Like all historical cities, Şanlurfa has its legends too. For local people living there, they are historically true. Also, the lives of prophets who are believed to have lived in the region are associated with many legends. So it goes that it was the Harran Plain where Adam and Eve first stepped on the earth, first ploughing was made here; it is the place where Abraham was born, smashed idols and was then cast into fire. Job endured his illness and was buried here after his death. It is the place where the holy handkerchief of Jesus Christ was kept. David lived here and Şuayp founded the city bearing his name near Şanlıurfa. Moses too is believed to have lived in the city of Sogmatar. This is why it is called the City of Prophets.
The Name “Urfa” and Legend of Nimrod
Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, Urfa had a ruler named Nimrod, a man of extreme cruelty and denier of God.
To reveal his actual weakness, God informs Nimrod that he will be sending mosquitoes, such weak and tiny creatures against him. Nimrod tries to stand against the army of mosquitoes, but unable to do so because of mosquitoes entering into noses, ears and eyes of both soldiers and their horses. Nimrod barely makes it back to his palace where he tightly shuts all doors and windows. Meanwhile, a lame mosquito begs God for giving him a new mission to cover his failure to join the army in time because of his disability. God tells him, “I give you the mission of destroying Nimrod; go find and destroy him!” The lame mosquito finds Nimrod entering his room from a key hole and attacks. It enters from the nose of the ruler and reaches his brain to eat it. Nimrod is helpless and cannot find a way to get rid of his headache. Then he orders for hammers made of felt to pound on his head. Seeing no cure from felt hammers, he orders for wooden ones. As he receives blows of hammer on his head he finally dies while shouting "Vurha, Vurha".
It is said that the name “Urfa” derives from Nimrod’s last words “Vurha, Vurha”
The Legend of Halil-ür Rahman and Ayn zeliha Lake
Nimrod is a ruler terrifying people with his tyranny and cruelty. One day he has his oracles to interpret his dream a night before. He is told that one child yet to be born is destined to kill him. Nimrod then orders the killing of all children born or to be born that year and his soldiers start to execute the order. Sara, the mother of Abraham seeks hide in a cave and gives birth to Abraham in that cave. After leaving her baby in the cave she returns home and the baby was fed there by a female gazelle. After some time, soldiers find Abraham in the cave and take him to Nimrod. Having no child of his own, Nimrod likes Abraham and keeps him in his palace.
Observing Nimrod’s tyranny, his worship to some idols and the use of force over people to do the same, Abraham says these manmade idols cannot be god. But people are too afraid to speak out. In one ritual day while everybody is out there, Abraham gets an axe and enters the section of the palace where idols are kept. He smashes all idols there and leaves the axe on the largest one. People returning back from the ritual are worried and they inform Nimrod about the case. Some of them are at odds with Abraham and point at him as the heretic. While being tried and questioned, Abraham says, “well, as you see the largest idol has the axe, it suggests that he made it.”
Nimrod is furious saying “How could a piece of rock do it by using an axe?” Abraham’s response is clear: “That is exactly what I was trying to show. You expect pieces of rock you shaped to protect you from harm. You worship, sacrifice for them and expect their assistance when you are in trouble.” Caught in surprise for a moment, Nimrod then orders to punish Abraham by casting him into fire.
Wood collected for fire is placed where Halil-ür Rahman lake is now, fire is set and Abraham is thrown into fire from the hill where the castle stands today with a catapult. Nimrod sticks to his original order against all appeals of pardon by his daughter Zeliha. As soon as Abraham falls into fire, the place turns into a lake and a rose garden while pieces of wood turn into fish. The place is later named as Halil-ür Rahman Lake. The Lake Ayn zeliha is the place where Zeliha, Nimrod’s daughter follows Abraham into the fire.
Local people regard these lakes and fish in these lakes as sacred. It is believed that one who touches these fish will be cursed.
Legend of Abgar and Holy Handkerchief
According to this legend, Abgar Ukkama the 5th is the first Christian king in the region. He adopted Christianity shortly after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and had his people adopt it too. The legend goes on as follows:
The King of Edessa, Abgar the 5th, suffers badly from leprosy and one day hears of a man named Jesus who is able to cure the sick. But he could not travel to Jerusalem because of his heavy illness. Abgar then sends a messenger, Hannan, with a letter saying that he, the King of Edessa, believes in him and wants to learn about his new teaching. This messenger, who also happens to be a talented painter, tries to draw a picture of Jesus’ face after he hands him Abgar’s letter but just cannot manage it. Jesus, upon seeing this, washes his face and wipes it on a clean handkerchief given to him. Miraculously, a likeness of Jesus’ face appears on the handkerchief. Hannan returns to Edessa bearing both the letter of Jesus and the handkerchief.
