As my husband hails from the South East of Turkey, a place simply drenched in ancient history, I assumed he had visited some of the ancient sites near to his birthplace but no, he never has. I had a list of places to work through on this trip and today we are setting off for Haran,(Charan in Hebrew), a site mentioned in the book of Genesis as the home of Terah and his son Nahor and a once upon a time temporary home to Abraham, who, reputedly was born in a cave not far away in a little place called Sanliurfa.
Previous to the biblical stories, Harran was home to the Pagan Moon God ‘Sin’ and the village itself was built by Babylonian King Nemrud. In the story of King Nemrud and Abraham, the King sets a fire and throws Abraham into it. Seeing this, God cools the fire to keep Abraham safe and this site, where he fell, becomes the lake that is now the famous Balikligol (Lake of Fishes). The fishes, incidentally are said to be the wood that was laid for that fire.
That’s enough history from me. Much more can be found through an internet search and it’s great reading.
One warm November day in 2008, we set off from Sanliurfa. On this little jaunt are myself, Murat, Ide Teze, cousin Mehmet and his daugher Elif.
We arrive to the hustle and bustle of a busy market day. The air is full of chatter and bartering as money and all kinds of produce change hands over the improvised market pitches. Well, they are not really pitches, just swathes of brightly colored cloth laid on the dusty ground, piled high with sellers wares.
In the distance we can see a tall pillar, the remains of the University and we use this as our landmark to find the main part of Harran, a town now famous for its Beehive roofs. I was surprised the village was still inhabited; signs of life were all around. Smoke billowing through those conical rooftops, washing hung on iron poles and blowing gently in the breeze and the occasional sheep or child running through the grass.
We stop by the remains of the castle and park the car. On stepping out, we are approached by two young girls who strike up a conversation:
“Hello, what is your name?”
“Where do you come from?”
“How old are you?”
The English is dropped now and the girls launch into their sales pitch. They hold aloft a copper coin, an ancient coin they say, found on a dig. We could buy it they say, all it will cost us is 500 Lira. Murat and Mehmet playfully tease them and Ide reaches into her Şalvar and pulls out a few coins which she presses into their hands and sends them on their way.
We wander in and around the ruins of the castle, avoiding the large holes in the floor. In times gone by, these were used to drop prisoners into the dungeons below. I snap away with my newly purchased camera, taking shots of ancient arches as the sunlight pours through onto the rough stone floor.
We leave the castle ruins to wander through the streets and as we are walking through a small alley, we spy an elderly gent who is sweeping his courtyard. Mehmet calls to him: ”Salem Alekum”, the man turns, stops sweeping, leans on his broom and returns the greeting ”Alekum Salem” he replies and motions for us to come forward. A brief conversation later,and we are invited in for a look around his beehive house.
I set about with the camera, snapping away at stacks of compressed dung (used as fuel for the soba), his dry goods store with sacks of bulgur and flour and basically anything else that catches my eye. The old man himself is a magnificent creature with a nut brown face, heavily lined and trimmed with a white beard. His head is wrapped in a lilac pusi (scarf), the kind I have seen so many of here in the region. It denotes Arab descent, or so I am told. As you can imagine, I was itching to photograph this lovely old man but I didn’t want to ask and appear rude. Luckily enough, a passing bird chose a perfect moment to land on the fence behind his head and I used this excuse to take a surreptitious shot of him, using the zoom. It turned out to be a beautiful shot that really captured the feel of him.
He did invite us to stay for dinner but, we declined and apologised saying we had other plans. I felt rather sorry leaving him, he was obviously alone and lonely as he had mentioned that his wife recently died. I wondered where his children were?
Out next stop is the ‘Harran Culture Ev’, a tourist center and small pansion that is manged by sisters Linda & Fatouche, the daughters of the owner. It is Fatouche that greets us in a fashion we have heard before:
‘hello, what is your name”
“where are you from”
“how old are you”
Sister Linda however speaks very good English and tells us that she can speak five languages. Whether this is true or not I don’t know but, I can confirm three of them as she spoke to the boys in Turkish, to me in English and we also had a brief conversation in Spanish.
Venturing inside, through a maze of connecting archways, I count 19 rooms, each with a conical roof containing not so ancient treasures. Plenty of tourist paraphernalia sits alongside smoking rooms and tea lounges where glass pipes balance on silver trays and kilims and cushions await you. Lining the outside walls are artifacts collected from the village; stone tablets covered in calligraphy, huge pestles, goatskins used for yoghurt making, animal horns, wagon wheels, sun bleached fox carcasses, sections of ancient columns, hand woven tapestries and silk scarves. Ide has thrown herself into tourist mode and I take shots of her in action; pretending to make yoghurt in a goatskin and raising a sledgehammer to batter bulgur in a huge stone pestle .
After a small tour, we sit a foot off the ground on tiny wooden stools around a circular stone table as we drink cay. The girls regale us with tales of life in Harran and their hopes for the future of tourism in the new hotel that their father is designing. It’s a pleasant afternoon chatting over cay but we really must be getting back now. We bid the girls goodbye and drive to our last stop of the day, the world’s first university of Islam. Unfortunately for me, it’s fenced off. Had I been alone, I would have squeezed through or climbed over the fence but that would not be appropriate in this family outing. Once again I resort to my now beloved zoom and take shots of the remains.
On returning to the car, we are approached by three young girls. We know what’s coming;
‘Hello, what is your name?’
‘Where do you come from?’
‘How old are you’
It seems the villagers have, at some point, learned the very basics to entertain us tourists.
I am now eager to get home to upload my photos and we are all rather hungry. It’s not a long journey, around 20 minutes drive and we are back in Urfa at Ide’s house and sitting around the sofra, eating dinner and telling the rest of the family about our day.
Fed, watered and smiling, I am looking forward to more adventures to come.