The Plains of Mesopotamia
SANLIURFA/HASANKEYF, TURKEY: June 21-24, 2013
Leah: Nothing like arriving at 6:15 a.m. after an overnight bus to have what should have been a ten minute ride from the otogar, or bus station, turn into a three hour debacle. Having reached Sanliurfa, aka “Urfa”, in one piece we made our way—still groggy and half asleep—to the dolmus stands, where we assumed we’d be able to catch one of these minivans into the city center and find our hotel. Since no one spoke English and our Turkish only covers the mere basics, we showed a few gentlemen the name of our hotel, the address and the circled location on the map of Sanliurfa, which also included other reference points (written in Turkish!). Several people made a few hand motions that looked like airplanes and babbled at us in Turkish, but we could only stand there like mute fools and kept pointing to the address and location on a map.
Our situation explained, we were put on another dolmus heading back into town and dropped near a major road, where we were escorted to our hotel doorstep by a lovely Turkish woman who spoke no English but made sure we were safely delivered. Quite the morning! In defense of the locals, we did inadvertently show up at the inter-village buses instead of finding the ones that ran throughout the city, but we also though that our gesticulations and map referencing clearly stated that we wanted to go into the city center. As Steve eloquently put it, that would be like someone arriving at the bus station in San Diego and pointing to downtown (just a few minutes away), only to be put on a bus and driven 30 minutes north to a random airport.
While noshing our kebabs we strolled among the pools teeming with sacred carp and watched children and adults alike hurl handfuls of food into the midst of gleaming, fishy whirlpools. The massive citadel overlooking the city also called to us, so we huffed up the side of the hill to reach it and spent some time in the shade of a few lone Corinthian columns taking in the views, counting the endless mosque minarets and imagining what this place looked like over the centuries as Arabs, Christians, Mongols and the Ottoman Empire each had a go at ruling. No visit would be complete without food, so we sipped delicious slushies as we explored the labyrinthine market stalls, found the best baklava in the city and even enjoyed an al fresco dinner where we pointed to what type of skewered meat we wanted and then it was cooked on hot coals in front of us and served with plenty of lavas bread (just like tortillas for my Mexican hubby!), roasted spicy peppers, tomatoes, grilled onions and salad fixins. Yum!
Our time in Sanliurfa well spent, we were ready to heed Jess’s advice and pay a visit to Hasankeyf, a spectacular ruined settlement on the banks of the Tigris River. The best part about our trip there? We had to pass through the city of Batman to do so. Although we didn’t see any caped crusaders we definitely had more than one chuckle reading the signs along the way. But on to Hasankeyf…The village has been under threat of destruction for years as the government debates constructing the Ilisu Hydroelectric Dam on the Tigris River that would drown the village, bridge and lower part of the historical site. Jess had urged us to check it out while it still exists and we’re so glad we did.
Our daily forays through the sites took in crumbling old mosques, dervish lodges, cave dwellings (where local cows now shelter from the excruciating summer heat), mausoleums, ceramic ovens and more. We even ran into an archaeological team from a local university in Batman (not gonna lie, these guys were quite easy on the eyes); the lead researcher even spoke English and stopped to chat for a bit. He explained how the villagers live in constant fear that they’ll finally receive word that the dam project is a go, but until then research and archaeological teams work as hard as they can to uncover the layers of history and catalog everything before it’s lost forever to a watery grave.