Harran

A quick ride from Urfa, the ancient city of Harran is well worth a visit, although be forewarned that it is close to the Syrian border so pay special attention to the U.S. State Department travel warnings before planning a visit here. The Urfa region is rife with dubious biblical legends, but there seems to be almost unanimous agreement that this Harran of modern Turkey is quite likely the Harran mentioned in the Old Testament as a place where Abraham spent some time before heading off to the promised land. True or not, today's Harran stands on the spot of a very ancient settlement, with crumbling fortifications surrounding what is now a simple village. The main attraction is the ruins of the 8th-century Ulu Cami, called the world's first Islamic university, just below the hill in the center of the town. The ruins' distinctive square minaret can be seen from throughout Harran, although you will probably have to admire it through a fence. In Harran visitors get the sense that not much has changed here over the centuries, and some of the pastoral scenes around Harran, of shepherds driving their flocks of sheep along seem, well, almost biblical.

Harran's main claims to fame, besides playing host to Abraham, are its beehive-shaped houses, wondrous structures built of hay and mud, each topped with a conical roof. The small town is filled with them, although many are no longer family dwellings and are now used as stables or are in the process of collapsing. The Harran Kültur Evi and Geleneksel Konik Kubbeli Evi (a short walk from the city's ruined fortress) are two great examples of these structures, and their owners are happy to show guests around.

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