Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sanliurfa - Home of Armenian Alphabet

On June 6, we drove from Gaziantep east to Sanliurfa, a modestly short drive in comparison to those we were scheduled to take in the coming days.

Sanliurfa is a town that has historic signficance to both Muslims and Armenians. This city, comprised of both old and new sections, was once the home to thousands of Armenians until the genocide of 1915. Its old section is crowned with the ruins of a magnificant Roman castle. At its base is the famous Holy Lake, which is the site where Muslims believe that the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) was thrown into the fire for destroying King Nemrut's statues (pagan statues). The fire turned into a lake filled with carp, saving Abraham. Today the lake is bordered on one side by a Mosque and monastery for muslim clerics, and on the other by a park with restaurants shaded by trees. Towering above is the castle. Muslims make pilgrimage to this lake regularly, and on this day it was crowded with school children, and families, feeding the carp and enjoying the warm day.

The castle and its surrounding area are known to Armenians as the birthplace of the Armenian Alphabet. Sourp Mesrop Mashdotz traveled here with some of his students, and here he had the vision which led him to create what is known today as the Armenian alphabet of approximately 32 letters. In later years, a few additional letters were added for additional sounds, which created the alphabet as we know it today.

Of course, not to miss our daily climb we climbed up a steep slope of stone stairs (!!!) to reach the top of the castle and its ruins. This day was a huge challenge for me, since the castle towered over the city at a height that would intimidate anyone with a fear of heights. The only thing that kept me going to the top was the knowledge that I would never be able to turn around (the stairs had no railing protecting the edge from a fall) and go back down! Once at the top, we had a great panoramic view of the city, and the ruins. Ah, but the surprise that awaited us was best kept a secret until we needed to descend to the bottom. This time, we did not have to walk down a slippery set of exterior steps with a 2 foot rise. Instead, we had to climb down an even steeper, and narrower, set of stairs descending down through cave that was about 3 feet wide, pale light, and winding. You can see an example of one of the flights in that cave in my earlier blog on "challenges". Not to be outdone by those steps, and aching as we were, we then went for a walk around the nearby bazaar (never miss a bargain if you can help it!).

Little evidence of Armenian life exists in Sanliurfa, other than the villages surrounding the castle, which we know were once the homes of Armenian families.

Our day ended with a nap at our beautiful hotel - the El Ruha - that was across the street from the mosque/lake/castle. Then, we drove to a local kebab (again!) house, were we ate dinner with cats and rabbits running around looking for a drop of food. After a nice sleep, we woke up early, had our usual buffet breakfast, and piled everything into the van for the long drive to Mardin.

Today -- the stairs were our challenge, and undoubtedly every one of us used muscles we never knew we had -- those muscles reminded us of the torture we inflicted on them for at least the next two days.

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