You’ve probably already googled it and got the answer “Ur of the Chaldees“. I did so too when I heard that Abraham, the patriarch of three of the biggest religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, had his first obstacles in life in Urfa, Southeast Turkey.
Moreover, Prophet Abraham might’ve been born in a cave there! Is Şanlıurfa this mysterious place from the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Quran? Let’s see!
The city’s name was Urfa until 1921 when it was rewarded the title Şanlı, meaning ‘glorious”, because of its struggle against the French in the Turkish War of Independence.
Today many visitors come to Şanlıurfa to pray at the cave where Abraham was born. Or so they believe. Let’s explore this legend!
Ur of the Chaldees you say? Most scholars say it’s a city in southern Iraq, but Islamic texts claim it’s smack dab in the middle of Urfa. As the story goes, the king at that (purported to be King Nimrod) had a dream that a baby is about to be born that will grow to put an end to idolatry.
So he did the most logical stuff – ended idolatry himself. Ha! No. He ordered that all babies be killed.
Now imagine you are an expecting mother. You will conceal your pregnancy and hide. That’s what Amathlai, the future mother of Prophet Abraham did. She hid in a cave, which may or may not be the one in Urfa.
Muslims strongly believe that this is indeed the cave. They’ve built a mosque complex around it, which you can visit – it’s open almost all the time.
The entrance to the cave is free as it is a religious pilgrimage site. The entrance is split in two – male and female – and the female part is at least 3 times larger. Go figure.
The site itself is quite small and as if to add to its eligibility as Abraham’s birth cave, one has to go through an unnecessary small door before the actual cave.
Balikgol, the Fish Lake
That’s not all there is in Urfa about Abraham. See, the Patriarch had beef with King Nimrod. In some versions, they just have a fight and Abraham wins, wits against strength. In other versions, the two just have a talk over tea and cookies as to whose religious beliefs make more sense.
In the Islamic tradition, Abraham was captured and set on fire by Nimrod. Then God cooled down the fire enough that he survived and in his place appeared a lake. A very pretty lake with lots of carp fish.
The lake is just 3 minutes away from the cave, making the whole thing just a bit too suspicious. Anyway, the fish in the lake are sacred. Feeding them brings the giver luck (you can buy fish food for 1 or 2 lira at the kiosks near the lake) whereas killing or eating them would make the no-longer-hungry go blind.
Ayn Zeliha Lake
Nearby you can see another lake with big, holy fish – Ayn Zeliha Gölü. This was actually King Nimrod’s daughter, who was deeply in love with Prophet Abraham. When Nimrod set Abraham on fire, Zeliha, in true Juliet fashion jumped into another nearby fire. God transformed that fire into water and saved Zeliha.
And that’s how that very close (100 m. max) lake came to be.
What else to see in Sanliurfa
The whole complex that hosts the cave and both lakes is at the foot of the Urfa Fortress. There are signs that climbing the stairs up is forbidden, but I saw plenty of people that had disregarded that so I went ahead. It’s about 200 steps up, which may be tiring in the heat. There isn’t much at the top apart from good views of the city.
Get down from the western side and you will be really close to the Archeological Museum, together with the Mosaics Museum. The entrance fee is 50 TL for both together and you will have access to some well-preserved mosaics and sculptures from the Roman and Medieval periods.
Opposite the museums, towards the city, is the ancient necropolis. Kizilkoyun Necropolis is on the west side of the old city walls, entrance is free and some of the chambers are very well preserved.
How to get to Urfa and where to go next
Getting to Şanlıurfa is easy with all the public transportation in Turkey and you must include the city on your road trip to Turkey!
If you’re in Urfa for another day, consider doing a day trip to Göbekli Tepe, the oldest temple in the world.
From Urfa, you might want to visit either Gaziantep, the gastronomical capital of Turkey, or Diyarbakir, the Kurdish-majority city with one of the longest fortress walls in the world.
In conclusion, the idea of Abraham’s birth in a cave in Sanliurfa, Turkey presents an intriguing historical and cultural perspective. Delve into this captivating theory to gain a deeper understanding of Abraham’s origins and the rich heritage of the region.
That’s you done with the main sites in Urfa! Head to the bazaar and get something tasty!