Fez Bus Tour - Sanliurfa

Sanliurfa Travel Blog

 › entry 9 of 10 › view all entries

We made it to this city the same day as Nemrut, so our day began at 4AM and continued til almost 9PM. I was exhausted and hot, wishing only to return to a (different) hotel for a mid-afternoon siesta but didn’t know when or if that would happen. Once again, there was a complete lack of communication about where we were going. I only knew that Urfa was listed on our basic itinerary, but really had no expectations or knowledge of what we would see there.

We arrived just in time for lunch, (although since our day started at 4, it seemed like it should have been dinner.) It was immediately apparent that we had entered another Turkey than the one we were so familiar with. I noticed that we were the only tourists in town and that the people didn’t seem too accustomed to visitors because they were staring at us like we had just walked off a UFO. Little boys congregated around us as our guide gave us a bit of history about the place. When we walked through a city square to the restaurant, they followed us, staring and pointing. A couple times, our tour guide had to shoo them away as if they were flies buzzing around our heads.

As we made our way through the twisting streets, I had the feeling that we had really made it to the Middle East. The town looked like it was the movie set from some biblical epic: the women in full, black veils glaring at my semi-exposed arms, the men in traditional Muslim dress and hats, the blacksmiths in the bazaar working over open flames and the fact that no one was speaking a word of English to us in the markets. The population is, in fact. made up of not only Turks, but many Arabs (we were only a few miles from the Syrian border) and Kurds.

In Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar has a very exotic, Middle Eastern quality to it, but is simultaneously a very modern, cosmopolitan place. Every person who works there knows some basic English phrases, and usually a handful of other languages. But this market, while similar to the Grand Bazaar, had a totally different vibe. The stares we got from the locals made me feel really nervous and out of place. Despite the 40C heat, I had wrapped my scarf around my neck and my upper arms, yet still felt very exposed (and also increasingly warm.)

SanliUrfa is a very holy place for Muslims. It is the site of a cave that is reportedly the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, and a spring inside is supposed to have miraculous properties. And it was even open to visitors, so of course we had to go inside. Because it is a “holy” place, Jon and I had to be segregated as if we were going to mosque so I went through the special women’s entrance. Apparently, I was not dressed appropriately, despite the scarf covering my head, chest and upper arms. The woman at the entrance handed me a long overcoat which covered my whole arms and went down to my feet. Now, even more overheated than before, I entered the cave. It was quite crowded inside with many women kneeling on the ground in intense prayers. I felt uncomfortable for watching them in such a private moment, and also was sweating from the heat and the crowd, so I quickly left the place.

It was now about mid-afternoon but our extended day wasn’t over yet. I was happy to leave SanliUrfa and remove the sweaty scarf from my head and neck, but sad that my camera batteries had not cooperated with me and that I would have no pictures to remind me of this uncomfortably beautiful place.

Our final stop before the much-needed return to the hotel, was a place called Harran. Harran is another border town, where we could actually see land that was part of Syria. Our guide pointed out a hill in the distance, said that we were only about 10 miles away, and that the hill on the edge of the horizon was Syria. I thought immediately of the scene from Lord of the Rings, with Frodo and Sam looking over the horizon onto Mordor and felt an irrational sense of foreboding. I half-expected to see the Eye of Sauron searching us out, or sudden lightning strikes on the hill as the Syrians carried out their evil deeds. But there wasn’t any of that and I was a little disappointed. And actually jealous as two Australians on our tour told us they were going to Damascus the next day. If only we weren’t ugly Americans…

But Harran is better known as the home of the beehive houses, than as a lookout point to the Gates of Mordor. These houses are traditional mud-brick, adobe houses like those that have been built for thousands of years. Our tour took us to one where a family were living who opened their home to visitors. It was another surreal experience. Here, the family members spoke perfect English and gave us tours around their home. Usually I would avoid being led around by a child, but they were so sweet that I let them show me around, and a good way for them to practice their English. Only to find out at the end of my minute-long “tour” that they wanted a tip for it! So much for just being sweet kids and trying to improve their language skills.

It is difficult to describe this place, both the physical aspect and also the people there. It was like one of the beehive houses, but much bigger. Inside there were many traditional costumes, which seemed to be there only for tourists to try on. One of them got Jon into this sheik outfit (which luckily my camera came back to life for!) and didn’t even ask for a tip.

Mostly, we just hung around and talked to the large family. There was a hint of sadness around them, but I can’t place exactly what was the cause. Maybe that to support themselves, they have to invite tourists to invade their home. Maybe the women who I spoke to, seemed to have no real hopes or dreams for the future. They seemed to be stuck in this time and place with no hope of escaping. There was a real dream-like quality to this place where I can’t separate what actually happened from what could have been a surreal daydream I had while napping on the bus. Maybe we ventured closer to the land of Mordor or Oz than I thought.

Finally, we left this strange place to watch the sun set over the hills. This single day that seemed to be at least three was exhausting, exhilarating, terrifying, wondrous, uncomfortable, but absolutely unforgettable.

We still had the long journey back to Istanbul, via Cappadocia, via Ankara, with a growing sadness that our time in this crazy and fascinating country was almost over. After six amazing months of living as an expat in Istanbul and this last month of traveling around the country, I still wasn't ready for it to end.

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photo by: Deats