In the southeast of Turkey, about 28 miles south of Sanliurfa (once called Edessa), lies the city of Harran. The ancient city of Harran was located on the west bank of the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates, in Northern Mesopotamia. The river has long since dried up, although it still has water semiannually in Syria. Harran’s location was a major crossroad for primary trade routes from Mesopotamia to the west and the northwest. The city was an important trade center in ancient times. It appears to be named after its geographic function. Harran is derived from the Sumerian or Akkadian harranu which means road or caravan. The Bible refers to Harran as Paddan-aram which is Aramean for highway. The city of Harran was believed to have been founded around 2000 BCE as a merchant outpost of Ur. The Bible records that Abraham stayed in Harran after leaving Ur, which some claim was actually Edessa (modern Sanliurfa). Beginning about 2000 BCE, Harran’s name was mentioned in a variety of historical accounts as one of the most prominent cities of Northern Mesopotamia. However, very scarce information regarding the earliest period of its history has survived. A number of excavations have revealed early Bronze Age materials that support the existence of Harran during this period. The name of Harran first begins to be mentioned in the Mari Archives (around 1760 BCE). Some documents detail practices such as adoption and inheritance similar to those found in the Genesis accounts. Reports in the royal letters from the city of Mari on the middle Euphrates indicate that the area around the Balikh river was occupied in the 19th century BCE by semi-nomadic tribes, who were especially active in the region near Harran. According to the letter correspondence between the Assyrian King Shamsi-Adad I (1812-1797 BCE) and his son Ishme-Adad, Harran was also once a vassal kingdom of Assyria, the farthest outreach of the Assyrian Empire.
BĪT HAMBAN (also Bīt Habban), is a district on the Iranian-Iraqi frontier which first appears in Akkadian cuneiform sources after the fall of the Kassite dynasty (1157 B.C.) and which disappears from the records with the fall of the Assyrian empire in 612 B.C. No material has ever been scientifically excavated from Bīt Hamban, but in the cuneiform records it is closely linked with Namri, an area on the upper Dīāla between the Jabal Ḥamrīn and the Darband-e Ḵān, and has often been placed in the vicinity of the modern Sar Pol-e Zohāb, east of the Tigris. In the records from the post-Kassite period Bīt Hamban is under Babylonian control. During this period Hamban, or Habban, is also used as a patronymic. Indeed, bīt is a standard Kassite/post-Kassite tribal designation, so the name refers to a group as well as an area. Three members of the group are identified as Babylonian functionaries and are connected with deeds of land on the Euphrates, far from Bīt Hamban. Both I and many others have pointed out that Habban in Iran is in the wrong place on the map and a relatively inconsequential city to include on the map. In contra-distinction, Harran in southern Turkey is in the right place and has been a major trading location for thousands of years in addition to the furthest western extent of the Assyrians and the Neo-Babylonians. These are just my thoughts, I think Harran and the Harran valley is the location on the map, but let me give you a tour of ancient Harran and the Harran valley, city of the prophets.
Harran, a major commercial, cultural, and religious center was first inhabited in the Early Bronze Age III (3rd millennium BCE) period. It was known as Ḫarrānu in the Assyrian period, possibly Ḫaran (חָרָן) in the Hebrew Bible, Carrhae (Κάρραι in Greek) under the Roman and Byzantine empires, Hellenopolis (῾Ελληνὀπολις ‘Greek city’) in the Early Christian period and Ḥarrān (حرّان) in the Islamic period. Harran was conquered by Sennacherib (705-681 BCE), king of Assyria (2 Kings 19:12; Isaiah 37:12) Ezekiel 27:23. It survived under various dynasties, Assyrian, Babylonian (610-539 BCE) and Persian Empire (539-331). After Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, Harran was part of the Empire of the Seleucids, the Macedonian dynasty ruling in Asia. They settled Macedonian veterans at Harran and at nearby Eddessa, which remained a recognizable entity after part of the Seleucid empire had contracted to Commagene. This was really a very large ancient city. The ancient city cut stone walls surrounding Harran, 4 kilometers long (about 2.5 miles), have been repaired throughout the ages, and are still more or less intact today. Note the fact that the walls are at least half earthen works and relatively short stone walls. This speaks to the relative scarcity of stone in the area. The position of no less than 187 towers has been identified. Of the six gates (Aleppo gate, Anatolian, Arslanli, Mosul, Baghdad, and Rakka gate), only the first one has remained.
