Gaya Travel Magazine team recently travelled to South Eastern Anatolian Region (South East Turkey), which borders Syria to the south and predominantly inhabited by Kurds. The region’s culture is not only Turkish but incorporates Kurdish and Arabic influences. The locals tend to behave more conservatively, yet no less welcoming.
But why should travellers go all the way to South East Turkey? It is because the region is actually full of breathtaking sceneries, culture, heritage, food and shopping! Travellers who have experienced visiting the more established North East and Western parts of Turkey should complement their experience by setting foot in this captivating up-and-coming region.
The following are selected destinations that you should visit when being in South East Turkey:
Being one of the gateways to South East Turkey, Diyarbakir sits along the banks of Tigris, one of the two great rivers (the other being Euphrates) that flow into the Mesopotamian plains. Interestingly, various heritage landmarks found in Diyarbakir such as the Prophet Solomon Mosque and Diyarbakir Great Mosque are made from basalt, rendering them dark grey or black, built in Seljuk architectural style. There are Roman vestiges too like the ramparts of the formerly six-kilometre long Walls of Diyarbakir and the Citadel in the city, denoting Diyarbakir’s cosmopolitan past.
Dining: Enjoy a lavish meze breakfast spread comprising delicious home-made small dishes alongside locally baked bread at Kahvalti Evi & Café (+90 412 228 0818), housed within a remarkably well-preserved Ottoman caravanserai first built in 1547 called Hasan Pasha Hani, now filled with contemporary eateries and shops.
As you head to Shanli Urfa, be sure to swing by Hasankeyf in Batman Province, an hour and a half’s drive from Diyarbakir. Hasankeyf is a quaint settlement along the banks of Tigris River with history spanning over a millennium. It once stood at the first East and West crossroads and became one of the hubs for agriculture and scripture in Mesopotamia. Travellers can witness the sight of Hasankeyf directly from the opposite shore and imagine how majestic the settlement would have been like during its heyday.
Dining: Have a satisfying local lunch at Comce Aile Et Lokantasi (+90 488 213 1776) in Batman.
3. Shanli Urfa
The city of Urfa – now called Shanli Urfa – is renowned as the place where prophet Abraham was thrown into the pyre by the evil King Nimrod for rejecting idol worship. As the story goes, the pyre miraculously cooled and transformed into a lake, while the pyre’s glowing embers turned into fishes. The lake, referred to as Balikligol or Halil ur Rahman pool, including the fishes, are considered sacred and popular among travellers. Balikligol sits at the foot of the imposing Shanli Urfa Fortress, where travellers can climb up to enjoy the panorama of Shanli Urfa city from a higher terrain. Shanli Urfa is also the base for travellers who plan to visit Gobekli Tepe.
Dining: Experience dinner amidst upscale setting while enjoying traditional musical performance at Cevahir Han.
|Another place to visit within Shanli Urfa region: Old Halfeti
The old Halfeti village – around an hour and a half’s drive from Shanli Urfa – is a settlement inundated by a man-made lake due to the construction of Birecik Dam to supply water and hydroelectricity to the surrounding communities. Travellers are recommended to cruise around the lake to see Rumkale (Byzantine Fortress), built in 678 A.D.; caves inhabited by man since 3,000 B.C.; and traces of an old village now submerged, particularly the dramatic yet at the same time melancholic-looking half sunken minaret of an old mosque.
Dining: Have local fish for lunch on one of the floating restaurants tethered along the shores of the man-made lake created by Birecik Dam.
4. Gobekli Tepe
Discovered in 1963 and enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018, Gobekli Tepe is a ground-breaking archaeological site believed to be a temple for funerary ritual and place of gathering during the Neolithic period, confirmed to be as old as 12,000 B.C. to 9,000 B.C., making it the oldest temple in the world, approximately 7,000 years older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge! Even the wheel and writing were not yet invented during the time when the site was built, indicating humans’ capacity to achieve impressive engineering feats way earlier than what was thought before.
Before the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, located around 12 kilometres from the centre of Shanli Urfa, it was once believed that between 12,000 B.C. and 9,000 B.C., during the era called Mesolithic, humans still lived in caves and constantly moved from one place to another. It was then followed by Neolithic, the era when humans started to settle down, begin farming and domesticate animals like dog, cattle, sheep, goat and pig. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe challenged the previous Neolithic timeframe because there are now evidences to show that humans had already been erecting large structures, living in permanent settlements, cultivating crops, domesticating animals, and developing organised society as far back as 14,000 years ago.
