The Bazaars of Old Urfa

Turkey > Urfa

February 2013

Urfa, located in the Middle Euphrates in south-eastern Anatolia, is said to be one of the 18 settlements founded by Prophet Noah after the Big Flood, and it has flourished ever since. Located along the ancient Silk Road, the Ottomans built a major caravanserai in the 16th c. which has now become the market of old Urfa. It’s one of the best-preserved markets in Turkey, and a very delightful place to explore and observe. 

After a short midday rest, we are ready to explore the bazaars of old Urfa. The hotel manager (also owner, we are told)  is a very friendly guy full of tips. Well, almost everybody we have met here are friendly and helpful — the Kurds leave a very good impression.

Quite a nice hotel this, the Edessa, which incidentally is the old name for Urfa, from centuries BC. Informal sort of old lodging, which we like very much.

Next to the hotel, a shop sells these curious things. Then we realise they are dried vegetables, and the friendly hotel manager comes out to explain things.

We stroll to the east, and the place turns modern which I don’t fancy, so we turn right into the market area.

It’s a fine afternoon and the lunch crowd is still around.

There’s a square full of people tucking in some great-looking stuff, so we decide to join in.

A table in the shade of the only tree around does not seem popular among these sun-lovers, but hey, it suits us fine even in this cold weather. A young Kurdish lad, who just fled the fighting in neighbouring Aleppo (Syria), is our waiter. Speaking good English, he says he’s raring to return to Syria to fight the government. Good luck I say to him, the Syrian border is just 50km to the south.

They only serve this — meat on top of bread and some fresh vegies and chillies. Hers is chicken …

… while mine is lamb, soon to be nicely buried underneath some fresh mints and onions, and a burnt big chilli.

With a bit of effort we roll them up tightly, clasp them with both our hands, and start munching — it is so heavenly! Well, we actually learn how to eat this after watching our neighbours. Urfa is very well known for its spicy kebabs, you just have to try them.

Behind our open-air eatery, we find an entrance to Gumruk Han, the bazaars of old Urfa. Initially built in the 16th century as a caravanserai — a roadside inn for long-distance travellers and traders to rest, trade goods and information, and to gossip. At that time the Ottoman had just chased the Mongols out of Urfa.

Now it’s a network of interconnected buildings, each with its own history such as this one.

Imagine this in the old days — rooms for the merchants to rest upstairs, their animals and goods below.

Another piece of history in Gumruk Han.

There’s a mosque in the middle of the whole maze of alleyways and corridors. This caravanserai is like a self-contained township.

This mosque is said to be on the site of the first mosque in Urfa, built when the Muslims took it from the Byzantines in 640 AD. This was during the era of Caliph Omar al-Khattab.

Wandering the various bazaars is very interesting, for e.g., there’s a section full of pigeons. I have no clue why the Kurds are so obsessed with pigeons. They cramp the little shops to seriously scuritinise the pigeons on display.

There’s a whole area selling dried fruits and nuts. The good thing about these bazaars is that there’s no pressure to buy. The shopkeepers just hang around, not bugging you at all, so you can take all the time you want.

Another corridor is full of tobacco vendors — heavenly for smokers! The odours of various types of tobaccos are somewhat sweet and intoxicating, which are sold in huge plastic bags.

This is the bronzeware corner — artisans and artists creating works of art, with sounds of tapping and knocking here and there. Nice cool ambience, save for the subdued noise of the workers.

Hard at work on silverware pieces, these craftsmen gently tap the metals with their tools. I can appreciate this artistic work, though I wouldn’t collect them.

Sometimes I’m tempted, but I wouldn’t want to clutter our minimalist house with things like these.

There’s a small area specialising in anything knives. I’ve never seen such a huge variety of sharp metals! Again no pressure to buy, the vendor doesn’t even raise his eyebrows.

We end up in another caravanserai original. This must have been a very comfy inn for those tired travellers of several centuries ago.

Sometimes we are not even sure where we are … but it’s not difficult finding one’s way in this maze of bazaars, as long as one has a good sense of orientation. The minarets of mosques also help.

And of course, a whole lane of spices, chillies and pepper flakes, all Urfa’s icons.

This is one of the main entrances of Gumruk Han, easily 400+ years old.

A typical caravanserai building architecture. Urfa was part of the ancient Silk Road, so one can imagine how busy this place was back then.

It is said this market in old Urfa is one of the best-preserved in the whole of Turkey. I tend to agree.

And yet again, a shop selling all the great stuff of Urfa!

We finally leave Gumruk Han for a stroll towards the hill where Urfa Castle is, or what remains of it is, via a series of narrow uphill lanes.



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