Legends and Stories

Legends and Stories

The Legend of Prophet Abrahamand Balıklı Lake

It is the most famous legend of Şanlıurfa, which tells the story of how Balıklı Lake, the main attraction centre of the city, was originated. Nemrut was a cruel king. He and his people worshipped idols. Prophet Abraham was against polytheistic faiths and idols. He explainedpeople that idols could not be gods. One day, Abraham went into the palace of King Nemrut and broke all the idols with an axe. Having heard it, King Nemrut got Prophet Abraham arrested and sentenced him to death. He intended to kill him by burning as a deterrent to others. He had a huge fire lit at the point where Balıklı Lake is currently located. He had him catapulted into this fire from the top of the Urfa Castle. However, thanks to God’s miracle, the fire turned into water and the woods into fish as is written in the Quran Allah said “O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham” (Al-Anbiya Sura, Verse: 69). Prophet Abraham fell onto a rose garden, unhurt. Zeliha, a follower of Abraham and daughter of King Nemrut, jumped into the fire, and hence, Ayn-Zeliha (the Eye/Source of Zeliha)Lake –the lake right next to Balıklı Lake- was formed where she fell. This legend is also the reason why local people believe that the two monumental columns located on the Castle and built during the Edessa Kingdom period (240-242 AD) are columns of the catapult with which Abraham was thrown into the fire. As the fish is regarded to be sacred, nobody touches them.


Mırra is a traditional type of bitter coffee associated with Arabic culture in the southeast of Turkey. It is derived from the word “mur” in Arabic language. Due to the long boiling time and hence increased concentration, the coffee gets bitter. It may be preservedcold and reheated before serving. Mırra is a drink worthy of “aga” (person of high rank or social position) because it is expensive and difficult to make. Out of one kilogram of coffee beans, one can make about 4 litres of mırra coffee. Apart from the houses of ‘aga’s, it is served only in special occasions such weddings, ‘mevlud’s etc.

Birdbreeding and Arab Horses of Urfa

Birdbreeding is the most favourite hobby of the people in Urfa. In their words, it is a “bird-enthusiasm”. In fact, by saying “bird”, people in Urfa means “pigeon”. About 60 different pigeon species are bred by bird enthusiasts in Urfa. It is not seen just as a hobby but rather a profession. People who are engaged in this profession, feed and fly pigeons, are called “birdbreeders”.

The Cave where Prophet Abraham was born

Nemrut who lived in Urfa was a cruel and tyrant ruler. He had a dream one night and had this dream interpreted by a soothsayer. He was foretold that a child would be born and he would destroy his religion and kingdom. Upon this dream King Nemrut decided to kill every child born within that year. His soldiers started to execute this order. Upon hearing this tyranny, Nona, the mother of Abraham, hid in a cave at the foothills of Mount Damlacık and gave birth to her son. To avoid raising suspicions, she left her son in the cave and went home. A gazelle breastfed and raised Abraham. He drank water available in the cave. Time went by and soldiers found Abraham in the cave. They took him before King Nemrut. Without having any suspicions, he let Abraham stay with him and raised him. Located at the foothills of the Urfa Castle and adjacent to the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque, this cave today is named as “Mevlid-i Halil (The Holy birth of Abraham) Cave. And its water is believed to be sacred. It is one of the most important attractions of Şanlıurfa in terms of religious tourism.

Water-polo in Şanlıurfa

Water-polo is probably one of the least popular sports in Turkey. However, it was once the most popular one in Şanlıurfa. In the 1960’s, Şanlıurfa had three water-polo teams: Urfaspor, HalksporandBalık Yüzme İhtisas Kulübü. These teams used to make their workouts and matches atBalıklı Lake and Ayn-Zeliha, and they were also the most ambitious water-polo teams of Turkey.There is a legendary water-polo match played at Balıklı Lakein 1967which is still remembered in Urfa:The match played between Urfaspor-Adana Demirsporand the first half ended with the Urfaspor 4-0 ahead, and although the players of Adana Demirspor drank cognac to warm up during the break due to the cold water of Balıklı Lake, they failed to complete the match. Because of the crowd gathered together to watch the match, the bridge over the channels connecting Balıklı Lake to Ayn-Zeliha was collapsed. In those years, Urfa was a home not only to successful water-polo teams but also to national swimmers. In 1959, Halil Doğan and Osman Çiftbudak from Urfa broke national records in 100m breaststroke and butterflystroke; and in 1970, Mehmet Tuz represented Turkey and broke Turkey record in the youth’s 200m backstroke category in Athens in1970.When the municipality banned swimming in Balıklı Lake and Ayz-Zeliha in 1972, the swimming and water-polo adventure ended in Urfa.

