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Blog TWHS Visits

Harran and Sanliurfa

The investment in my ‘All Turkey Tour’ of 1991 keeps on giving gifts. With a friend I had joined a 3 week group tour by bus all across Turkey. During that trip I visited 8 sites that are nowadays WHS. Also we touched upon numerous interesting TWHS. One lingering on Turkey’s Tentative List is Harran and Sanliurfa. These two ancient cities (located 40km apart) were among the highlights of the 1991 tour. This was mostly because of their very remote and oriental setting: I had not been outside of Europe at the time and Harran lies only some 25km north of the Syrian border.


Sanliurfa is a city of 2 million inhabitants. It is marketed as a Holy City and pilgrimage town. Old Testament prophets such as Jethro, Job, Elijah and Abraham are believed to have lived in this city. In ancient times it was known as Edessa.

Central to the city is The Pool of Sacred Fish, believed in Islamic tradition to have been the place where Abraham was thrown into the fire by Nimrod. This is also the only place that I remember of my visit – it obviously is tourist attraction #1.


Harran actually ticks so many boxes, there cannot be another outcome than that it will be a WHS somewhere in the future:

  1. It’s very very old: first inhabited in the Early Bronze Age III (3rd millennium BCE).
  2. It had a sanctuary to the Mesopotamian moon god Sin.
  3. It was located on an ancient trade route along between the Mediterranean and the plains of the middle Tigris & further into Persia.
  4. It was the site of the Siege of Harran in 609 BC by the Babylonian Empire upon the Assyrian Empire.
  5. Pliny the Elder wrote about it.
  6. It is mentioned in the Bible, as Haran, “where Terah, his son Abram (Abraham), his nephew Lot, and Abram's wife Sarai settled en route to Canaan, coming from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:26–32).”
  7. It held the first Islamic University and its remains are still visible.
  8. It once was the capital of the Umayyad Dynasty.
  9. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) surveyed the ancient Harran archaeological site.
  10. Its modern inhabitants used to live in adobe beehive houses with conic roofs until the 1980s.

There were precisely 3 photos of Sanliurfa and Harran present in my 1991 photobook. They coincidentally show the main aspects that give the sites their value: the Pool of Sacred Fish in Sanliurfa, the archaeological remains of Harran and the conical adobe houses also in Harran. I have posted them all here.

Els - 24 March 2019

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Solivagant 24 March 2019

We visited both places in May 2015 and I must admit to being a bit disappointed with Harran - the remains were vast but not very understandable and a lot of the "beehive" houses were in a poor condition. However - it does appear that excavation activity is progressing which could lead to Nomination. See this report from as recently as Jan 2019 -
Whilst this article from Dec 2018 refers to the upcoming opening of the excavations at the Palace for the first time -
But over what timescale might any nomination be developed? The first article states "80 percent of the excavations in the ruins have been completed" and gives an impression of something quite short term. But the second says "excavations at the palace are expected to continue for the next 10 years."! I guess that, if some major finds can be put on show then ICOMOS could accept that much still remains to be discovered?

There seems no doubt that Turkey is progressing a strategy to develop tourism in its SE provinces and that Sanliurfa is foreseen as a hot spot - with Gobekli Tepe and the city's enhanced archaeological museum being additional draws. Presumably Syria will settle down to some sort of normality in the medium term and the negativity arising from being close to the fighting there will disappear? Rather than relying on fickle "Western" tourists it would also seem that a major target will be "Faith Tourism" - see this https://www.dailysabah.com/tourism/2018/04/10/prophets-history-museum-to-draw-pilgrims-to-turkeys-ancient-sanliurfa-province

The Natural-Historical Landscape of Izeh (T)

Zoë Sheng Chinese-Canadian in NZ - 11-Mar-19

The Natural-Historical Landscape of Izeh (T)

I camped at this site - even in winter it was nice and cold and the morning sun greeted me along with a few dozen sheep bleating. The local community of shepherds surely didn't mind. I thought I would spend a long time looking at the site in the morning but actually it is just a few rock carvings. In retrospective I would have taken a torch to look at them in the dark and continue driving to a hotel.

