Harran, Turkey is known for its beehive homes. The remnants of this former city in Upper Mesopotamia is located in a small village 44 kilometres southeast of Şanliurfa and 30 kilometres north of the Syrian border in southeastern Turkey.
I arrived in Harran in the late morning with two travellers I had met a few days before. We were all staying in Şanliurfa. The road south was flat, with only moderate hills to the west. Lush greenery interrupted the desertscape, which is a result of GAP, the Turkish government’s major dam and irrigation project.
After convincing the handful of children who approached us that we really didn’t want a guide, we walked through what was left of Aleppo Gate, the main entrance to the archaeological site. We spent almost an an hour wandering through the remains, not seeing a single soul.
According to the book of Genesis, Abraham stayed in Harran when returning from Ur of the Chaldees. It was then the site of a cult that worshipped the planets and was dedicated to the moon-god, Sin. Although the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans consecutively occupied the site, the cult survived many other occupations for over two millennia until the 11th century.
Marwan II, an Arab ruler between 744-750 who chose Harran as his capital, designed the current layout of the city remains. The remaining structures were built in the 13th century. By the 17th century, Harran had declined completely in importance.
The remaining city walls date from at least 1057 (as is inscribed on an eastern wall); there were also remnants of two minarets; an arch; the Grand Mosque (built between 744-750 and supposedly the oldest piece of surviving Islamic architecture in Turkey); and a 22-metre tumulus – a raised patch of earth built over graves – where excavations have dated settlement in the area to 3,000 BC through to the 13th century.
We walked, we sat on deserted benches placed in a viewing area for visitors, we ate pistachios, and we eventually walked a kilometre or two to the actual village. Here began the protected archaeological zone, designated in 1979 to protect the unique architecture of the local houses. Known as “beehives,” they’re conical in shape with chimney vents at the top, like large, beige breasts emerging from the earth.
These houses are constructed using mud-bricks collected from the ruins of Harran’s older civilizations, each built on top of one another. Today, newer “beehives” have been erected that allow tourists to explore inside the homes, feel how cool they are in the heat of midday, and even stay overnight.
Because of Ramazan, the business aspect of the beehive complex was closed, but the inhabitants still welcomed us to walk through the structures, take photos and have some tea in the outdoor café area. A teenaged boy, who we found out was a Syrian refugee staying at a nearby camp, was working there.
After we had finished our tea, we asked the man who had invited us in when the last bus back to Şanliurfa would leave. The man looked at the clock on his flip phone and said casually, “In a few minutes. But it leaves from the other side.” That was where we had entered, a kilometre or two away.
We looked at each other, wondering what to do.
“Okay,” the man said, “I’ll call someone and see what I can do.”
In the meantime, we tried to come up with an alternative plan, but could only think of walking back to the main entrance and hoping that someone could call us a taxi that would take us back to the city.
The man shook his head, “Not possible.”
So we waited.
Eventually the man got through to someone.
“The bus will come here to pick you up before it leaves Harran,” he said. “So you can enjoy the rest of your tea!”