Harran and Sanliurfa
Harran and Sanliurfa is part of the Tentative list of Türkiye in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Harran and Sanliurfa are two ancient places mentioned in the Bible. Sanliurfa has origins that date back to the Neolithic, and it is named in both Uruk and biblical historical records. Harran is known for its beehive houses and early Islamic scholarly center.
Map of Harran and SanliurfaLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
First things first: The naming of the site is a bit misleading, as these are very historic places with multiple different names and spellings:
- Harran was known to the Romans as Carrhae. It is here that the Battle of Carrhae took place where Crassus and his army were slaughtered.
- Sanliurfa was known for most of its history simply as Urfa. The Turkish authorities added Sanli (glorious) in 80s to commemorate the valiant efforts of the locals during the Turkish War of Independence after WW1. Effectively, everyone still calls the place Urfa. You may also know the town as Edessa, which is the Greek name and was for a short while a crusader state.
Both cities are referenced (or claim to be referenced) in the bible, specifically relating to Abraham. Harran was a temporary home of Abraham and his ancestors. Urfa calls itself the City of Prophets and the birthplace of Abraham. This view is disputed. Still, the most prominent complex in Urfa is the area around the fish pond with the famous cave where according to local legend Abraham was born.
I came from cold Malatya in Anatolia. It was delight to leave the cold Anatolian plateau and arrive in Mesopotamia. Urfa and Harran more so no longer feel like Turkey, let alone Europe: This is the Middle East, After my mandatory visit to Göbekli Tepe, I dropped my luggage off at the hotel, a gorgeous historic town house in the old town. I felt like a prince.
In the afternoon I went to Harran by dolmus. The ruins are massive. There are several prominent structures left, most notably, the walls, a gate, ruins of a church/mosque and a Roman castle. The most famous structures are the beehives on the Eastern side of town. Unfortunately, the state of preservation/presentation is poor. As are the local inhabitants: Harran was the only place in Turkey where kids were begging.
The next morning, I visited Urfa's main sites. The old town and bazaar area are nice. The area around the fish pond is the obvious jewel with Abraham's cave and the mosques. Overlooking the area are ruins of a castle (in fairly terrible state, supposedly a bit dangerous and most certainly closed to visitors at my time of visit). Last stops on my visit were the Necropolis and the two stunning museums in Urfa: the Mosaic Museum and the Archeological Museum.
Urfa without a doubt belongs on the list. Temples, old town, necropolis, castle. Amazing.
Harran, too, is a strong contender and probably as detailed by Els the more historic place. The beehives are unique. The Roman ruins are plain massive. But apart from the walls, most of the site is in poor state of preservation/presentation and should be polished up a bit.
I also don't understand what groups these two sites together and would favor separating them. Both on their own would be great additions.
Urfa is a major Turkish town with bus and plane connections. The bus terminal (otogar) is on the outskirts of town. Seeing cab fares are low, I would simply take a cab to the town centre. Personally, I went from the otogar to Göbekli Tepe by cab. First things first. Urfa old town has small roads so it may be best to simply get off and walk.
To get to Harran, you can catch a dolmus. The online descriptions are not helpful if you are staying in town centre. You don't need to go back to the otogar or the main junction way North of town. The bus runs along Akçakale Cd. I waited at a bus stop in front of the Urfa City Museum along Akcakale. Note: You are getting really close to the Syrian border. There are travel warnings for the region.
While You Are There
Nearby, Göbekli Tepe is a must visit. It adds to the story of the region being central in early human settlements and development of religion. It made me wonder, how continuous the religious importance of the area was. If you enjoy Göbekli Tepe, you may want to check out Karahan Tepe, too. I learnt about Karahan Tepe at the museum where the finds are shown next to Göbekli Tepe's. They don't pale in comparison. I would probably favor an extension to encompass both.
In town, the archeological and mosaic museums are a must visit, as you get to see splendid and massive Roman mosaics as well as findings from Göbekli Tepe. There is also a bus connection from the archeological museum to Göbekli Tepe it seems.
I visited Sanliurfa as a stopover between Gobeklitepe and Diyarbakir WHS. It is a very enjoyable and laid back city nicknamed the "City of Prophets". Its highlight, the Sacred Fish Lake or Abraham's Pool, is squeezed between the city proper (now also known as Urfa or Edessa in ancient times) and its imposing castle.
Sanliurfa was at the cross-roads of civilisations and was conquered repeatedly throughout history, and has been dominated by many civilizations, including the Ebla, Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Hittites, Hurri-Mitannis, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Ancient Greeks (under Alexander the Great), Seleucids, Armenians, Arameans, the Neo-Assyrian Osrhoenes, Romans, Sassanids, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuqs and Ottomans. According to Jewish and Muslim sources, Sanliurfa is believed to be Ur Kasdim, the hometown of Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob whom God named Israel. Sanliurfa is also one of several cities around the world that have traditions associated with Job (green tomb in photo, beneath the castle fortifications).
According to tradition, Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. The pool of sacred fish remains to this day and is believed to have healing properties. Any visitor can enter the glass floored praying area over the fish pond for free. The Islamic architecture and gardens around this pond are in a remarkable state of conservation and its decorations and architectural elements give a better idea of how places which are now in ruins, such as Medina al-Zahra in Spain, once were.
Surrounding the fish lake/pools are the Halil'ur Rahman Madrasa and Mosque, the tombs of great intellectuals such as Buluntu Hodja, Haci Mustafa, etc. It is also a pleasant place in the shade to enjoy a cup of tea or eat. Parking is readily available for a small fee just opposite the site, in front of the luxurious El Ruha Hotel, a great place to stay too. Unfortunately, the small road to Harran was completely being paved from scratch when we visited, so I decided against covering Harran as well but wouldn't mind visiting as well if the Archaeological Site of Zeugma ever makes it to the list. With around 85 tWHS, I was always bound to make such decisions as it is impossible to cover all the sites in one go, especially since most deserve the extra time and effort to cover them well. Even if not one of Turkey's top WHS, I still think that Sanliurfa would deserve to make it on the list. Perhaps also Mardin could be added to Harran and Sanliurfa as a serial WHS.
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:
- It’s very very old: first inhabited in the Early Bronze Age III (3rd millennium BCE).
- It had a sanctuary to the Mesopotamian moon god Sin.
- It was located on an ancient trade route along between the Mediterranean and the plains of the middle Tigris & further into Persia.
- It was the site of the Siege of Harran in 609 BC by the Babylonian Empire upon the Assyrian Empire.
- Pliny the Elder wrote about it.
- 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).”
- It held the first Islamic University and its remains are still visible.
- It once was the capital of the Umayyad Dynasty.
- T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) surveyed the ancient Harran archaeological site.
- 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: Sanliurfa's Pool of Sacred Fish, Harran's adobe beehive houses and (attached here) a view on some of the archaeological remains at Harran.
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