Locals maintain history of Harran where Bible says Abraham rested

Local resident opens ancestral home to visitors, “following in Abraham’s footsteps.”

 Traditional beehive home in Harran. (photo credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY)
Traditional beehive home in Harran.
(photo credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY)

The modern-day city of Harran, with a population of close to 80,000, has existed in the same location in southeastern Turkey at the northern tip of the Fertile Crescent – which stretches from parts of northern Egypt up through the Levant, southern Iraq, Syria and parts of Iraq and Turkey – for some 4,000 years.

According to local folklore, this is the city mentioned in Genesis where Abraham’s father, Terach, decided to settle after originally setting out to lead his large family from the city of Ur to Canaan.

Tradition here also says that this is the spot to where Adam and Eve went when they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Though today it is a mostly semi-arid area, as part of the Fertile Crescent, it was once a place of plenty where hard work would bring results.

Local tradition also says that the mountain range where Noah’s ark rested after the flood is near here – not Mount Ararat in Armenia – and that Harran was one of the seven cities to be established after the flood.

Among the finds of the earliest archaeological excavations in 1951-56 and later in 1983 at the ancient mound inside the city of Harran were a 16-line cuneiform inscription from the sixth century BCE regarding the Babylonian king Nabunaid. Alongside it was a terracotta tablet piece with a four-line cuneiform inscription regarding the same king, among other objects.

 Reconstruction of ancient University of Harran. Tower of mosque served also as an observatory. (credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY) Reconstruction of ancient University of Harran. Tower of mosque served also as an observatory. (credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY)

In excavations since 2003, figurines from the Early Bronze Age, Assyrian cylinder seals dating from 1950 BCE and thousands of objects from the Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Zhendie, Ayyubid and Seljuk periods have also been found.

Ruins of the ancient dwellings of the city have been excavated near a partially reconstructed wall of the ancient Islamic-period University of Harran. They reveal courtyards and household items renowned in the ancient world for the university’s astrological study of the sky, stars and moons. The renovation of the ruins of the 2,000-year-old castle of Harran is scheduled to be open to visitors next year.

One of the trademark building styles in the oldest section of the modern-day city of Harran are the beehive homes. The oldest of these, with their distinctive beehive roofs, are only 200 years old. Most are used as stables for animals today.

Resat Ozyavuz, 42, turned his grandfather’s beehive home, where he lived until the age of 13, into an open museum for visitors called the Harran Evi. Ozyavuz greets visitors for tea in a tent set up outside the house compound like a modern-day Abraham .

Consisting of a central courtyard encircled by several interconnected buildings, the distinctive beehive-shaped conic roofs kept the homes warm in the winter and cool during the hot summer months. These are similar to dome roofs that were used in parts of the Levant, including in relatively modern Arab houses. Their usage goes back into prehistory. They were built in ancient Mesopotamia and have been found in Persia.

“Harran is a place known for old wisdom,” said Ozyavuz, who on one hand wears a ring with the seal of King Solomon, and on the other hand, a ring with the ancient symbol of the mythical Phoenix bird, which rebirths itself from its ashes. The Seal of Solomon, which looks like the Star of David, is a creation of mystical medieval Middle Eastern writers who said God engraved Solomon’s ring. According to tradition, the symbol allows people who wear it to feel the strength of ancient knowledge and experience. It is used by the three Abrahamic faiths.

Ozyavuz’s own family immigrated to Harran from Iraq some 300 years ago.

“It is nice to know that there were so many cultures in this area,” he said. “They are all different cultures and we absorbed something from each one. For me it is special to continue farming here and welcoming visitors. It makes me happy to follow in Abraham’s tradition and welcoming people to my tent.”

The writer was a guest of the Turkish Tourism Board.