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