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Urfa's historic bazaars

The Sipahi Bazaar

With its yellow stone houses and desert landscape, Urfa may seem like a colourless land, but its many bazaars reveal a hidden rainbow of delights.

Urhay: City of Water
While the Pool of Abraham is the religious and cultural centre of the city, its commercial heart beats in its historic covered bazaar. Urfa owes its rich cultural mosaic to the many civilisations that have made it their own. The first settlement here is thought to date back 11,000 years. After being a servant to many masters including the Acadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians and Romans, for many years the city was fought over by the Seljuks, Crusaders and Islamic states. In 1516, the city was taken over by the Ottoman Empire. During the War of Independence, Urfa was occupied first by the English and then by the French, achieving independence in 1920. In recognition of the courage displayed by the people of Urfa during this war, the city was renamed 'Şanlıurfa' (Glorious Urfa) in 1984. However, the earliest recorded name of the city is ''Urhay'', as it was known by the Arameans. The Macedonians called it Edessa, but its current name of Urfa is derived from the Syriac ''Urhai'', in turn derived from the Arabic ''Er-Ruha'' meaning ''plentiful waters''.
Urfa is also a land of mystery and mysticism, with many religious legends associated with its name. Some say that God tested the patience of Job in a cave near the city. Others tell of a ruler who was cured by a handkerchief that had wiped the brow of Jesus. This is also said to be the birthplace of Abraham, who was saved by a miracle from being put to death by King Nimrod. Although this rich history permeates every corner of the city, nowhere is it more palpable than in its colourful bazaars.

The Bedesten.
Labyrinthine markets
The bazaars that make up the heart of Old Urfa are actually a huge complex. The labyrinthine passages, streets and gateways that connect the bazaars to one another can be very confusing to the uninitiated, but you soon learn your way around. The main door to the bazaar on Haşimiye Square is like the lid of a trunk filled with treasure. Inside, the bazaar invites you on a journey back in time. In addition to the locals, the bazaar attracts shoppers from the surrounding cities as well day-trippers from Syria.
Urfa's covered bazaar is one of Turkey's finest. Owned by the Rızvaniye and İskenderpaşa foundations, the bazaar has some 50 streets and 3000 employees. The heart of the bazaar is the 16th century Bedesten, also known as Kazzaz Han. Its four main gates open on to Urfa's other bazaars. The covered bazaar is filled with textiles including shawls from Aleppo, Damascus and Iran.

The morning auction
One of the covered bazaar's four gates opens on to the Sipahi Bazaar. Every morning at 10, the bazaar hosts an auction. People bring their carpets, kilims and furs to the auction where they are sold to the highest bidder. The bazaar itself is filled with tiny shops measuring just two metres square that sell mainly carpets, kilims and felt.
If you need a break to build up your energy, head to the Gümrük Han. Built in 1562, the square han features small workshops on its upper level that look down onto a charming courtyard filled with mulberry and plane trees. The town's elderly wile away the hours here playing draughts.
Urfa is deservedly famous for its red pepper, and the İsotçu Bazaar is dedicated to this spicy trade. Indeed, the city has bazaars dedicated to a plethora of items including knives, felt, fur, tents, cauldrons, cotton and armchairs. The most famous of these is the Bakırcılar or Coppersmiths' Bazaar, also known as the Hüsniye Bazaar. Here, you can find handmade copper trays, frying pans, ewers and a variety of gift items.
With their timeless beauty and riches, Urfa's bazaars are a world into themselves.

How to get there
THY has direct flights to Urfa. Onur Air flies to Gaziantep, a 2.5-hour drive from Urfa. THY Tel: 444 08 49. Onur Air Tel: (0212) 662 97 97.

Helpful hints...
* Enjoy a glass of ''mırra'' in the shady Gumruk Han.
* On a hot day, visit the bazaars in the afternoon, touring the city in the morning and evening.
* Cardaklı Kosk Restaurant serves traditional Urfa fare such as aubergine kebap, ''cig kofte'' and ''sıllık tatlısı'': Balıklıgol Karsısı No: 1 Tel: +90 414-217 10 80.
* Stay at the Gulizar Konukevi, a traditional Urfa mansion. Karameydanı Cami Yanı No: 22. Tel: +90 414 215 05 05.

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