Lake of Abraham (Balıklı Göl), Şanlıurfa, Turkey
In the heart of Turkey’s Sanliurfa old town lies the Lake of Abraham (or Pool of Sacred Fish) in the courtyard of the the Halil-ur-Rahman mosque. A series of archways line three sides of the long, narrow lake whose blue-green hues, in tandem with the adjacent verdant gardens and centuries-old plane and willow trees, contribute to the oasis-like atmosphere of the ancient site. A footpath lining the pool’s southern edge allows visitors a closer look at the water’s famous inhabitants- hundreds of carp of legendary origin. The pool is thought to be the site where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod and is a religious destination for thousands each year.
Surrounded on three sides by limestone hills atop a fertile plain, Sanliurfa, commonly shortened to merely “Urfa,” lies in the Southeast of Turkey and is the capital of the province of the same name.[i] Known alternately as the City of Abraham, or the Prophet’s City, Sanliurfa is a site of both religious and historical significance.
History and Origin of the Lake of Abraham:
The legendary pool is located in the courtyard of the mosque of Halil-ur-Rahman, built by the Ayyubids, the Sunni Muslim dynasty of Kurdish origin.[ii] The mosque, which sits at the southwest corner of the lake, has an intriguing history. Before Halil-ur-Rahman's construction in 1211, the site formerly held the temple of a pagan Near Eastern Goddess, and later, at the time of the adoption of Christianity in the Byzantine period, the Mother of Mary Church.[iii] Today, the complex is encompassed by the Gölbaşı-gardens designed by modern Turkish architect Merih Karaaslan.[iv] Hundreds of carp swim about the pool, which are treasured for their good luck; a local legend says that spotting the single white fish will open the door to the heavens.[v] Visitors are encouraged to feed the carp, while catching them is strictly forbidden. The fish are purported to have unusual origins. Originally a Jewish legend which was adopted by the Islamic tradition, it is believed that at this site King Nimrod built a pyre to kill Abraham for calling for an end to idol worship.[vi] Just as Abraham was flung from the nearby castle into the raging fire, Nimrod’s efforts were thwarted when God transformed the flames into water and wood into fish, sparing Abraham and leaving only a freshwater spring where the inferno once stood.
Connections to Abraham, one of the most important prophets of the Abrahamic religions, make the pool, as well as other sites in the city, a very popular destination with Muslim Turks as well as a number of Christian tourists. In the Book of Genesis, Nimrod is described as the king of the Mesopotamian kingdom of Shinar. He is the son of Kush and great-grandson of Noah.[vii] In Christian and Hebrew tradition, Nimrod is known as the leader of the builders of the Tower of Babel.[viii] In the year of Abraham’s birth to his parents Terah and Amathlai, King Nimrod ordered all newborn babies to be killed, fearing that a challenger would take his throne.[ix] However, Abraham’s mother Amathlai was hidden from the king in a secluded cave and gave birth to Abraham before leaving him in hiding for the next decade.[x] Located inside a nearby mosque, the Cave of Abraham is also a popular pilgrimage site and is complete with a praying area and a glass encasement over the spot of the prophet’s birth.