The first half of the sixth century, Babylon was ruled by king Nebuchadnezzar (605-562). This was the age of Babylonian glory and splendor, and Harran appears to have benefitted as well. The Bible mentions merchants from Harran (Ezekiel, 27.23). Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which stretched from the border of Egypt to the Gulf. He was not a member of the royal family but came to the throne after the legitimate ruler had been murdered. Keen to show his legitimacy, Nabonidus undertook major building works. One of his projects was in the city of Harran where the temple of the moon goddess Sin was rebuilt. He appears to have been devoted to this goddess, and it is probable that his mother had been a priestess of Sin, the moon goddess, at Harran. Because of his support for Sin over the supreme god Marduk, the Persian King Cyrus, who promised to restore the cult of Marduk, was able to take control of Babylon and Harran.
The Selucid Empire did not just disappear, it went through a painful process of disintegration. In the big picture, the Romans from the west and Parthinians from the east absorbed most of the territory. In the middle were places like Zeugma, which I have discussed previously, and especially in the first century BCE, Armenia, which expanded under Tigranes the Great to include Syria. In 83 BC, after a bloody strife for the throne of Syria, governed by the Seleucids, the Syrians decided to choose Tigranes as the protector of their kingdom and offered him the crown of Syria. However, in 66 BC, Pompey advanced into Armenia with the younger Tigranes, and Tigranes the Great, now almost 75 years old, surrendered. Pompey treated him generously and allowed him to retain his kingdom shorn of his conquests. The Osrhoene kingdom was established by The Nabataeans or Arab tribes from North Arabia, and lasted nearly four centuries (132 BC to 214 AD), under twenty-eight rulers, who sometimes called themselves “king” on their coinage. Both Edessa (Sanliurfa today) and Harran are situated in fertile parts of a large arid plain, and are therefore of great strategic importance. The literary language of the tribes that had founded this kingdom was Aramaic, from which Syriac developed. The Romans tolerated this independence only so far, in around 200 CE Septimius Sevrus conquered both Edessa and Harran, memorialized on the Arch of Sevrus in Rome as seen above. Note the distinctive “beehive houses” in the top left of the frieze devoted to the capture of Harran. The city remained in Roman hands until 609/610 CE, when the Persian general Shahrbaraz completed conquering of Oshroene. The city returned to Roman control after the successful offensive of emperor Heraclius in 620s. A few years later, in AH 19 (640 CE), it was conquered by the Muslim Arab general ′Iyāḍ b. Ghanm.
It was allegedly the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun who, while passing through Harran on his way to a campaign against the Byzantine Empire, forced the Harranians to convert to one of the “religions of the book”, meaning Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. The pagan people of Harran identified themselves with the Sabians in order to fall under the protection of Islam. Aramaean and Assyrian Christians remained Christian. Both Harran and nearby Edessa were ethnic melting posts where Jews, Muslims, Pagans and Christians lived in peace together. Edessa was a very important city in Early Christianity and there may have been one of the first churches built there or in Harran. The Grand Mosque of Harran is the oldest mosque built in Anatolia as a part of the Islamic architecture. Also known as the Paradise Mosque, this monument was built by the last Ummayad Caliph Mervan II between the years 744-750. During the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Marwan II, Harran became the seat of the caliphal government of the Islamic empire stretching from Spain to Central Asia. In 1032 or 1033 the temple of the Sabians was destroyed and the urban community extinguished by an uprising of the rural Alid-Shiite population and impoverished Muslim militias. In 1059–60 the temple was rebuilt into a fortified residence of the Numayrids. The Zangid ruler Nur al-Din Mahmud transformed the residence into a strong fortress. At the end of 12th century Harran served together with ar-Raqqah as a residence of Kurdish Ayyubid princes. The Ayyubid ruler of the Jazira, Al-Adil I, again strengthened the fortifications of the castle. In the 1260s the city was completely destroyed and abandoned during the Mongol invasions of Syria.
