Harran’s once-splendid Great Mosque (8th century, Umayyad) was among the first mosques ever built within the borders of present-day Turkey. Today, its stark remnants include a crumbling archway and one lone minaret, mistaken for a church belfry by T.E. Lawrence during his visit to the “City of Abraham” in 1909. His confusion is understandable, as the mosque, like many places of worship in this region, blended late antique architectural forms (capitals, friezes) with characteristically Islamic ones (arabesques, square minarets). The mosque’s visible remains include a Byzantine capital engraved with grape vines and leaves, which was incorporated into the mosque during a 12th century restoration, and was likely brought to Harran from a ruined church in Edessa.

The mosque also incorporates far older remnants, perhaps belonging to the renowned Sin temple that would have been standing when Abraham emigrated to Harran. In the 1950s, an archaeological team sent to survey Ulu Cami discovered neo-Babylonian tablets dating from the 6th century BCE. They had been used, face down, as the steps of the mosque. These became known as the Nabonidus tablets for the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus who rebuilt the Harran temple. The find suggests that the temple of Sin may well have been located beneath the mosque. The remarkable black tablets, one of which depict Nabonidus worshipping the sun, moon, and Venus, are on display at the Sanliurfa Museum.

Along the Abraham Path in the:

HARRAN REGION


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Sites in the Harran Region:

Harran

Deep in the dust of the uninhabited wilderness, a prosperous caravan city rose up, appearing like a mirage to early travelers like Abraham and Sarah. They made their home in Harran, which would become a world-renowned center for religion and learning.

Sogmatar

Deep in the barren hills of Anatolia near a remote village, seven temples adorn seven hilltops with rock carvings and writings dedicated to the sun, moon, and planets.

Jethro’s City

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Jethro’s City (Suayib Sehri), a former Roman town, is revered as the dwelling place of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. It is here that Moses met his wife, Zipporah, and received the staff with which he would part the Red Sea.

Karahan Tepe

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Buried under timeless hills, one of the first religious structures ever built by humans remains almost entirely a mystery.

Bazda

Head underground to probe the innards of a set of enormous caves carved out by a quarrying operation centuries ago.

Beehive Houses

Harran’s ingenious conical mud-brick structures, whose form may date from biblical times, provided shelter (and natural climate-control) to Harran’s families for generations.

Han al-Barur

A ruined medieval waystation reminds walkers that these quiet plains once hosted a busy trade route heading east from Harran.

Harran University

When the classical academies at Athens and Alexandria were closed down under Christian rule, Harran’s world-famous center of learning became a refuge for scholars from across the ancient world with over 8,000 students gathering here.