Contemporary Harran is noted for its unique conical dwellings, known as “beehive houses.” From the outside, these clusters of windowless domes appear to be individual units; inside, however, the domes are linked together by vaulted arches, creating a surprisingly spacious (if labyrinthine) living space. This innovative architectural design can accommodate large, multi-generational families within a single structure, while still maintaining built-in partitions (the Kurdish nomadic tents, by contrast, are rectangular and admit very few interior divisions).
A similar type of structure may well have sheltered Abraham and his family in Harran. Although the present examples were built within the last two centuries, some speculate that their design dates from ancient times. Evidence for this theory can be found in the triumphal arch of Septimus Severus in Rome, which depicts scenes from his battles in the East with the Parthians (whose territory reached up to, and at times included, Harran). One scene on the arch portrays a dwelling structure remarkably similar to Harran’s beehive houses, providing evidence that the design may have continued largely unchanged through millennia.
This would make sense because, despite the apparent curiosity of the beehive design, the houses’ architecture is both eminently practical and ecologically sound. The conical design provides enough structure for the mudbrick dwellings that their roofs are stable despite containing no wood (a scarce commodity in the desert). Large stones, culled from the remnants of Harran’s many ancient structures, provide foundational support. The use of mudbrick in conjunction with the vaulted roof design keeps the interior of the houses remarkably cool, providing natural climate control on this sun-baked and shadeless plain. Harran’s beehive houses were inhabited up until the past decade. Today, they are protected as cultural heritage sites, with some converted into museum-like displays or shops.