Exploring the Top Attractions of Ancient Harran
About 50 kilometers south of Şanlıurfa, Harran offers visitors a taste of a different culture, and its long history of settlement provides some fascinating historic attractions and links with the present. Although most tourists come here to soak up its ancient atmosphere, modern Harran, near the border with Syria, is also home to a distinctly Syrian Arab influence. Locals here speak Arabic as well as Turkish, and their traditional mud-brick beehive style of housing can also be found across the border in Syria's northeast.
Harran is most famous for its links to the story of the Prophet Abraham and receives a mention in the Old Testament (Genesis 11:31 and 12) as the place where Abraham and his tribe stayed for several years on his journey from Ur to Canaan.
Harran must have existed as a settlement from around the 18th century BC. Excavations have confirmed that the site was settled in the 3rd millennium BC, and clay tablets dating from the 18th century BC mention the town and other neighboring settlements, which frequently bear the names of Abraham's relatives.
In subsequent years, Harran became a center for sun and moon worshippers. The remnants of a double temple to Sin (moon) and Shamash (sun) found here date from the 16th century BC. Domination by different nations (such as the 13th-century Assyrian Empire) did little to change Harran's status as a sky-worshipping center, and when the Babylonians arrived (556-539 BC), they also encouraged the Sin cult. Even the successors to Alexander the Great and the Romans revered the moon god.
The town was known in those days as Karrai and later Carrhae and was much fought over by competing empires. In 53 BC the Parthian Orodes II annihilated the army of Crassus here. While in Harran in AD 217 Caracalla was murdered on the way from the temple to the ruler's palace. It was AD 382 before all heathen shrines were destroyed by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius the Great and that included the Sin Temple at Harran. Interestingly, despite the flux of various rulers, some towns in the hinterland escaped the religious changeovers that swept through Harran. In nearby Soǧmatar, the Sabian cult continued worshipping astral bodies at their shrines and temples up until the early Middle Ages.
The Umayyad caliph Marwan II resided in Harran from AD 744 to 750, and he is thought to have established the Ulu Camii and the oldest Islamic university here. A Mongol invasion in 1260 destroyed the town, and it did not recover until the Ottomans gained control in 1516.
The old center of ancient Harran, where Abraham is said to have lived, is the major point for sightseeing. It is now called Altinbasak, and the settlement mound here has evidence of habitation from the 3rd millennium BC onwards.
The badly decayed town walls, the course of which is still easy to trace, encompassed the major part of the old town. The cratered and undulating terrain here is typical of an abandoned town; a similar landscape is evident in the abandoned old town of Van in eastern Turkey. The ring of walls is broken by seven gates of which five can still be identified: the Aleppo Gate in the west, which according to an inscription was restored by Saladin in 1192; the Lions' Gate in the north; the Mosul Gate in the west; the Raqqa Gate in the south; and the Roman Gate (Bab ar-Rum).
The southeast of the site is overlooked by the impressive remains of the citadel. Once a three-story structure, it was restored by the Fatimids in 1032. Three polygonal fortified towers can still be identified and it is assumed that they occupy the site of the moon temple for which Harran was once so famous. Others have suggested that this shrine was situated near or even under the Ulu Camii site just to the northeast. This large square site holds the remnants of a mosque (and the world's first Islamic university) built by the Umayyad rulers. It was extended in AD 830 and restored in Saladin's time between 1174 and 1184.
Location: Harran is 50 km south of Şanlıurfa.