Şanlıurfa (Urfa) is an important spiritual center and place of pilgrimage.  Guarded by a sprawling, ancient citadel, the winding lanes of Urfa's sixteenth-century bazaar host spice stalls, stonecutters, and meticulous carpet-weavers using antique keçecilik looms.  In the jumble of streets you'll also find everything from sheepskins and pigeons to jeans and handmade shoes.  According to both the Bible and the Qur’an, Urfa was the birthplace of Abraham.  It was first in Şanlıurfa that early Christians were permitted to worship freely, and that the first churches were constructed openly.  Pagan temples were converted to synagogues, synagogues to churches, churches to mosques, resulting in a uniquely eclectic architecture.  Today Urfa’s population is a surprising mix of Turks, Arabs, and Kurds, with peasants haggling in the traditional bazaar, and young technocrats and engineers sipping coffee in the more modern section of the city.  Urfa enjoys a richly diverse atmosphere, its complex cultural fabric reflecting many customs and traditions.

Harran stands in the desert, with its beehive-dwellings and its great castle, an hour from Urfa.  Reputed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots on earth, Harran’s ruined walls, crumbling fortress, and beehive houses give the town a feeling of deep antiquity.  Traditionally locals lived by farming and smuggling, but the recent irrigation projects of the Atatürk Dam have produced cotton fields where there was once only arid desert.  Harran’s famous beehive houses are built according to a design dating back to the third century BCE, although the present examples were mostly constructed within the last two hundred years. The design evolved partly in response to a lack of wood for roofing and partly because the ruins provided a source of reusable bricks.  These Harran houses are unique in Turkey, but similar buildings are also found in northern Syria.

One of the most mind-binding sights in Turkey or the world is Göbeklitepe, literally “Pot Belly Hill,” roughly eleven kilometers northeast of Urfa.  First unearthed in 1995 and only partially excavated today, Göbeklitepe’s circle of Neolithic megaliths is estimated to date from 10,000 BCE, making the site a staggering 6500 years older than Stonehenge.  The carved symbols on the Göbeklitepe megaliths also predate Sumerian hieroglyphics—traditionally thought to be the basis of written languages—by roughly 8000 years.  A wooden walkway circles the site of concentric circles of massive stone pillars, each roughly six meters in height and weighing up to twenty tons.  The edges are perfectly cut (with precisely what kinds of tools remains a mystery), the carvings (of human figures, plants, and animals) are artistically subtle, and clearly the entire complex was laid out with some (as yet unknown) master plan.  The sheer size and precision of the stonework is simply astounding, and has scholars around the globe rethinking the achievements of Neolithic humans.  Once mistaken for a medieval burial ground of sorts, archaeologists now consider Göbeklitepe to be the world's first place of worship.

Geomagnetic surveys and ground-penetrating radar systems have identified another sixteen ancient megalithic rings buried nearby the surface, and at present only five percent of the entire site has been excavated.  The nature of the human communities that built Göbeklitepe—their cultural forms, technologies, and practices—remain unknown, and only continuing archaeological excavation may fill in the gaping holes in our understanding of this marvelous site.

 Private Tours Turkey