In Abraham’s time, Urfa was ruled by Nimrod, a pagan king famed for his skill as a builder. Nimrod ruled from a castle high above the city -its twin pillars still stand imposingly over the Balikligol holy sites. Nimrod dreamed that a child born in his kingdom would come to end his rule, and so he ordered all male children born that year to be killed. Abraham’s mother managed to hide her pregnancy, and she gave birth to Abraham in a cave near the foot of Nimrod’s castle Here Abraham passed his first seven years in hiding, after which he emerged and joined the life of the city.

One day, Nimrod held a festival outside of Urfa, and all of the city’s inhabitants attended. With the city empty, Abraham descended on Nimrod’s idols, and destroyed all but the largest one. When Nimrod returned, he was enraged. He asked Abraham who was responsible for the idols’ destruction. Abraham feigned ignorance, and suggested that Nimrod ask the largest of the statues; perhaps it had destroyed the others out of jealousy. Nimrod retorted that it was only a statue, and could do no such thing of its own power. Abraham replied: “You yourself have said it. If the statue is powerless over the other statues, what power can it have over you?”

Infuriated, Nimrod prepared a great fire on the ground below. He made a catapult of the castle’s twin pillars, and from there cast Abraham to the ground. But God saved Abraham: where he landed, a spring gushed forth (the spring is currently inside the Halil ul-Rahman mosque), and the firewood was transformed into fish—the sacred carp that swim in the Fish Lakes today.

Urfa is not the only place where Muslims claim Abraham was born. Other traditions locate the place in Ur, in present-day Iraq, the same place that many Christians claim is Ur of the Chaldeans as mentioned in the Bible. In Urfa, the story fascinates in its richly layered quality, which incorporates the varied traditions of those who lived and worshipped here over the past two millennia, including pagan, Christian, Jewish and Muslim sources.

Along the Abraham Path in the:

URFA REGION


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Sites in the Urfa Region:

Urfa Markets

It’s a pleasure to get lost in the twisting maze of Urfa’s historical market, bursting with colorful fabrics, exotic spices, and artisan copperware while remarkably free from sales pressure.

Fish Lakes

Streams of bubbling water laden with sacred carp flow through the Fish Lakes, a soothing oasis of pools and gardens beckoning for a pleasurable stroll, centered around a dramatic legend about Abraham.

Gobekli Tepe

Move over, Stonehenge! Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest temple at 12,000 years, baffles historians and turns theories about human history on their heads with its mysterious circles of megalithic pillars carved with images of animals.

Halil-ur Rahman Mosque

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The Halil-ur Rahman Mosque, located on the southwest corner of the Lake of Abraham, is one of the key holy sites in Urfa, built on the site where Abraham was cast down by Nimrod and saved by a pool of water.

Rizvaniye Mosque

This is likely the most iconic, most photographed site in Urfa, perched regally along the fish lake of Abraham.