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Harran Carrhae Ancient City

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Ancient City of Harran or Carrhae

My mother called me on the cellphone as I was leaving the ancient city of Harran in the southeast of Turkey on the Syrian border.

“I just visited the place where Abraham lived,” I told her excitedly.

“Abraham Lincoln?”

“No, Abraham from the Bible.”

My mother does not possess the best notion of world geography.

But the ancient city of Harran still stands after being constantly inhabited for thousands of years. It is said that this is the longest span that humans have ever lived in any one place on planet earth. Adam and Eve were said to have come to Harran after being expelled from the garden of Eden, Terah and his son Abram, grandson Lot, and Abram’s wife Sarai halted in Harran on their way from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan, and Jacob lived here for 20 years laboring for his uncle Leban.

Harran is old.

Now, the site of this ancient city is upon an almost empty wind swept plain of busted up ruinous cobbles, a dissected fortress, the remains of a once prestigious Islamic university, and a village of conical shaped clay houses. The city’s ruins are from the Roman, Sabian, and Islamic periods.
—————————-
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Sanliurfa, Turkey- March 26, 2009
Travelogue Travel Photos –Travel Guide
Click on map to view route of travel.

There is a gentle layer of dust that covers everything at Harran, from the parched earth to the houses to the clothes of the people who live here to my very face, the fine dust clings to everything with surefire tenacity. This was the region of the world where humans first decimated their environment with their blessed supply of ingenuity and innovation. This was the staging platform for an irony that has been played out over and over again throughout human history all around the world:

Man finds ways to artificialize his lifestyle and landscape and does so to such extents that he ruins his own creations and leaves himself in a squalid round of diminishing returns. This region is where agriculture was born, and agriculture, given the right amount of years, tends to destroy that which it is meant to provide life for.

The sowing of the seed was humanity’s original sin.

But Harran is still here. I would not say that it is still standing, but it is here – on the map – none the less.


Fortress at Harran.

I rode out the hour long dolmus ride with Chaya from Sanliurfa through the world’s first agricultural plains. I looked out the window at the brownish green expanse of flat lands that stretched out in all directions. The sun was shinning and the weather warm.

We arrived in Harran and were let off at the minibus stop. A “tourist guide” quickly attached himself to us. I quickly detached him. No offense to the poor fellow who was trying to make his living, but the last thing that I wanted was someone leading me around telling me what to look at. I would more often rather gaze upon something that I have no clue what it is than to have someone tell me where to look and where to go. This is just the way I am.

I walked towards what appeared to be ruins and through the gate to the old city. the gate is not just a gate. There is little left of the wall that it was once attached to or the city that it protected. On the other side of this gate, I gazed upon a field of chewed and spewed stone cobbles which blanketed the earth in all directions: I had found Harran.

Another guide was waiting for us on the other side of the gate, and I had to quickly trump his “hello, hello” with “no thank you, no thank you.” Though he did tell us where to walk to get to the main cluster of ruins.

I walked up over a large hill with Chaya and looked out at the spread out clusters of villages that laid below us. The houses were made from clay and had numerous conical shaped beehive domes sticking out of their topsides. These beehive adobe homes are constructed without the aid of wood, and appeared to be a sedentarized version of nomad tents – perhaps a great ode to humankind’s lost innocence. A large fortress loomed in the distance, and we were drawn to it like mosquitoes to a light bulb . . . or, in our case, tourists to an ancient city.


Beehive house at Harran.

On we walked through a village that appeared to be nearly deserted. A couple of dusty faced little girls approached us, and we watched as their little mouths formed in unison the word “money.” Little hands with little empty palms shot out in front of us to follow up their initial ensemble. The little empty palms remained empty. I did not wish to belittle further these already little people.

Yes, tourists have been here before. It is amazing how good a tourist can seemingly make themselves feel from greasing the palms of mud hut children with their dryer lint and pocket change. I did not wish to make myself feel good at another’s expense.

On to the fortress we found huge carved blocks of stone and an idle goat. I took photos of the goat. A few village children yelled out hellos, and we hello’ed them back. We then walked up the side of the fortress and looked out across the remains of the ancient city, the quiet village on top of it, and the tinsel green plains beyond. Sunlight danced over everything.


Goat at Harran.

A local man in a rugged suit jacket then ascended the fortress from another side and walked up near Chaya and I. He hesitated for a moment a short distance from us, and we continued casting our gazes out into the deep seas of the ancient city. The man soon walked closer to us and introduced himself. His name was Mehmet, and we shook hands and tried to talk a little. I told him where we were from and he told me that he lived where we were. He then said the words “Bush” and followed that up with “Clinton” and I think his english vocabulary was just about expended. So he joined us for a moment as we stared off into the distance. Then we smiled at each other and parted ways.


Arab man selling fruit and vegetables in the new village of Harran.

I wanted to walk amongst the conical dome village a little more and visit a section of Harran’s walls and a high tower that were still standing a few hundred meters off in the distance. The large minaret tower seemed to patrol what was left of this ancient city, and kept tabs on what occurred here throughout the centuries. Chaya and I looked up at it from its base. This was all that was left of the first Islamic university, which functioned during the 8th and 9th centuries. It was here that the works of the Classical World were translated from Greek to Syriac and then to Arabic. I smoked a Turkish cigarette and Chaya found a hiding spot to pee in.

Out in the distance we spotted a man in a business suit walking quickly from out of nowhere. I watched him as he tramped through the ancient plains and over the ruins and cobbles of a lost time. I am not sure that he took much notice. He quickly strode right by me without a hello as if I were another part of unacknowledged scenery. This man would not have looked out of place on Wall Street. I could only wonder at how he came to be planted down here, busy and serious in the lost plains of a lost age.


What is left of the Islamic university at Harran.


Old village at Harran.

We resumed our walk back towards the modern part of Harran, and were met by a small handful of school girls. We played with my camera a little, had some small talk, and then parted ways with big smiles.


Chaya with friends at Harran.

We walked on alone looking out at the ruinous fields of the ancient city. A smiling woman carrying a baby soon broke up the dreamland state that archaeology sites tend to bring upon its visitors. She noticed my tattooed hands, and I rolled up my sleeves and showed them to her a little better. She said something that sounded like “moto,” and then pointed to all of the places on her enrobed body that she had tattoos and then pointed to the button sized tattoo dot below her lips with added emphasis. It was clear that the tattoo on her face was the only one that I would be permitted to look at.


Ruins at Harran.

The people here at Harran are predominately Arabs, speak Arabic, and many of them dress in traditional Bedouin clothing. The women were purplish robes and headscarves, many of the older ones have tattoos that decorated their faces and bodies, are plump, and usually always have children running amok at their feet or hanging out in their arms. They smile as I pass by them. The men wear worn out black suit jackets and slacks or Turkish pants with turbans. Some men have beards, some bright blue eyes.


Local man on the fortress of Harran.

I bought a bundle of oranges and a couple cucumbers in the new village, and then boarded another dolmus to go back to Sanliurfa.


Horse drawn cart in the Harran new village


Map of Harran, Turkey.

Ancient City of Harran or Carrhae

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Filed under: Eastern Europe, Europe, Middle East, Turkey

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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