• 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.

Sogmatar is an ancient open-air cultic center located in the Tektek plateau, 60 km southeast of Urfa and 30 km northeast of Harran. The site consists of seven temples with rock carvings dedicated to the sun, moon, and planets. On the central “sacred hill” lies a large, open-air temple dedicated to Marilaha (a chief deity). Edessan craftsmen, who were evidently skilled stoneworkers, built the site in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Reliefs carved into the rocks, usually accompanied by Syriac inscriptions, shed light on the religious and cultural atmosphere of pre-Christian Urfa. Several of its most prominent motifs also appear at nearby cultic sites such as Harran, Palmyra and Hieropolis. While Sogmatar seems devoted primarily to the worship of celestial bodies, it also features distinctive evidence of funerary cults, with dedicatory tomb inscriptions detailing hopes for the afterlife of its occupants.

Although planet-worship and funerary cults may seem at first an odd combination, it makes sense in a culture where various local and regional cults might have coexisted, merged, and divided. For instance, at Sogmatar, everything is set up around a chief God, Marilaha. But who exactly is Marilaha?  The diety seems to have been associated at times with the moon god Sin (the chief deity of Harran), at times with Be’elshamin (the chief deity at Palmyra), both of whom were at times associated with Zeus.

At that time, there was a tendency for cultic centers throughout the region to recognize a central godhead, even if it was within or alongside a pantheon of other gods. Some historians believe that this tendency explains in part why Urfa was such a fertile ground for monotheism, Sogmatar in particular, whose height coincided with Urfa’s transition to Christianity in the 2ndcentury, may shed light on the reception of Christianity in the region.

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.

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.

Great Mosque

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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.

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.