In 1951 Dr. DS Rice oversaw an excavation of the ancient city of Harran. In the late 1950’s the only archeological evidence that could be associated with any time period was pottery in the ruins dated to the Middle Bronze I period (2000-1800 BCE). It is believed that the earlier levels of archaeology lay beneath the ruins of the medieval castle and mosque. In August-September of 1956 Dr. DS Rice made an important discovery at the Harran site. Rice was examining the ruins of the Grand Mosque when he discovered some Babylonian Stele with inscriptions dating back to the sixth century BC. The steles were turned face down and used as steps at the North, East and West entrances to the Mosque. These are now believed to be part of a set of four inscriptions that probably once hung at the doors to the temple of the Babylonian moon god-Sin. Two of them have a detached semi-circular head piece. These sculptured tops depict King Nabonidus carrying a scepter, a declaration of divinity, while worshipping three deities, represented by the Moon, Sun and Venus. The representative deities are Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar. The entire plan of the mosque which has dimensions of 104×107 meters (341×351 feet), along with its four entrances, was unearthed during the excavations led by Dr Nurettin Yardimer beginning in 1983. There are also current excavations outside the northern and western gates. The Grand Mosque, which has remained standing, with its 33 meter tall minaret, fountain, mihrab, and eastern wall, has gone through several restoration processes.
Though Harran, once a fabulous city, is now in ruins, we are told that not only was this city built over an area where the first world’s cities with the first temples rose, and where agriculture was first started, but hosted perhaps the world’s oldest university in the world, Harran University. During the late 8th and 9th centuries Harran was a center for translating works of astronomy, philosophy, natural sciences, and medicine from Greek to Syriac by Assyrians, and thence to Arabic, bringing the knowledge of the classical world to the emerging Arabic-speaking civilization in the south. Baghdad came to this work later than Harran. Many important scholars of natural science, astronomy, and medicine originate from Harran. Prominent Harran scholars include Al-Battanai, who calculated the distance from the Earth to the Moon, Thabit ibn Qurrah, who translated Greek classics and scientific works into Arabic and wrote on mathematics and astronomy, and the physicist and chemist Jabir ibn Hayyan to name just a few of the figures who rose to prominence in the Harran school. At a time when Christianity was rapidly spreading throughout the known world. Harran became the last pagan enclave, and as the the seats of learning in Alexandria fell in the wake of the new religion, and the Academies and schools of philosophy were closed down, philosophers sought refuge in Harran, where their books and teachings were preserved. Later many of them were translated into Arabic. Some by the so called “Sabians of Harran”, ushering a golden age in the Islamic world. Later these works were to make their way into Europe, directly resulting in the Renaissance along with those works that were preserved in monasteries. Harran University is still teaching students, now based in Sanliurfa.
The most distinctive aspect of Harran (population 7000) are the mud beehive houses, and you can visit models of these at the Harran Kültür Evi (Cultural Center). Harran’s traditional houses have a history of over three thousand years. They are constructed on prismatic bases which are square or nearly square. The domes height are about 5 meters maximum and they were built with 30-40 rows of brick. The houses are quite spacious inside, because every dome is connected with others by arches. Cool in summer and warm in winter, these houses are perfectly adapted for the climate of the region. The thing hanging from the roof is made of local seed pods strung together and bits of fabric. It is thought to bring good luck to the house.
By the late 1980s the large plain of Harran had fallen into disuse as the streams of Cüllab and Deysan, its original water-supply had dried up. But the plain is irrigated by the recent Southeastern Anatolia Project and is becoming green again. Cotton, vegetables and rice can now be grown. The Southeastern Anatolian Project (abbreviated as GAP in Turkish) is a state-sponsored development project which involves several major components that are designed to exploit the hydropower potential of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; dramatically expand irrigation for agriculture; and develop the economy of the region. The GAP project includes 22 dams and hundreds of kilometers of irrigation works. The Sanliurfa and Harran plains extend over an area of about 370,000 acres. Irrigating these plains, which form the largest share of cultivated and cultivable land in the GAP region, is one of the most important components of GAP. Thanks to the implementation of this project, Harran is surrounded by green fields, the standard of living is improving and small agricultural towns are springing up across both plains. Just as an aside, both Syria and Iraq should be worried if Turkey ever decides to shut off the water.
Electrum Magazine Harran: http://www.electrummagazine.com/2013/03/harran-ancient-crossroads-city-of-mesopotamia/
Travel to Eat Babylonian World Map: https://traveltoeat.com/babylonian-world-map-british-museum-london/
Babylonian World Map: http://www.bibleorigins.net/BabylonianWorldMapNarMarratum.html
Harran Rice Findings: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sitchin/Adda_Guppi_Harran.htm
Thabit ibn Qurrah: http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/thabit-ibn-qurra
Harran University: http://www.harran.edu.tr
Dick Osseman Pictures: http://www.pbase.com/dosseman/harran