The structures of Gobekli Tepe were created entirely based on human effort and power through the use of rudimentary tools made from stone – neither metal tools nor animals were involved in constructing the site considering this was way before the Bronze and Iron Ages. No other site as old as Gobekli Tepe could rival or even match its decorative richness, attesting to Gobekli Tepe builders’ prowess.
To learn more about the impact that Gobekli Tepe has on history, Shanli Urfa Museum, with its valuable artefacts and exhibits, explains how life at Gobekli Tepe was like in ancient times. Travellers can even walk around the exact replica of the main temple of Gobekli Tepe to personally have the sense of the structure’s actual scale and feel. A stone’s throw away from Shanli Urfa Museum stands the 6,000-metre squared Haleplibahce Mosaic Museum where travellers can admire beautiful mosaic designs found on site of what used to be the grounds of a Roman villa dating as early as 4 B.C. to 3 B.C.
|Another place to visit near Gobekli Tepe: Harran
Located 44 kilometres from Shanli Urfa, Harran is the place mentioned in the Bible where prophet Abraham and his family stayed for a few years while journeying to Canaan from Ur. Now just a village, Harran was once a commercial hub straddling on a crossroad of major ancient trading routes. Travellers can explore the ruins of Harran university (claimed to be world’s first Islamic university and the principal centre for translating the classical works from Greek to Syriac and Arabic). Travellers can then proceed to the conical beehive-shaped mud-brick houses nearby, which provide natural thermal comfort to the houses’ inhabitants because the houses’ domed-roofs allow hot air to efficiently circulate upwards, away from the floor – the houses’ building technique had been used in the region for 3,000 years.
5. Mount Nemrut
Situated 85 kilometres from the city of Adiyaman and 180 kilometres from Shanli Urfa, Mount Nemrut is the tomb of Antiochus 1, the half-Armenian (father was of Persian descent), half-Greek (mother was Macedonian) king who ruled from 70 B.C. until 38 B.C. over the kingdom of Kommagene, a swathe of land ensconced between the Seleucid (Eastern) and Roman (Western) empires, today covering northern Gaziantep and Adiyaman. Antiochus I’s tomb reflects the convergence of Eastern and Western cultures resulting from his mixed parentage and Kommagene’s unique geopolitical position.
Mount Nemrut is one of Turkey’s most photogenic UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the presence of the amazing larger-than-life sculptures and statues that infuse Persian, Hellenistic and Anatolian styles. It also one of the best places in Turkey for travellers to catch spectacular sunrise or sunset. The best time to catch sunrise and sunset on Mount Nemrut is between April and October.
Tip: Since Mount Nemrut is located 2,134 metres above sea-level, travellers need to climb up steep steps to get there, so footwear and appropriate clothing are crucial. The weather could get chilly up in the mountains, so bring along jacket, sweater or blanket too to keep warm.
|Other places to visit near Mount Nemrut:
Gaziantep is Turkey’s city of gastronomy, popular for dishes like lahmacun (delicious pizza topped with spicy meat and herbs) and baklava (Turkish pastry made from honey and nuts). The city is also great for shopping because it has bazaars brimming with exotic goods like spices, hand-made soaps and handicrafts.
But one place that travellers should never miss is Zeugma Mosaic Museum to feast their eyes over inspiring ancient mosaic designs that are as old as 2,000 years, salvaged from the ruins of public baths and villas found around the area. During ancient times, Zeugma was home to many villas and public buildings embellished with elegant and timeless mosaic designs as a way for the citizens to flaunt their wealth, contributed by trade and commerce because Zeugma was strategically positioned along the old Silk Road connecting Antioch (modern-day Antakya in Turkey) to China. Lovers of art and design are sure to be in awe of these masterfully-crafted mosaic designs, notably the iconic Gypsy Girl, proof of the ancient local craftsmen’s outstanding workmanship and sense of aesthetics.
Dining: Salivate over the best baklava in the world at Imam Cagdas.
For more information on South East Turkey and Turkey, browse https://hometurkey.com/en, http://turkeytourism.com.my/ and https://www.goturkeytourism.com/destinations-turkey/southeastern-anatolia-region-of-turkey.html.
Gaya Travel Magazine team members express our heartfelt gratitude to Turkish Embassy Tourism & Information Office, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for making our trip to South East Turkey possible.