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.
One of the reasons I went to Turkey this summer was to visit some of the famous archeology museums and sites open to the public. Because of the ancient heritage of modern day Turkey, involving many of the great and small empires of history, and the lasting imprint they left on the country, ruins, treasures, customs, and of course food, Turkey is a microcosm of the history of the Middle East. The mosaic fragment seen above, named by the press “Gypsy Girl” when it was rediscovered in excavations during the winter of 1998-1999 in the Turkish city Zeugma is a perfect example. A special mosaic technique was used to make the eyes more realistic. The haunting look reminds us of the best of women's portraits including the Mona Lisa, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Bathsheba, and of course the famous Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry from 1983. She was discovered in 1998-1999 in the House of Menad in Zeugma and dates from the 2nd-3rd century CE. Almost all the other mosaics in the house had been looted. She currently resides at the relatively new Zeugma Mosaic Museum (2011) in Gaziantep, Turkey.