Vaulted Tunnels

Climate, beliefs, customs and traditions as well as family structure have been influential in shaping the architectural texture of Şanlıurfa. With its history of 12,000 years, Şanlıurfa has hosted many civilisations and still serves as a home to religious, commercial, civilian, military and social architectural monuments. One of them is vaulted tunnels (kabaltı). The equivalent of the word “tonoz” which is an architectural covering system in Urfa’s architectural vocabulary is “kab”. In Urfa, the phrase “kab ev” means vaulted rooms. That’s why, kabaltı refers to the passageway under the vault.

Vaulted tunnels are architectural structures that are aimed at enabling uninterrupted transportation services and providing protection against extremely hot weathers in summer in narrow streets.

Streets pass through beneath these structures referred to as kabaltı, andthe above is used for housing purposes. Hence, the underneath of these vaulted tunnels are public owned while the above is private owned. Moreover, the vaulted tunnels serve as wind corridors that cool the streets as they provide sheltered area.

As none of the vaulted tunnels in Şanlurfa has scripts, we have no information as to by whom and when they were built. These vaulted tunnels are named after the families occupying the houses above them: Hacı Abo Tunnel, Ninolar Tunnel, Zahterler Tunnel etc. A study conducted in 2009 revealed that there are about 50 vaulted tunnels in Şanlıurfa.

The Epistle of Prophet Jesus to King Abgar and the Holy Towel

According to the Doctrine of Addai written by the writers at the Urfa Academy, King Abgar V of Oshroene (Urfa) was the first Christian ruler in the history. Abgar, who ruled in Urfa between 13-50 AD, suffered from leprosy. He heard that Prophet Jesus is a miraculous person and heals illnesses. However, due to his illness, he had no strength to travel to Jerusalem. King wrote a letter and sent his envoy and the royal painter Ananais to Prophet Jesus. In his letter, he expressed his belief in Prophet Jesus and his intentions to convert to his new religion. He invited Prophet Jesus to Urfa. Ananais delivered the letter to Prophet Jesus and tried to make a portrait of him. But he failed. Having seen this, Prophet Jesus wiped his face on a towel. His face miraculously appeared on the towel. Prophet Jesus blessed Urfa city and gave a letter to Ananais along with the towel he wiped his face. A copy of this letter was found engraved on a stone in Ancient Greek and Syriac languages in a cave located in the Kırkmağara Region of Urfa. The letter is translated as follows:

Throwing coin into Karakoyun Lake

Hacı Yusuf Kâmil Bridge, with the mansions, inns, and shops on it, was built by Hacı Yusuf Kâmil Bey in 1903 upon the request of the Governor Ethem Pasha. Ethem Pasha aimed to develop the city towards the north by building a bridge on Karakoyun Brook. He mentioned his project to Mahmut Nedim Kürkçüoğlu, who was a worthy person of the city. Ethem Pasha offered that if Mahmut Nedim built a bridge and structures on it, he would give the land title to him. Mahmut Nedim Efendi did not accept this offer. This time, Ethem Pasha made the same offer to another worthy person of the city, Hacı Yusuf Kâmil Efendi. However, Ethem Pasha said that Mahmut Nedim Efendi also accepted the offer but he wanted Hacı Yusuf Kâmil to have this honour. Believing in this bluff, Hacı Yusuf Kâmil Efendi said: “Do not mind him. I will make this investment.” He spent 12,000 golds and built the bridge, and the mansion, one inn, and two hotels on it. Located outside of the town in that time, this “unnecessary” investment was humiliated by the people of Urfa, and they started to talk about Hacı Yusuf Kâmil Efendi as “the man who throws his money into Karakoyun”. Since then, in Urfa, when people talk about a person who spends excessively, they say “s/he throws her/his money into Karakoyun”. Today, Hacı Kâmil Bridge is just in the middle of the city, and most of the business and banking operations in Urfa are carried out in this area.

Country of Edessa(1098-1144)

County of Edessa or County of Urfa was one of the Crusader states founded in Urfa region in the 12th century following the First Crusade. It was founded by Baldwin I who later became the ruler of Jerusalem. During the First Crusade, the Crusaders who passed through Anatoliabesieged Antioch cityunder the command of Boemondo from Taranto in October 1097. During the siege, Thoros, theArmenian ruler of Urfa, invited Baldwin to his city and expressed his intentions to make an alliance against the Seljuks. In return for his support, Thoros assigned Baldwin as his heir. However, Baldwin violated his agreement with Thoros, killed him, and founded the Country of Edessa. İmaleddin Zegnid, the founder of Zegnid Dynasty, besiegedUrfa, and after a long siege, he took Urfa from the Crusaders and ended the County of Edessa on 24 December 1144. This victory is accepted as the first major success of Muslims against the Crusaders. After the fall of Urfa, in the anticipation that the other Crusader counties might be in danger, the preparations for the second crusade were initiated in Europe. Taking the advantage of the assassination of İmadeddin Zengi in 1146, Joselin II made a deal with local Christians and took the control of Urfa for a short while. Having heard the fall of Urfa, Aleppo Atabeg Nureddin Mahmud Zengi took action immediately and retook the city, preventing any intentions to revive the Country of Edessa (1146).

