Door to Mesopotamia

Door to Mesopotamia


Harran is a picturesque town of distinctive beehive-shaped houses 44 kilometers south of Sanliurfa in southeast Turkey. Situated in the region watered by the series of new dams constructed under the major Southeast Anatolia Project, this historic town is today looking forward into the future rather than back into the past, and the atmosphere is lively. The fertile Harran Plain is abundant not only in grain but in archaeological sites. There are hundreds of ancient settlement mounds here, the most important of which is Harran Hoyuk, where finds have revealed that this site was inhabited without interruption from 5000 BC until the 13th century AD.

Due to the town's position on roads linking Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean coast, it was known in Sumerian and Akkadian as Harran-u, meaning journey or caravan. At the time of the kingdom of Babylon, it was known as Uru-ki-kaskal-al Harran. The town also lay on the trade route between Assyria and Anatolia and was a halting-place for the Assyrian merchants who had close trading links with Anatolia.

The Ebla tablets discovered in northern Syria make frequent mention of Harran, which is called Ha-ran-an-ki, and provide valuable historical information. Harran was a cult center, and in 2000 BC was the second most important city after Assur itself. One of the Mari tablets dating from 1800 BC relates how, after a long period of war, the Hittite King Suppillulima and Mitanian King Mativaza. The kings signed a peace treaty in the name of the moon god Sin and sun god Samas in the temple of E-hul-hul (House of God) Sin, which is dedicated to the moon god in Harran. In the 6th century BC, during the Late Assyrian period, Harran briefly became capital before being conquered by the Parthians, who called the city Carrhae and ruled here until 54 BC. Monotheistic worship originated in Harran during the time of Abraham, who lived in Harran for some years and is said to have married here. A temple was built in his name in the city.

Harran is also vital in early Islamic history since it was conquered by Omar in 640 AD. Under Arab rule, Harran was a celebrated center of learning, home to such famous scholars as to the 9th-century mathematician Sabit Bin Kurra, the physicist Cabir Ibn-i Hayyan and astronomer Battani. Under the last Umayyad caliph Mervan II Harran became a capital city for the second time. Its golden age was under Eyyubid rule when architecture, art, and technology reached a zenith.

After the city was razed by the Mongols in 1260, however, it never recovered its former importance. The ruins of ancient Harran attest to its former splendor. Among the monumental structures dating from various periods of history are the city walls. The walls are nearly four kilometers in length and five meters in height, city gates, and the keep, which is in a good state of preservation and consists of four structural layers, the earliest dating from the Hittite. On the north side of the settlement mound is the magnificent medieval Ulu Mosque, whose minaret is over 33 meters in height. There are six gates in the walls: the North Anatolia Gate, Lion Gate, Baghdad Gate, Mosul Gate, Rakka Gate, and Aleppo Gate.

Excavations, restoration, and field surveys have been continuing here since 1983 under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, and the walls on either side of the Aleppo Gate have been completely uncovered. Archaeologists have also revealed the remains of an Islamic period city with adjoining rectangular-plan houses whose rooms open onto courtyards. Tandir ovens, jars for storing grain, and wells have been found in the homes, whose walls are built of brick or adobe over stone foundations. The floors are mainly laid with bricks fired at a high temperature, or sometimes of ruined adobe. This city possessed a sewerage system consisting of fired earthenware pipes. Basalt flour mill complexes worked by human power and dating from the Eyyubid period uncovered during excavations of the mound reveal how abundant the grain harvests must have been. Early finds include a bronze age terracotta figurine of a woman, an ancient Assyrian cylinder seal, cuneiform tablets dating from the New Babylonian period referring to King Nabonidus, and the Temple of Sin, and cuneiform offering inscriptions belonging to the same temple. Eyyubid period finds include glassware with colored figurative designs, a fragment of wood carved with stylized motifs, coins, and pottery, which shows that this period was the heyday of ceramic art in Harran. Harran's history is long and complicated, beginning with the Halaf, Ubeyd, and Uruk cultures, and followed by the Hittite, Hurrian, Mitannian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. During the latter, Harran was ruled by the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Zengids, and Eyyubids. Harran Ulu Mosque is the oldest mosque in Turkey, built by the Umayyad king Mervan II between 744 and 750. The earliest Islamic university was also situated here. The fascinating artifacts excavated at Harran can be seen at Urfa Museum.

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