A Tale in Red: Euphrates, me and a disappearing city

We left Şanliurfa on a hot morning in July. Our next destination promised much fun, but a moment to introspect how to progress seems like a choice between the past and the future. We were going to Halfeti.

This small town is located in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, and it’s quickly becoming a must-visit destination for tourists worldwide.

One of the most intriguing things about Halfeti is its location. The town is situated on the banks of the Euphrates River, which used to flow through the entire city until the construction of the Birecik Dam in the 1990s. Today, the town is mostly underwater, with only a few buildings and structures remaining visible above the waterline.

Despite its partial submergence, Halfeti has a rich and fascinating history. The town was initially founded in the 9th century BC by the Assyrians and played an essential role in the region throughout the centuries. During the Roman era, it was known as “Hilta,” and it was a major centre for agriculture and trade. It was a strategic location in the Middle Ages for the various empires that controlled the region, including the Byzantines, the Abbasids, and the Seljuks.

Halfeti is a popular tourist destination today, and for a good reason. Visitors can take a boat tour of the submerged town to see the remains of buildings, walls, and even a partially submerged mosque. They can also visit the local museum to learn more about the town’s history and see artefacts from various eras.

But Halfeti isn’t just about history – it’s also a great place to enjoy the region’s natural beauty. Stunning mountains and countryside surround the town, and there are many opportunities for hiking, camping, and exploring the outdoors. Visitors can also enjoy local cuisine, which features delicious dishes made with fresh ingredients from the region.

Although much of the town is now underwater, Halfeti is still home to around 10,000 people. Many have adapted to the town’s new reality and become involved in the region’s growing tourism industry.

The boat tours of the submerged town are one of the most popular tourist activities in Halfeti. Visitors can take a ride on a traditional Turkish boat, known as a “gulet,” and explore the ruins that have been preserved underwater. Some of the most notable sights include the remains of a historic bathhouse, a fortress, and an ancient cemetery. I loved the time expended on the boat, absorbing the air around me and imagining a past where people used the river as a source of food, water, and transport. 

In addition to the boat tours, visitors can also walk through the streets of Halfeti and see some of the town’s surviving buildings. Some of the most noteworthy structures include a castle built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 6th century and the Ulu Mosque, built in the 19th century and still used for worship today.

Halfeti is also known for its agriculture. The town is located in the fertile valley of the Euphrates River and is home to various crops, including pistachios, olives, and cotton. The region is also known for producing the famous “Halfeti rose,” a dark red flower grown in the area and is said to have a unique fragrance.

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