Was Prophet Abraham born in a cave in Şanlıurfa in Turkey?

If you’ve read anything from or about the biggest religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, you know Prophet Abraham is the father of all three.

According to the religious texts, he was born in “Ur of the Chaldees“. What is this mysterious place?

It turns out it may very well be Urfa in Southeast Turkey. I visited the cave in the center of the city where believers claim he was born. Let’s see if Abraham was born in a cave in Sanliurfa!

The city’s name was Urfa until 1921 when it was rewarded the title Şanlı, meaning ‘glorious”, because it resisted the French in the Turkish War of Independence.

The 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 there (purported to be King Nimrod) had a dream that a baby was 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.

Sanliurfa Cave where Prophet Abraham was born
That’s how the cave looks nowadays.

The Cave

Muslims strongly believe that this is indeed the cave. They’ve built the Dergah 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 entrance to Abraham's Cave in Sanliurfa
Be careful not to go in the wrong zone!

The cave 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.

Prophet Abraham Cave Entrance
Mind your head!

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 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 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.

Balikgol, or Fish Lake.

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.

Fish in Balikgol
These are some well-fed fish!

Ayn Zeliha Lake

Nearby you can see another lake with big, holy fish – Ayn Zeliha Gölü. This was 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.

Ayn Zelika Lake
Ayn Zeliha Lake

So, was Abraham born in a cave in Sanliurfa?

As with anything else about history and religion, the answer is a resounding maybe.

With all the sites and legends coming together, Sanliurfa is a frontrunner candidate for Abraham’s birthplace.

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.

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