• 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.

Harran University was the first Islamic institution of its kind, and a world-renowned center of learning in the ancient world. Even after the Islamic conquest, Harran was home to an amorphous, syncretistic, and decidedly non-pious intellectual environment, regarded with disdain by the good Christians of Edessa, who derided the city as “Hellenopolis.” But it was this syncretistic atmosphere that proved key to Harran’s greatness, providing a fertile ground for the intellectual and religious traditions that were elsewhere rejected as heresies. Thus, when the Athenian academy was abolished in 529 CE, Harran University became a refuge for classical philosophers, astrologers, and mathematicians from across the ancient world. The University was a key locus in the transmission and preservation of classical Greek learning, whose texts were translated into Syriac and then Arabic.

It was perhaps this intellectual abundance that led Harran’s Muslim rulers to countenance the strange religious practices of Harran’s people, and to extend to them the tolerance usually reserved for “people of the book” (Jews and Christians). In the tenth century, a Christian chronicler named Bar Hebraeus wrote, with no small degree of wonder, that the city’s Muslim governor,

“permitted the pagans of Harran to perform their mysteries openly, and at length they arrived at such a pitch of boldness that they decked out an ox in costly apparel, and gave him a crown of flowers, and they hung little bells on his horns, and they walked him around the bazaars while men sang songs and played pipes; and in this manner they offered him up as a sacrifice to their gods.”

In permitting such displays of popular piety, Harran’s Muslim governors also fostered the conditions under which classical science and philosophy could flow into Islamic thought. Indeed, the University reached its zenith under Muslim rule during the 8th and 9th centuries, when it produced such eminent scholars as Thabit ibn Qurra (a renowned mathematician, astronomer, and translator) and al-Battani (the first to calculate the distance between the earth and the moon).

Along the Abraham Path in the:



Sites in the Harran Region:


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.


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.


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.

Great Mosque


The crumbling tower of Harran’s Great Mosque, visible from a distance, stands vigil over the ruins of one of Turkey’s first mosques and once-illustrious university.

Han al-Barur

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