By Aysegul Guneysu | Sphere Magazine
My first ever opportunity to visit Sanliurfa (Urfa) was for attending the Halil Ibrahim Festival. Known as the “City of Prophets”, every corner of this city is knitted with historical and natural beauties. And my most passionate destination in Urfa was Halfeti – a paradise on and under water.
80 percent of Halfeti was left under the waters of the Birecik Dam at the beginning of 2000s. The remaining 20 percent became a great attraction for tourists.
Halfeti is 112 km away from Urfa city center and 105 km away from Gaziantep. Therefore, although it is governmentally connected to Urfa province, it has more social and economic ties with Gaziantep. It is very easy to reach Halfeti from both cities by highway.
It is possible to see pistachio trees and vineyards on the soil covered with red while driving from Urfa to Halfeti. Although pistachio is known by the name of Gaziantep city, it’s being bred in Urfa and its districts too. As we continue our path taking the sweet winds of autumn, we are moving towards the depths of this lost city, passing through the new city center established on a high hill.
SLOW CITY – CITTASLOW
As we descend from the hill, the afternoon sun glows on the Euphrates River (Firat), and the beauty of Halfeti calls us. The district, which is among “Cittaslow” cities, really pays the due of this title. From the moment you stepped into Halfeti, a calmness surrounds you. Some of the houses built with stone architecture along the coast are not used by the owners, while the older ones are abandoned.
Losing a large part of the city by dam waters, locals had troubles and difficulties at the beginning as the houses and agricultural lands are gone. However, as many people started coming to the region to see the lost city, people put tourism instead of agriculture. Now, they seem happy.
In the restaurants along the coast, special flavors and kebab varieties are being offered to visitors. Special pastries prepared by locals are also a good alternative.
TOURS ON DAM RESERVE
The most beautiful part of the time you spent at Halfeti is the boat trips on the dam lake. You can see the flooded houses, the famous half-sunken minaret (which became the symbol of Halfeti) and many other characteristic stone houses during the cruise.
There are small, simple but intimate cafeterias run by locals amongst the rocks and you can drink famous tea of the region during the excursion. These little cafeterias are also ideal for a little breathing and to listen to stories from the first mouth about the region.
THE BLACK ROSE
The region’s black rose (Karagul) is very famous. Black roses are sold in pots on the roadside and can be easily raised at home too. If you live close to the Mediterranean climate, you can also breed in your garden. A television series called “Karagul” was also filmed in the region.