Day 32 (2): Kurds, Carps and Künefe
Sanliurfa Travel Blog› entry 45 of 260 › view all entries
May 7th, 2010 – by: Biedjee
Since Kahta is only a small town, it is generally only visited by small buses. So for the first time during my stay in Turkey I took a long distance dolmuş (minibus). The dolmuş was packed. There was mother travelling with seven children and I guess kids travel for free, or reduced tariff, so as the seats filled up the kids were piled on top of each other or even on the laps of other passengers! I must say they were really really nice and well-behaved kids though. And they seemed very interested in that bald blue-eyed giant that was sitting (sleeping...) in the centre seat.
A few hours later I arrived at the very new otogar of Şanliurfa, or Urfa as this city is generally known. Urfa is one of the oldest cities in the world.
The city changed its name to Şanliurfa, which means Glorious Urfa, in 1984. Once of the reasons for this was because nearby rival town Antep had changed its name to Gaziantep (Heroic Antep) in 1973 and for 11 years inhabitants of Urfa felt somewhat inferior to their neighbours.
Well, that matter is resolved now, at least.
As if Urfa really needs a name change to overcome an inferiority complex. I haven't seen Gaziantep, and I'm sure it is a nice place as well, but Şanliurfa has a few thousand more years of history to brag about not to mention the fact that Urfa was the birthplace of one of the most famous biblical characters: Abraham.
It was here that Abraham was born and the fortress where he was imprisoned by King Nimrod is still standing in the middle of the city at the top of a hill. Legend has it that Abraham was to be burned alive, but God intervened and turned the fire into water and the coals into fish. Abraham was hurled through the air from the hill but landed softly on a bed of roses.
The area around the fortress has become an important pilgrimage site for Muslims. Several mosques have been erected here and the area around the mosques has been turned into a very nice park. Two rectangular pools are filled with holy carp, said to be the descendants of the fish God created from the burning coals. These are probably the most spoilt carp in the world, grown fat on the feed that hundreds of pilgrims throw in the water each day and protected by holy laws.
The park also has a large rose garden, which, you guessed it, symbolises the place where Abraham landed.
I was in luck: It was Friday today, the holy day in Islam, so I could see the park full of people enjoying their day off, having a picnic in the park, enjoying a tea and nargileh at one of the many tea gardens.
I was unlucky: It was Friday today, the holy day in Islam, so I could not visit the mosques and pilgrimage sites as prayers were being held here. Instead I just walked around them.
I was approached by a young man named Ismail, who started talking to me in near-flawless English. I was cautious, I had been long enough in Turkey to know that talking to such people usually ends up costing money.
I liked the distinction, but more importantly, I liked his company. He was very knowledgeable and able to give me much much more details about the sights than my Lonely Planet would. He was Kurdish, and I was quite interested in hearing the viewpoint of a Turkish Kurd, now that the PKK has been all but disbanded and an autonomous Kurdish state has been created in Iraq (though Kurds from Turkey, Syria and Iran are not able to settle there, at least, not yet)
So I let him guide me around for a few hours.
It immediately paid off, because he knew when prayer had finished and I, the infidel, would be allowed inside the mosques.
The mosques were interesting structures, built in a much more Middle-Eastern style than the Ottoman style found all over Turkey. But more interesting was the small shrine that was built at the site where Abraham was allegedly born. A well had sprung on this site, and holy water was now flowing out of a modern tap. Here people came to fill up bottles or simply drink from the tap in order to cure whatever ailments they had.
Well, my biggest ailment at the moment was that I had trouble coping with the intense heat. This morning I had been standing in the freezing cold on the top of mount Nemrut, and now I was sweating it out in 35 degrees.
Inside the old city lies an old caravansary, the Gümrük Hanı. Back in the days of the Silk Road this was where silk and gossip was traded amongst tradesmen. These days this is the place where çay and gossip is traded amongst old men, usually while enjoying a game of backgammon or dominoes.
We had a delicious little lunch of Kurdish köfte dürüm (like Turkish, only much more spicy), with a glass of ayran (a sort of salty buttermilk). During lunch Ismail taught me a Kurdish board game, which was pretty similar to chequers, but played with pawns.
After lunch he guided me through the maze of the bazaar and the old city and showed me a few old synagoges and an Armenian church. Although there are still many Jews and even some Christians living in Şanliurfa, the synagogues and churches have long since been converted to mosques.
What makes Urfa very interesting and quite unique here in the Middle East, is that there are large communities of Kurds, Turks, Jews and Arabs all living together in relative harmony.
In the Lonely Planet I had seen a recommendation for a baklava shop, which gave me an idea. Why not buy some of these sweets to have in the bus to Diyarbakır later tonight? Bad idea! When I mentioned baklava to Ismail he told me that baklava is not a speciality in Urfa, küneve is! I then realised that baklava is indeed a speciality of nearby rival town Antep and that I must have offended him. He mockingly agreed to show me where the baklava store was, but all the while kept on sulking and muttering that künefe was better and that I would regret not trying the künefe. But I didn't want any künefe! I'd had great, freshly baked künefe for dessert last night and today I wanted some pieces of baklava to take as snacks in the bus.
He wouldn't shut up about the künefe though, so after a while I gave up. Fine, you win, let's have some künefe. Well, he hadn't lied. The künefe was indeed delicious. And rich. So rich and delicious that afterwards I did not want to think about buying any baklava any more. My belly was full.
After the künefe experience I said my goodbyes to Ismail, gave him a hefty tip, which he had more than deserved. I a dolmuş back to the otogar to hop on my bus to Diyarbakır.
The trip to Diyarbakır was another three hours and I arrived well after dark. Normally I don't like arriving somewhere when it is dark. These Turkish cities are difficult enough to get your bearings and taking a city bus from the otogar to your hotel, driving through unlit streets, is not making things easier.
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