Music Culture in Urfa and ‘Sıra’ Nights

One of the inseparable parts of Urfa culture is music. The history of music in Urfa dates back to the period of Christianity. Bardaysan Süryani, bishop of Urfa Academy, is the founder of poem. Later on, bishop Afraim improved this poem. Nsibin Hymns written by Mor (Purple) Afraim were written in Urfa. Hymning in church ceremonies has become an essential habit among Christians who speak Syriac since the beginnings of Christianity. The East has pioneered the West in terms of hymning/singing songs in churches. The West has become the student and mimic of the East in terms of hymns. Aziz Afraim, who stayed as the bishop of Urfa Academy for 38 years, created a chorus consisting of nuns; and he made them sing the hymns he wrote himself, chants, and mutual songs. The contents of these hymns were generally the birth of Jesus, the life of Messiah, the agony of Jesus, his resurrection and ascension. Hymns were generally written with heptameter (syllabic meter with 7) as being 3+4 with pauses.

Symbol of Patience: Prophet Eyyub

Lived in Şanlıurfa, Prophet Eyyub was a very rich person who was engaged in farming and husbandry. Almighty Allah first dispossessed him, then took his children away, and lastly took away his own health in order to test him. Prophet Eyyub fell sick, and his body was covered with wounds. Yet, he did not rebel against Allah, he showed patience and offered thanks to Allah. Thereupon, the archangel Gabriel revealed Allah’s words. Gabriel told him to step on the ground. Prophet Eyyub stepped on and water came from the ground. When he washed his body with this water, his wounds were healed. This water was healing, and when he drank from this water, Prophet Eyyub became healthy again, and got rid of all his problems. Later on, as an award, Allah gave him twice more children and properties. In this way, Prophet Eyyub became the symbol of patience. Today located in Eyyubiye Neighbourhood of Şanlıurfa, Maqam and Well of Prophet Eyyub is one of the mostly visited places for religious tourists. It is believed that the cave where he suffered, and the water well with which he was cleaned and cured are here.

Urfa Academy

The famous vocal artist of Urfa, İbrahim Tatlıses, explains the reason of his lack of education as saying “if there was an Oxford University in Urfa, we could study there!” There was no Oxford in Urfa but an Urfa Academy, which was the Oxford of its time.

Being the centre of both church studies and literature in Upper Mesopotamia for almost 1,000 years, Urfa Academy leaded the churches in Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Assyria, and became a determinant on their fates. Until Nisibis Academy was established in Nusaybin, Urfa Academy was the biggest centre where Assyrian clergy was raised, and it had the biggest role in the creation of the theological mind-set of the Assyrian Church. Psitta – Fsito, which is the public Syriac version of the New Testament, was probably written in Urfa Academy. This version is almost the only text which has been still used by all Assyrian sects.

Züğürt Ağa (Broke Landlord)

Produced in 1985, Züğürt Ağa is one of the most cult movies of Turkish history of the cinema. It has been engraved in the minds of Turkish people with the scene in which Şener Şen sits in front of a board on which it is written “Haraptar Village on Sale”. Social issues such as migration from rural to urban and feudal system were discussed in the movie. Attracting attention with its performers and script, the movie won many movie awards. The movie won “The Best Turkish Movie” award in Istanbul Movie Festival in 1986. In addition, it also won “The Best Supporting Actress”, “The Best Script”, and “The Best Soundtrack” awards in the Golden Orange Awards in 1986.

The Arrival of Adam and Eve to Harran Plain

According to the belief, Harran Plain is the place where human beings first set foot, plow was first used, and oxen were first harnessed to the plough. The holiness of wheat, pomegranate, and rose in the region is because they came from the heaven.

Sin (Moon) Temple of Harran

There had been a really powerful moon cult in Harran for centuries. In Mesopotamia, Moon was the power that ruled the time, and divided it into days, months, and years. It came before the sun. It meant coolness and relief in the burning heat of Mesopotamia. Various meanings were attributed to the phases of moon. In the phase of crescent, it was the symbol of manhood and power because they likened the crescent to the horns of a bull. In the phase of full moon, it was seen more like a pregnant woman.