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Founded by Seleucus Nicator ca. 303-302 B.C., it was seat of a semi-independent Arab kingdom from ca. 131-132 B.C. until it came under the direct rule of Rome ca. 242 as capital of Osinhoene. It was taken by the Muslims in 639, but returned to Byzantium in 103 1-32. In 1098 it was occupied by Crusaders, but finally regained by the Turks in 1144.

The city walls on the W and S follow the contours of the hills and retain some Roman and Byzantine courses. A citadel on a crag in the SW was included within the walls by Justinian, and was frequently rebuilt. Among its ruins stand two columns of Late Roman date with Corinthian capitals, ca. 15 m high. On one a Syriac text shows that it once bore the statue of a queen.

The Scirtos (Dai[sdot ]an) flowed below the W wall to enter the city in the SW by sluices and water gates (of which there are remains). Uniting with two springs and forming two pools for sacred fish, it passed through the city and ran into the Gullab. After the floods of A.D. 525, a dam was built NW of the walls and the main stream led along its present bed outside the city (Procop. Buildings). The spring waters still flow through the streets. Outside Urfa another spring (Bin Eyüp) has healing properties.

Four gates marked the entry of ancient trade routes into the city, linking Iran and the Far East with the Mediterranean. Those in the W and S are old in paint; the E gate, subject to frequent enemy attack, has a fort (the lower citadel, built before 1122). Gates and citadels carry inscriptions in Greek, Armenian, and Arabic.

Cut in the hills outside the walls are over a hundred cave tombs of modest size, with conventional arcosolia. Some have inscriptions, mostly brief, in Syriac (three in Hebrew, one in Greek), as well as reliefs and sculpture. At least 10 had floor mosaics, one showing Orpheus, another the Phoenix, and four dated between A.D. 225 and 278. In 1971 only two floor mosaics survived at Urfa (in private houses), a third and fragments of a fourth are at Istanbul. Some statues are at the Urfa Museum, one at Diyarbakir.

These remains are of Semitic planet worshipers with Hellenistic and Iranian influence. There is little trace of the Jewish community, and little to testify that from the 4th c. the city was a center of Christian pilgrimage and home of the Syriac church and of classical Syriac literature. Only one copy (in Greek) was found there of the legendary letter from Jesus to Abgar of Edessa. Mosques and public buildings, however, probably stand on the site of churches—notably the ancient cathedral (rebuilt by Justinian and considered one of the wonders of the world) and shrines with relics of the Apostle Thomas, and of St. John and St. Addai (scene of the Roman law courts). A Roman hot bath was found in 1954 N of the pools but is no longer visible. Recent building at Urfa has obscured some early sites, but a third pool has been constructed and a water gate restored in the SW.

A ruined monastery, Deyr Yakup, 8 km S of Urfa and once a pagan burial place, has short Palmyrene-Greek inscriptions. At Sarimağara to the NW is a Greek inscription in a cave, but there are no Classical remains at Suruç (Batnae, Serug) or Viranşehir (Constantia, Tella). In the Tektek mountains are Sumatar Harabesi (a center of planet worship, with Syriac inscriptions, reliefs and ruins of the 2d-3d c. A.D.), Şuayp Şahr (ruins) and Sanimağara (pagan altar and a ruined monastery).


H. Pognon, Inscriptions sémitiques de la Syrie . . . (1907); E. Honigmann, Ostgrenze des byzantinischen Reiches . . . (1935); J. B. Segal, Edessa: ‘The Blessed City’; (1970)MPI; H.J.W. Drijvers, Old-Syriac (Edessean) Inscriptions (1972).


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