Published: September 20th 2011September 15th 2011
Urfa & surrounds
Woke early in our lovely rooftop bed & listened as the village slowly awoke. Animals, people starting to stir. Halil and Pero were up early, moving around the house and yard, feeding cleaning, preparing. Had cay sitting out the front and then it was time for Pero to make the bread. In the storeroom she measured out the flour into a plastic tub, added what may have been salt, added water and began to skillfully mix then knead the dough. The kneading is quite a vigorous activity, kneeling on the ground, using the knuckles with body weight behind - better than a workout at the gym I think! After that she went off across the yard and came back with an armful of sticks. She set out everything she needed - a hotplate on little legs, a canvas sheet with flour and a low table, the sticks and dried cow poo near the fire, the dough on the other side. Then she sat down on a mat, spread out the sheet with the flour on the ground in front of her with one end up over her lap, stood the little table over the top, set the fire going beside her with twigs and then cow poo. She took a ball of dough and with her big long rolling pin (a bit like a broom handle), started to roll it out into a perfect circle, quite big and very thin. Then shetook the big round of flat bread and lay it on the hot plate over the fire and with a long flat piece of wood, regularly turned it to keep it evenly cooked, at the same time starting work on rolling the next piece of dough. It really is a precision operation. My job was to shoo the chickens away every time they came looking for something to eat. I watched Pero produce a day's worth of bread for the family, including visitors, and then she called to Fatih who brought another bowl from the kitchen containing white cheese with something green (spinach?) mixed in. Now Pero made some smaller rounds of bread, spooned some cheese mixture and spread it over one half then folded the other half over& pressed down the edges, laid it on the hot plate, dripped a bit of oil over the top and cooked it up - voila, gozleme! When she had made enough of these there was a little bit of dough left and Pero indicated it was my turn. Oh no! I managed to get myself sorted roughly cross-legged on the mat, took up the rolling pin and went to work, trying to emulate Pero's skill. Obviously I was a very poor copy but I did manage to make an approximate circle of approximately the right thickness and Pero was kind enough to tell me I did very well . She quickly cooked up my piece of bread and it actually didn't look too bad! And finally, Pero tossed some green peppers in the coals and turned them til they were nicely charred.
All this and it was only about 8:00am! Soon we were called in to the main room for breakfast - warm gozleme, fresh bread, tomato & other home grown vegies, and the peppers, home made yoghurt, cay, etc - yet another feast - Kurdish breakfast!
After breakfast I had a bit of a quick "shower", packed up my gear and before long Omer arrived to take us on our five days of cultural touring.
First stop was Gobekli Tepe, an ancient archeological site, recently discovered that has changed historians' understanding of how early settlement and religion developed. An old Kurdish man (see picture) gave us a guided tour. He had no English but did have a book and a National Geographic article (June 2011 if anyone's interested) and we got the general idea. We also met up with a German couple and their guide and emded up with a three-way translation going on. Our guide would point something out and explain in Turkish, their guide would explain to them in German and then the German woman would tell us in English what she'd been told. Worked quite well in the end. It is a site in active excavation, fenced off but with lots of workers in the trenches. There are various standing stones, some carved - for example, on one was a picture of an elongated fox. At the top of the hill is a wishing tree. Over the back is part of the farm, and an d horse-drawn plough - apparently they were ploughing the field and up popped some interesting stones or something. When they took them to the museum,an archeologist saw them and said they were significant - next thing they were out on this hillside digging away - and what a find - probably the most significant find in archeology for a while. While we were there this stout grey-haired gentleman went wandering across the planks in the middle of the site. Apparently it was (name), the archeologist who "discovered" Gobekli Tepe. All in all an interesting place. They think they've only uncovered about 5-10% of what's around the site, so it would be interesting to come back in a decade or two and see what else they've found.
Next stop was Urfa where we were dropped in the old part of town. Firstly went to Abraham's Cave where legend has it he was born and lived up to age 7. Then it was a steep walk up to the Kale (Castle) where Abraham was supposedly thrown over to be killed. Not a lot there except a couple of columns (roman?) and some battlements, but a Great view of Urfa from up there. The way down was through a tunnel staircase cut into the rock - a long way down but a little cooler in the shade. We went and sat in the shady tea garden next to one of the two fish lakes and had a cold drink, then met up with Omer to collect our picnic lunch. Pero had packed us a cooler bag full of goodies - more gozleme, grapes, cake and cold water. We wandered through the park and went to sit on some grass to have our picnic but a very officious man in uniform blew his whistle on us and shooed us off the grass. Walked on a bit further and saw some other families picnicking on the grass so we tried again. Pretty much finished our picnic by the time we got hunted off by another whistle-wielding official. As we were deciding what to do next we were approached by a man who asked if we wouldind having a chat with his students. He was a teacher taking a vacation class in English and felt that having real conversations is a better way to learn. So there were were in the park with a group of about ten or twelve Turkish 15 year olds trying to think of questions to ask us, and us trying to think how to answer them in easy understood language. We told them a bit about Australia, ourselves etc. Then the teacher asked if we would like to come with them to see the mosaics. This was about a five minute walk away and turned out to be quite interesting. Along the way, Jeff and I each had a bunch of kids around us talking and asking questions. the girls wanted to know about our children and kept telling me how beautiful I was. The mosaics are roman ones found recently when someone was digging foundations for a building. Quite extensive areas, looks like a whole large building worth of floors. All sorts of pictures and designs, and nearby some roman baths. We probably spent about an hour with this group and then said our farewells and made our way back to the Golbasi area to continue our sightseeing. Next was the Balikli Gol - the other sacred lake full of sacred carp, and adjacent to a very beautiful medrese including a long wall of archways along one side of the lake. There were heaps of tourists here (many of them Turkish) taking photos of the lake. After that we went to wander in the bazaar area. What a change from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Similar set up with under cover and outside alleyways full of shops and stalls selling everything imaginable, but here it is geared to the locals, so no-one tried to pressure us to buy things. All we had was lots of adults and children calling out "hullo" and "where are you from?" - we obviously stuck out as foreigners! Anyway we had a lovely time wandering around and only got a little bit lost. Eventually it was time to meet up again with Omer, back in the car (gotta love that air conditioning) and on our way again.
