Last weekend I ventured down to Şanlıurfa again, although this time Danielle and Fabio were in tow. Although I had managed to see the majority of the sites within Urfa itself when I had gone there by myself, the city seemed to beckon to me and I was excited to see it again in large part thanks to the posts by Kim on her fantastic blog Turkey With Stuff In. The first day we arrived in Urfa, we spent the majority of the day seeing the touristy religious sites that the city is known for – and that I’ve blogged about here. Seeing the sites again was magical, but the main impetus for my return was the ruins of Harran.
Harran is village about thirty miles or so from the Syrian border which feels like nothing like the rest of Turkey. Although everyone speaks Turkish, the population is almost entirely comprised of Kurds or Arabs lending the area a much more ‘Middle Eastern’ feel. As an anecdote, the dolmuş we took from Urfa’s city center to Harran was driven by an Arab who, when he realized we knew English, gave a big laugh and said to us “I love Assad!”
Although now just a small, relatively isolated, tourist attraction Harran was once a place of massive renown and importance for the world in general. One of the major trade cities for the upper Mesopotamian, Harran was also the center for the worship of the Moon God Sin and apparently remained so until the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate forced the people to accept one of the three monotheistic religions. By the 800s, Harran became globally important as it was the sight of the first Islamic University and thus the center for numerous translation efforts as well as astronomical and mathematical works. Later, Harran also became the sight of a Crusader castle.
Harran’s main draw, seemingly, is the so called ‘beehive’ houses that a number of residents continue to live in to this day. Although the majority of them are reconstructions, they are still awe-inspiring. What really was fascinating about the houses was that, despite most likely not having running water, they all came equipped with satellite dishes. Not to sound too nerdy, but the whole general situation gave me the feeling of Tatooine.
Interestingly, Fabio pointed out that this type of construction is also present in Sicily. Whether Sicilians build houses like this too due to cultural exchanges that took place during the Islamic conquest of the island, or simply because they are the best shape for dealing with extreme heat, is still up for debate though.
The first complex we visited was the bustling tourist draw of the town. When we first arrived there we joined a throng of other tourists, all of whom happened to be Turkish from the nearish metropolis of Adana. Aside from being able to see what it must be like to live in this type of housing, there was also the opportunity to put on ‘authentic’ and ‘traditional’ Kurdish clothing from the region for free. Generally I do not like playing tourist – I stand out enough in Turkey as it is – but Danielle saw the Turkish tourists doing it and insisted that we join in.
It is easy to write Harran, and this type of compound, off as just being a tourist trap if not for the fact that actual residents do continue to reside in these types of houses almost exclusively. Being only about an hour outside of Şanlıurfa by dolmuş, I would highly recommend checking out the area if for no other reason than superficially seeing a way of life that most tourists have never experienced.