There are only a carvings, five in total I think although I only found 4. Most of them are unimpressive, the one with the king and queen are kind of impressive but what I think this site comes down to is that the local government thinks this is important and hasn't seen enough rock carvings around the world

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Tushpa/Van Fortress, the Mound and the Old City of Van (T)

Walter Switzerland - 14-Mar-19

Tushpa/Van Fortress, the Mound and the Old City of Van (T)

Tushpa/Van Fortress (Van Kelasi in Turkish) and the Old City of Van is a site is located in the city of Van, which is easily reached by cheap domestic flights from Istanbul. It in the western outskirts of the city, near the lakeshore, visible from far away. Entrance to the site is on its western end, which is inconvenient if walking from Van city. Entrance fee is 6 TL. The site can also be entered from the East, but necessitates jumping above a small wall, and walking uphill.

Tushpa was the capital city of Urartian Kingdom, from the ninth to the sixth centuries BC. The kingdom was centered around Lake Van and built the first fortress on a high conglomerate mound about 100 meters high and 1.4 km long on the southern shore of Lake Van. It was a very fertile region and was occupied front Early Bronze Age. Successive states (Armenian, Romans, Sassanid, Byzantines, Arab, Seldjuk, Ottoman, Russian) built and rebuilt fortresses of top of its predecessor.  Nowadays, foundations, walls, fortifications, tombs and buildings of those different ages mix with one another, including 10-meters high Ottoman fortifications (top of my picture) and older mud-and-stone-bricked fortification from the Uratian time (just below on the left of my picture)

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Bardejov Town

Matejicek Czechia - 14-Mar-19

Bardejov Town

Bardejov historical center belongs to places that I like in eastern Slovakia, and I visit it at every opportunity. Though result of extensive restorations to medieval appearance (especially roofs of townhouses), I do not take it as a tourist trap.The old photo (from 2003) shows a view on the central square with municipal house in the middle. One side of the square is formed by late gothic St. Egidius basilica. The interior contains the set of late gothic sculptures. However, even more prominent sets of wooden scupltures can be found in nearby Levoča and Spišská Sobota.

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Sites funéraires et mémoriels de la Première Guerre mondiale (Front Ouest) (T)

Nan Germany - 13-Mar-19

Sites funéraires et mémoriels de la Première Guerre mondiale (Front Ouest) (T)

"You want to go where?" my aunt asked me. "La Grande Tombe de Villeroy, it's just next to Meaux, we can pass it on our way to the airport."

You need to know my mother's family is from Meaux, a town East of Paris. And indeed when coming from the East (Epernay) and heading to the world's worst airport (Charles de Gaulles), you pass within a few kilometers of the site.

My aunt asked again what precisely I wanted to see there. "A Nécropole, must a big thing" I said. Now my French is okay, but not perfect, so my aunt was trying to make sure she didn't misunderstand me. Eventually, she accepted that I meant the tomb. But she corrected me: "It's not a big thing, it's a small sign along the road." I couldn't quite fathom this information (Nécropole, Grande Tombe?), so I quickly googled the site and indeed: La Grande Tombe is pretty tiny. Most people in nearby Meaux wouldn't even know about it

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Koguryo Kingdom

Zoë Sheng Chinese-Canadian in NZ - 13-Mar-19

Koguryo Kingdom

Koguryo Kingdom covers the sites on the Chinese side of the border. There is a separate, identical inscription for the DPRK which will probably never merge.

I visited this place a couple of years ago in winter. Not the best place to visit in winter but it was a lovely sunny day. My main plan was to continue north to Harbin for the ice festival so it "had" to be winter.

Arriving by train I rented a taxi for the day. The driver knew all locations well

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