Below is what Jesus Christ says in his letter to Abgar Ukkama the 5th, the King of Edessa:
“How happy you are, Abgar, and your city Edessa who believed in me without seeing me for eternal health you are entitled to. As to your writing about me joining you in your place, you must know that I must return to the Father who sent me after finishing my full mission here. I will send you one of my disciples, Thomas, also known as Adday who shall heal all your sufferings, give you health again, and safeguard your city eternally from enemies. Amen...”
King Abgar, regaining his health after rubbing the handkerchief (Hagion Mandylion) on his face, later had it stretched out and placed in a special niche carved in a wall by the main gate to the city. This holy handkerchief later played an important role both in Christian art and in Byzantine-Muslim relations of the Middle Ages. Meanwhile it became a tradition to make copies of the Hagion Mandylion and present them to visitors of Urfa.
This handkerchief, considered sacred, is kept for a long time. When the region is dominated by Islam, the handkerchief too passes to the Muslim. During a battle with Byzantine, some of the Muslims are taken as captives and Byzantines make the return of captives conditional upon the submission of the handkerchief.
Finally, the handkerchief is given, and the captives are set free.
The well where the handkerchief was dropped is considered sacred by the Christians. Every year on the day the handkerchief fell, people visit this well for various acts of ritual. It is believed that one should go to the well with bare-foot. This anniversary of the falling of the handkerchief is on the 20th day of Easter.
Also according to legend, the columns that were used to catapult Abraham into fire were in fact monuments built in commemoration of this well and the handkerchief. Under one of the two, there is uncountable gold and under the other, there is the water of all seas. If the former is destroyed, Urfa will be flushed in with gold and if the latter is destroyed, Urfa will be flushed in with water.
Legend of Çiğköfte
The history of Çiğköfte goes back to the times of Abraham. According to the legend, when Nimrod seizes all the fuel in the city to burn Abraham and forbids local dwellers to make fire, the people start thinking about a way out. The wife of a hunter, who has just hunted an antelope, prepares the primitive form of raw meatballs known as çiğköfte today with antelope meat, cracked wheat and isot. Her husband, the hunter likes this new, uncooked dish and it is believed that çiğköfte of our day has its origins in those times of bans and associated necessities.
Karakoyun Stream and the Legend of Hızmalı Bridge
Hundreds of years ago there lived a poor mother and her son to the south-eastern part of the town. The son worked by Kasarcı Stream. One day, an itinerant dervish visiting the town keeps watching the young man for few days and says “You seem to be a hardworking and honest person. As far as I see, you’re poor. I’ll return to my country soon. There is a wealthy place. Come with me if you like.” The son takes her mother’s opinion and she allows him to go hoping to see him out of poverty.
The dervish takes the young man to his lodge and teaches him. One day, the young man sees a beautiful girl out it street and falls in love with her. Asking about her, he finds out that she is the daughter of Karakoyunlu ruler. Hopeless, the young man is deeply distressed and noticed by the dervish who said, “Don’t be so sad, we’ll go and ask her father’s consent.” They arrive at the palace next day and tell the ruler the situation. The ruler, although enraged, does not say anything to stay respectful. He tells the dervish he will get his consent for marriage if he brings the gifts and money that he asks for within 40 days.
But it seems impossible to bring all these things together in 40 days. The dervish is quite poor. The young man is sad about the situation and gets weaker and weaker in desperation. Just on the 40th day, he wakes up in the morning and notices mules in the yard loaded with gold and other precious things. He runs to the dervish to give the news and the dervish just smiles. The ruler has now no other choice but letting his daughter marry the young man.
The dervish tells the young man to pray two times before the wedding night and then to pray for him. The groom is so happy and hilarious that he prays but forgets to pray specifically for the dervish. Having forgotten his obligation, next morning he finds himself near Kasarcı stream. It all appears as a dream. He goes to tell his mother what happened. There is nothing they can do but return to their old life.
As to the new bride, not seeing her husband near her when she wakes up, she sends men around to look for him, but no trace is found. By the way, the dervish has gone too. After some time, when her child has grown, she sets out to look for her husband and serve to her obligation of pilgrimage. The city of Urfa is on her way. While having her tent set in front of Samsat Gate she hears people shouting. The stream flowing through the city had overflowed and destroyed many houses and buildings. The princess is determined to save the city from this disaster which is repeated in every two or three years and to invest her pilgrimage fund in this purpose. During rehabilitation works her child starts crying and nobody can soothe him. While the child is passed from hand to hand he suddenly stops crying when in the arms of a young man. So the princess takes this young man out of ditch digging work and assigns him to take care of her child. As these happen, the mother of the young man finds a wedding dress with gold ornaments on. "My son, this dress suits us no more, so let’s give it as a present to that lady who is doing such good things for us”. The dress is taken to the tent of the princess. She recognizes her personal artwork on the dress and orders for the person who brought this present. He is nobody else but the young man she had married. Two lovers eventually meet again and embrace each other.