We headed south out of Urfa for about half an hour or so then turned off to the village of Harran, thought to be one of the dest continuously occupied settlements in the world. As in many parts of Turkey, there is a fairly nondescript newer part and a rich and fascinating older part, which is where we went. We pulled up outside a place called Harran Kultur House with a large walled courtyard backed by a set of archetypical beehive houses. Actually it is one big house with lots of beehive roofs, but more of that later. There were busloads of tourists pulling up, having their tour of the beehive house, buying souvenirs and then leaving again. As in Urfa, many of them were Turkish tourists. In the courtyard the tables we low round flat stones - many were ancient mill stones - and the chairs were funny little wooden x-shaped things that you sit on side-on to what you would think. We sat and had a cup of cay and waited for our guide, a young woman called Nura (spelling?), one of the daughters of the owner of the Kultur House. Nura took us for a walk to some key sights around Harran, starting with the ruined stone castle. It was originally three levels, the lowest one stables, the second one living quarters and the top level something else (my memory has lost the detail). It's all collapsing so we could only go to the top level. There were some great views, including off to the Syrian border which was only 10 or so kms away. We took a photo for Clara of Nura pointing towards Syria. Next to the castle is where the Aleppo Gate used to be in the now mostly vanished city walls.
After the castle we walked across the dusty (and hot) village, past the school, towards the site of what was the first Islamic University in the world. This is another archeological site, so we could only stand on the hill overlooking it, but you could get a fair sense of the size and different buildings. A grand engrave archway wad syllable standing, along with the odd column and some walls etc, and lots of bits of stone that they are studying and hopefully piecing a bit more of it together. We walked back towards the Kultur House and learnt a bit about our guide. Nura is still at school, is about 18 years old, is defiantly independent, intelligent and ambitious. She was wearing pants (while all her sisters were dressed in long sparkly dresses and purple veils), has plans to go on to university, to travel and to work. She spoke very good English. She is one of ten children and not keen on following the traditional role of girls expected in her family.
Back at the Kultur House, we had a look inside. This was originally the family home, so quite large to fit in the ten children us assorted wives, children etc. A few years ago, the family built a "modern" (cement block) house in another corner of the courtyard and turned their beehive house into a tourist attraction. Anyway, the house has many rooms, including kitchen, sitting and eating areas, sleeping rooms, etc. The beehive houses are built of stone on the inside, but the whole outside is plastered with a mud/straw/dung mixture. They are very suited to the local climate, staying cool in summer and warm in winter, so it's hard to see why people would prefer to live in modern concrete boxes. Except of course for the maintenance issue - the mud coating has to be reapplied each year or so, otherwise in just three years the house will fall apart.
We had to choose where we wanted to sleep - either inside the beehive house or outside on a taht (a raised wooden sleeping platform). It was a tough one - good to be able to say you've slept in a beehive house, but we so enjoyed sleeping under the stars last night. Decided on the outside experience, so our beds were put up on the taht. Omer slept inside.
Dinner in the courtyard was another healthy mix and then we sat and watched the household clear up and then settle down for some relaxation time. I especially enjoyed it when some of the women came and sat around with us. Some of the time they were asking questions of us - what our jobs were, how many children, where are they, etc - but the rest they were just catching up on their own conversations. Couldn't understand what they were saying but it was really nice to watch them interacting, just a normal family. Someone went off somewhere and came back with a big bottle of coke and a bag of what we think were sunflower seeds, which seem to be a popular snack. They offered us some and then Nura had to teach me how to crack them between my teeth - the idea is that you eat the tiny inner kernel but not the husk - obviously an art form that takes some practice - they all seemed to rip through them at speed but it took me ages and some mess to eat just one! Anyway, after a while it was bed time. The taht is about 4 or 5 feet off the ground, reached by a wooden ladder. They had laud a woven plastic mat over the planks then put some wool - stuffed mattresses, a pillow each (also wool) and a blanket each. It wasn't quite as peaceful as Yuvacali, what with so many famy members still wandering around, chatting etc, and with the lights and noises of the rest of the town. And the other thing was our taht was a bit rickety, so every time you moved, rolled over etc, the whole thing squeaked and swayed. Nevertheless, it was cool and quite comfy. And eventually quiet.