Harran is a city whose name has not changed for 4,000 years. In Assyrian, it means “intersection” or “the place where roads meet”. It is one of the most unique places of Şanlıurfa with its architecture, local dress style, and life style. Harran has been the centre of trade, religion, and science throughout the history. According to Torah, Prophet Abraham migrated to Kenan (Palestine) from Harran. Again according to Torah, the grandchild of Prophet Abraham, Jacob, came to Harran, fed the herds of Laban, and get married with Laban’s daughters Rakel and Leyye in this place. The south part of the Assyrian trade caravans, which came from Iraq and went to Kayseri Karum, passed from Harran in 2000 BC. In the Sin (Moon) Temple, which is known to be in Harran thanks to the written sources, the King of Hittite, Şuppililuma, and the King of Mitanni, Mattivaza, signed a peace settlement in the presence of gods Sin (Moon) and Şamaş (Güneş) in 14th Century. Harran was the last capital of Assyrian Empire. Harran became the home of the Sabians, whose names are also mentioned in Quran, as well as Christians and Jews. In the period of polytheistic religions, there was a really powerful astral worshipping in Harran. People worshipped Moon (Sin), Sun (Şamaş), and Hesperus (İştar). Their emblem consisting of crescent and octagonal star also influenced Islamic world, and the crescent became one of the symbols of Islam. In the period of Abbasids, Harrani astronomers, who believed mostly in Harrani beliefs and spoke in Syriac, were highly respected. The first Islamic university was established in Harran. The only place where Islam has dominated for 14 centuries without any interruption since Islam reached to the region is most probably Harran. After the conquest of Islam, the city experienced a golden age. The last Umayyad Khalifa Mervan II changed its capital from Damascus to Harran; the magnificent Great Mosque and Harran Castle were built. Having bright eras in the periods of Umayyad and Abbasid, Harran was invaded by Mongols between the years 1260-1271 AD; it was vandalised, and after this occasion, it has never been the same. Since Harran could never get its old importance and fame, Edessa – Şanlıurfa – took its place.
Hayat el-Harrani Mosqueand Mausoleum
Originally named Sheikh Yahya Hayat Bin Abdülaziz, Hayat el-Harrani was born in Harran. It has been believed that he was a miracle worker, and made it rain during drought periods through his prayers. Sultans who were contemporaries with him absolutely visited the Sheikh, felt honoured to be with him, and received his blessings. Sultan Saladin and the conqueror of Urfa, Nureddin Mahmoud were among the rulers who were known to visit Sheikh. Today, the mosque and tomb of Sheikh are located outside of the city walls.
The well of Prophet Jacob
Located in the north of the tomb of Hayat el-Harrani, this historical well is also known as the well of Prophet Jacob among local people. It has been believed that Prophet Jacob got married to Laban’s daughters Rakel and Leyye around this well.
It is the hill where people start to walk to the Great Mosque, and today there is a parking lot in the archaeological site. With the excavations carried out here, ruins dating back to 7 BC were found. Cylinder Assyrian seals dating back to 1950 BC and tablets with cuneiform, which give information about King Nabonid and Sin (Moon) Temple, dating back to 650 BC were found. Traces of important civilizations such as Halaf, Ubeyd, Hittite, Hurri, Mitanni, Assyria, Babel, Hellene, Roman, Byzantium, and then Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimid, Zengids, Ayyubids, and Seljuks were found in the mound. All of the remains found here can be seen in Şanlıurfa Archaeological Museum.
Walls and Gates of the City
The city of Harran has an elliptical plan. Some sources say the city has 6 doors while other sources indicate it has 7 doors. Walls have 187 bastions, and the total length of the walls is almost 4 km while its height is about 5 meters. It is thought that present walls are from Roman Period. Yahya Bin Şatr from Beni Numeyr tribe had the walls restored in 1059. Among the doors, only the west door, Aleppo door, has still stood. Sultan Saladin’s brother’s name, El Melik El Adil, was mentioned in the inscription of the door.
Great (Ulu) Camii
Great Mosque is the oldest mosque in Turkey which was built in Islamic style. It was built by the last Umayyad Khalifa, Mervan II, between the years 744-750. The area on which the mosque was built is 104 x 107 meters. The height of its minaret, which has still stood today, is 33.30 meters. For a long time, it was claimed that this minaret had been an observatory; however, later on it was understood that it was the minaret of the mosque. It is written that the minaret can be reached through wooden stairs with 105 steps. In the east part of the castle, excavation studies have been carried out under the presidency of Prof. Mehmet Önal since 2014. Turkish bath, water well with platform, cisterns, a courtyard with a water-tank with a fountain, a covered bazaar, shops of the market, and a way were explored during these excavations.
Conical Houses of Harran
Conical houses of Harran are, undoubtedly, among symbols of Harran. This architectural style has been chosen since there is scarcely a tree within the region to be used as rafter in roof construction works. Common feature of conical houses of Harran is that bricks are used on top roofing. Conical roofs constructed with a set of 30-40 bricks are plastered, inside and outside, with clay and there is a hole on the top. This hole ensures that the air, which rises due to heat in the summer, is removed from the interior of the house and therefore the interior is cooler. On the other hand, during winter, it serves as a chimney for the fire lit inside the house. These houses which are constructed bearing in mind climate conditions, are cool during the summer and warm in the winter. Their maintenance should be carried out and they need to be repaired every 2-3 years.
