) I loved hearing Ozan's explanation for this story, adding sarcastic emphasis in all the most outlandish places.
Sacred carp in front of the Halil-ur-Rahman
Backside view of the Balıklıgöl, from Halil-ur-Rahman's courtyard
So Golbasi park is a lovely area; we pretty much hung out there for hours on end, writing and sketching. Near the park are a few more mosques, one of them containing the cave where Abraham supposedly hid out during his early years. Funny that the cave was so close to the castle! You'd think if his mother really wanted to hide/protect him, they'd leave town...
Mini carp pool inside the mosque near Abraham's cave (see up top?)
On our way home the final night we stopped in (for a kebab and then) baklava (even though the town is famous for künefe, which is cheese coated in flaky kadayfe (shredded wheat), baked, then drizzled with sweet syrup before serving), as a warm-up for Gaziantep, apparently the motherland of bakalava. I've been so good, refraining from more than a taste of the flaky little pillows... But its time to unleash the beast!
Chris drools over his Urfa kebab, a lamb skewer grilled with eggplant