Sanliurfa boasts of many highly recommended attractions for visitors to the region. Nicknamed the “City of the Prophets,” most fit in with the historical travel genre, and the ancient Gumruk Hani was at the top of my bucket list.
Built in 1566, it was the main commercial centre. Tradesman met there to trade goods and if they were tired from traveling, used the bedrooms before continuing on their journey. Due to its importance as a business hub, many bazaars, and markets in old Sanliurfa established themselves around the building.
The most famous person to cross its threshold was the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, who lived from 1611 to 1682. His journal is highly regarded as one of the earliest forms of a guidebook and when I learned, he had visited the Gumruk Hani, I was eager to follow his example.
Entering the Gumruk Hani of Sanliurfa
I passed through the large-arched door, to find myself stood at the side of an open-air courtyard. Large umbrellas erected in various spots kept the sun out and on the edge of the courtyard were shops on the lower level and workshops on the upper level.
Instantly I noticed the ambiance. It was obviously a popular meeting place for locals. Everyone seemed to know each other and were seated in groups at tables, reading newspapers, holding in-depth conversations or playing the Turkish version of backgammon.
This building was more than 400 years old and would usually be my ideal place to explore. I would immediately inspect the architecture; people watch and speak to the locals. However, I felt extremely uncomfortable and just stood there, unsure of what to do. I tried to relax, by ordering tea and coffee but the uneasy feeling did not go away.
Nothing specific happened to make me feel that way. No one was rude and there were no incidents. I was charged the same price for drinks as the locals were. So what was my problem?
On that day, I would estimate roughly 50 to 60 people sat in that courtyard. All of them were male apart from me. I have never been intimated by the opposite sex but on this occasion, I was fearful of standing out as the foreign woman with a large camera.
Am I becoming a prude in my old age?
Did I suffer an attack on my confidence?
I am not sure what happened but am left with regret. I visited a historic building in Sanliurfa and my feminine pride stopped me from enjoying myself. On the way out of the door, an old man selling souvenirs stopped me.
“Are you a foreigner?” he asked
I falsely smiled and carried on walking. This was one occasion, where I knew I had failed to blend in and instead stuck out like a sore thumb.