Harran Castle is located on the south-eastern part of the city, adjacent to the walls of the castle. Written Islamic sources mention that there was a Sabian (worshippers of celestial bodies) temple on this spot. It is likely that Sin (Moon) Temple in Harran, which is generally mentioned in ancient sources, lies here. According to written sources, it is indicated that the last Umayyad Caliph, Mervan II, constructed this castle by spending 10 million dirhams gold. Castle was constructed in 3 storeys. Harran University has been carrying out excavation works in and around the castle.
Even though it is called a cave, this is actually a quarry. It is located 23 km east of Harran, at the entrance of Tek Tek Mountains National Park. These caves, which are also known as Albazdu, Elbazde and Bozdağ caves are located on both sides of the road. According to Arabic script on the rocks, this place was operated by “Abdurrahman el-Hakkâri, Muhammed İbn-i Bakır, Muhammed-el Uzzar” in the13th century. While constructing buildings in Harran, City of Suayb and Han El-Ba’rur, materials used must have been provided from this quarry. These artificial caves reaching a height about 15 m, have taken shape in this manner.
Han El-Ba’rur Caravanserai
It is a caravanserai which dates back to the Ayyubid period and is located about 30 km east of Harran in Göktaş village. This caravanserai is on the route from Baghdad to Harran. It consists of a small mosque, guard’s room, stables, and Turkish bath and summer rooms. According to the script above the entrance door, it was constructed by Hacı Hüsameddin Ali Bey in 1219. “Ba’rür” means “goat droppings” in Arabic. Rumour has it that constructor of this caravanserai filled it with raisins and he served it to visitors along with passers-by. And he told, “My successors will fill this place with goat droppings”. After the Mongol invasion, this caravanserai fell into ruins and as what Hacı Hüsameddin Ali Bey said in the legend; it was used as stable by locals for a long time.
Ancient City of Suayb (Jethro)
13 km east of Han El-Ba’rur Caravanserai, you will see city of Suayb. It is 40 km away from Harran. Although it is related to Prophet Jethro, this is actually a settlement from the late Roman period, that is from 4th and 5th centuries. Houses are in classical Roman style: they have triangular pediments, roofs, courtyards surrounded with walls and cellars engraved into rocks beneath houses. There is a water-well inside each house and courtyard doors are opened to streets that are planned using the grid system. It is believed that Prophet Jethro once lived here and one of the caves was visited as the site of Prophet Jethro. He is the father-in-law of Moses and it is believed that the legendary staff that Moses used to part the Red Sea was given by Prophet Jethro here. It is a very interesting place for archaeology and photography enthusiasts.
When you head 18 km north of City of Suayb, you arrive at Soğmatar. It is 57 km away from Harran. Current name of Soğmatar is Yağmurlu Village. Soğmatar consists of the words “matar”, which means “rain”, and “suk”, meaning “bazaar” in Arabic. It is a distorted form of “Suk el Matar”, which means “Rain Street/Bazaar”. It is known that Soğmatar is a cult centre where people worshipped God of Moon, Sin, during the Abgar Kingdom period dating back to the 2nd century AD. Inside the village, there is a cave (Pognon Cave) where people worshipped Goddess of Moon, Sin, a sacred hill where there are god reliefs on the slopes and Syriac scripts engraved onto rocks, and sacrifices were consecrated. There are also 6 pieces of square and round planned mausoleum (monument tombs) and many rock tombs. It was found out that there were approximately 20 quarries around Soğmatar. Total number of Syriac scripts that have been discovered is 14.
It is thought that people fleeing from this region due to the attacks of the Parthians (Persians) carried out in 165 AD and worshipping celestial bodies established this cult centre. This location preserved its cult centre feature until the Islamic period. There are many wells engraved onto main rock in this settlement area. It is believed that one of these ancient wells belonged to Moses.
Soğmatar is one of the most interesting places of Turkey not only for those interested in astronomy but also for bird watchers. It is likely to see species such as desert lark (Ammomannes deserti) and pin-tailed sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata), that are scarcely observed in Turkey, during spring and autumn in this region.
Senemığar (Senem / Sanem Cave)
Senemmığar means “Icon Cave”. Ancient name “Şelemmağar” has the same meaning in Syriac. Grand Senem Mığar village is located 29 km North of Soğmatar. Even though it was the centre of polytheistic pagan religions between 400 BC and 200 AD, it is understood that, subsequently, it was one of the most significant centres of Syriac Christians. It is thought that the three-storey monumental building made of cut stones, which is located in 8-10 house village, is remains of either a monastery or a palace. It is possible to say that structures of Sanem Cave date back to 5th century AD. There are many churches engraved onto rocks adjacent to monumental monastery. Unlike Soğmatar, Sanem Cave is full of cross motifs as the symbol of Christianity. For photography, history of religions and archaeology enthusiasts, Senemığar provides many interesting details and stories.