Meanwhile, the ditch is completed. The stream bed is diverted to avoid any further overflow. A bridge is also constructed on the stream. In order to ensure reconstruction in case of future wear off, the princess has her golden ornament and other precious stones buried under one of the columns of the bridge. From that time on, the stream is known as Karakoyun, referring to the tribe of the bride and the bridge as “Hızmalı” referring to ornaments buried under.
The princess and the young man young lived happily together and were buried near Karakoyun Stream after their death.
Nimrod’s Throne and the Legend of Kazane Village
The peak rising in mountains to the south of Urfa castle is the point where Nimrod lived and had his throne. The top of the hill is rocky but rather smooth.
Nimrod had some rooms carved into rocks so that he could shelter from the heat of summer. The meals are cooked in the Kazane village in Harran Plains, one hour from the hill and were passed from hand to hand and brought to the hill. Because of the abundance of kazans (big pots for cooking) in its kitchens, the village was called “Kazane”.
The Legend of King’s Daughter
Once there was a scholar of religion in Urfa. As he is about to finish his studies, a war breaks out. Like many other young people, this scholar also joins the war as a volunteer. During the war, he is taken as captive. The non-Muslim fighters take the captives to their country and they kill them one by one since they see no use in letting them stay alive. Just when it’s this scholar’s turn, a messenger comes and asks for a captive to give service to the daughter of the king. So the guards respond by giving the last captive in their hands, which was the scholar.
The scholar is now at the service of king’s daughter, who dresses, rides horse and uses sword just like a man. She is the only child of her father.
She leaves the palace early in the morning and comes back late at night. The scholar finishes his job before she comes in and retires to his room. After a long period of time, one night, while cleaning the princess’s room, the scholar starts to recite the Quran by heart. This recital excites the scholar; he remembers his country and family. So he stops working and recites the Quran, crying. The princess comes into the room and sees him in this state. When she asks him about it, the scholar tells the princess about Islam. Upon grasping the merits and truthfulness of this religion, the princess converts to Islam. From then on the princess receives Islamic knowledge from the scholar every night. She learns about Islam and performs the requirements of the religion. This goes on for couple of years.
One evening, the king’s daughter comes home early. When the scholar asks her why she is so early, she answers “I think I am going to die soon. According to traditions, the dead are buried with all their gold and jewellery. Before I die, I’ll tell my father to set you free. At night you come and open my grave. There is nobody else who knows I am a Moslem. You cannot wash me as you’re intimate to me, so you must perform a tayammum and namaz for me. Then, you should take the jewellery and gold and leave.” She indeed dies a few days later. They bury her according to their traditions. Upon her daughter’s wish, the king sets the scholar free. The scholar comes at night to open the grave but finds in surprise that the dead body does not look like her. Taking a closer look, he notices that the body is nobody else but his teacher back home. He takes the jewellery and gold, cover the grave and leaves for home.
The scholar, amazed at what he had seen, looks for his teacher, but he learns that he died on the same day as when the king’s daughter did. He finds out where his tomb is and opens the tomb one night. To his amazement, he sees that the King’s daughter is lying in the teacher’s tomb. To solve the puzzle, he inquires into the life of the teacher, asking everyone about him. They all say that the teacher was a great, wise person. The scholar, unsatisfied with these answers, goes to the wife of the teacher. The wife, hesitant at the beginning cannot resist scholar’s insistence and explains what the case really is: “He was a good person in every way, but he wouldn’t bother to wash after sexual intercourse. He used to say the Christians don’t have to do this, as if he liked their tradition.” Upon hearing this, the scholar understands how God swopped the tombs of a teacher who approved the traditions of non-Muslims and a good Muslim who managed to be so among many non-Muslims.
The tomb of Seyyid Hacı Ali, son of Seyyid Maksud in Harran Gate Cemetery dating back to 1594 is associated with this legend and thus known as the tomb of “King’s Daughter”.
The legend of Tılfındır Hill
The city of Urfa was taken from the Byzantine without fight in the year 639 by the Islamic army of İyad b. Ganem.
According to the legend, when the army entered the city, everyone was on fast since it was the holy month of Ramadan. The army camped on this hill and soldiers opened their fast there. After that, the hill is known as “Tell Futur” in Arabic which means the evening meal for finishing the fast. This name comes up to our times as “Tılfındır”.