Harran in Upper Mesopatamia, Turkey
One of the oldest cities in the world
Harran, an area righteously boasting of a continuous human presence over the last 3000 years, is located in southern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. The legend has it that Adam and Eve, expelled from Paradise, eventually traversed this region as well as that Abraham also dwelt here before moving to Canaan. Alexander the Great conquered the city, within the area of which the Roman legions were fated to face defeat by the Parthians who even managed to capture Crassus (53 B.C.) This is also the place where, several centuries later, the roman emperor Caracalla was assassinated.
When I first visited the area, total silence and the morning breeze blended with historic remembrance, the whole triggering within me the sensation of floating in a new dimension. It was as if I had fused with something stronger – and that “something”, I think, was the swirl of history, the past of humanity. The few houses in the shape of a beehive, were made of mud-bricks – no use of wood, there! In the roof, each house featured an orifice, through which the hot air was funnelled out, an intelligent arrangement for the interior to remain always fresh. This setting is best enjoyed in the small hours of the morning, with skies kept usually clear from fog.
On the contrary, what is not visible from the onset, is the ancient University. After conquering Harran, the Arabs founded the first Islamic University (8th century AD) where manuscripts of astronomy, philosophy, natural sciences and medicine were translated from ancient Greek into old Syrian and then on into Arabic. The caliphs of Baghdad found a way to interchange culture with the Byzantine emperors, rising above war and its controversies.
In my imagination I tried to mentally reconstruct the atmosphere of this buzzing hub of knowledge, where scholarships were granted even to the Assyrians – despite their not being Arabs and their having not as yet converted to Islam. This is also from where travellers, merchants and scholars of the Muslim world transferred these ancient texts to Andalusia or to Toledo, where they were translated in Latin before their divulgation throughout Europe.
What remains from this important University is a solitary tower and a gate in the middle of the semi-desert landscape.
The Mongols destroyed it in 1260.