Harran is located in Southeastern Turkey near the border to Syria and was an important commercial, cultural and religious center under the Babylonians in ancient Mesopotamia. Harran is one of the oldest settlements in the world, the place where Abraham lived before he reached Canaan and where Adam and Eve went after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. It is situated near the modern village of Altınbaşak, 44 kilometers southeast of Şanlıurfa. The earliest records of Harran come from the Ebla tablets (ca 2300 BC). From these, it is known that an early king or mayor of Harran had married an Eblaite princess, Zugalum, who then became "queen of Harran", and whose name appears in a number of documents. It appears that Harran remained a part of the regional Eblaite kingdom for some time thereafter.
Harran is famous for its traditional 'beehive' adobe houses, built entirely without wood. The particular design makes them cool inside (essential in this part of the world) and is thought to have been unchanged for at least 3,000 years. Some houses were still in use as dwellings until the 1980s. However, the ones one can visit today are strictly tourist exhibits, while most of the population lives in a newly built small village about 2 kilometres away from the main site. From the outside, these houses appear to be individual units; inside, however, they are connected by vaulted arches, creating a surprisingly spacious living area. This innovative architectural design can accommodate large, multi-generational families within a single structure, while still maintaining built-in partitions. At the historical site, in additition the the beehive houses, the ruins of the city walls and fortifications are still in place, with one city gate standing, along with some other structures. The crumbling tower of Harran’s Great Mosque, one of the first mosques ever built within the borders of present-day Turkey (8th century, Umayyad), is visible from a distance, its crumbling archway and a lone minaret still standing over the ruins.
The people who live here are ethnic Arabs and live by long-established traditions. It is believed that these Arabs were settled here during the 18th century by the Ottoman Empire. The spoken language in Harran is Arabic, the cuisine is distinctive, and the style of dress also unique. The women of the village are tattooed and dressed in traditional Bedouin clothes. The Assyrians who once occupied the area for thousands of years have moved to other areas.
Harran was once the capital city of Assyria and Umayyad empires. When the classical academies at Athens and Alexandria were closed down under Christian rule in 529, Harran’s world famous center of learning became a refuge for classical philosophers, astrologers, and mathematicians from across the ancient world with over 8,000 students gathering here. Harran University was the first Islamic institution of its kind, and a world-renowned center of learning in the ancient world. Even after the Islamic conquest, Harran was home to a liberal intellectual environment, atmosphere that proved key to Harran’s greatness, providing a fertile ground for the intellectual and religious traditions that were elsewhere rejected as heresies. Under the Arabic Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs in the late 8th and in the 9th century, the place was a centre for translations of astronomy, philosophy, medicine and natural sciences. The university played an important role in the transmission and preservation of the classical Greek learning, by translating the texts into Syriac and then Arabic.
Today, Harran is a valuable archaeological site and an important tourist destination.