Sanliurfa claims connections with Abraham and Nimrod, and with 1st-century Christian missionaries. Its mosques reflect the Muslim presence here from the 12 century on. Perhaps it was the capital of a Mitanni kingdom in the second millennium BC. In the succeeding centuries Hurrians, Hittites and Assyrians must have been its rulers.
Alexander the Great came through here in 333 BC; his inheritor and General Seleucis renamed the place Edessa, referring to a city he knew in Macedonia. It was called that through the time of the Crusades. "Urfa" harks back to the earlier name. Since the Turkish Revolution of 1923, it has acquired the distinguishing title of "Sanli" - "Glorious" Urfa.
Two late-Roman columns part of what is called the "Throne of Nimrod," rise prominently on the hill southwest of the city; one bears an inscription in Syriac concerning Queen Shalmat, but who she had not been established.
It claims the distinction of being the birthplace of Abraham. One of its early names, "Hurri," which is thought to mean "grotto" or "fortress with a spring," is related to the legend that a cave under the citadel of the city is his birthplace. In Muslim tradition, this was where Abraham rebuked King Nimrod and his subjects because of their worship of idols (Sura vi:74- 79). For the insult and his refusal to follow the king’s practice, Abraham was condemned to be burned. But God turned the fagots for the pyre into carp and the flames into two pools. These pools are considered sacred by the residents of Sanliurfa and the tradition makes it a place of pilgrimage for Muslims.
The Christian influence in Edessa, according to the 4th-century Christian historian Eusebius, began when King Abgar V (4 BC-AD 50) addressed a letter to Jesus asking him to come to cure him of his leprosy.
The oldest Muslim building in Sanliurfa is from the 12 century: Ulu Cami ("Great Mosque"), a red stone building on Ataturk Caddesi, was founded by Nureddin and patterned on the Great Mosque of Aleppo; its minaret doubles as a clock tower. (Nureddin was the ruler of Aleppo and Damascus.) The medrese (Islamic school) associated with it is thought to have been built by Saladin in 1191. Other old buildings date back to the 13 century. Reflections of the religious complex of the Mosque of Halil ar-Rahman and of its medrese shimmer in one of the sacred pools associated with the memory of Abraham. Tradition says that anyone so sacrilegious as to eat the fish of this pool will go blind. The Ridvaniye Camii and its medrese and the Abdurrahman Camii and its medrese are from the 18th century. Not far from the pools is the old bazaar, a place whose crowded streets, whose goads and whose methods of manufacture, whose sounds and smells and hubbub, whose merchants, their costumes and their bargaining are reminiscent of the fabled romance of the old Ottoman Empire.
The Door to Mesopotamia: Harran
Harran is a picturesque town of distinctive beehive-shaped houses 44 kilometers south of Sanliurfa in Southeast Turkey. Situated in the region watered by the series of new dams constructed under the major Southeast Anatolia Project, this historic town is today looking forward into the future rather than back into the past, and the atmosphere is lively. The fertile Harran Plain is abundant not only in grain but in archaeological sites. There are hundreds of ancient settlement mounds here, the most important of which is Harran Hoyuk, where finds have revealed that this site was inhabited without interruption from 5000 BC until the 13th century AD.
Due to the town's position on roads linking Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean coast, it was known in Sumerian and Akkadian as Harran-u, meaning journey or caravan. At the time of the kingdom of Babylon, it was known as Uru-ki-kaskal-al Harran. The town also lay on the trade route between Assyria and Anatolia and was a halting place for the Assyrian merchants who had close trading links with Anatolia.
The Ebla tablets discovered in northern Syria make frequent mention of Harran, which is called Ha-ran-an-ki, and provide valuable historical information. Harran was a cult center, and in 2000 BC was the second most important city after Assur itself. One of the Mari tablets dating from 1800 BC relates how, after a long period of war, the Hittite king Suppillulima and Mitanian king Mativaza signed a peace treaty in the name of the moon god Sin and sun god Samas in the temple of E-hul-hul (House of God) Sin dedicated to the moon god in Harran. In the 6th century BC, during the Late Assyrian period, Harran briefly became capital before being conquered by the Parthians, who called the city Carrhae and ruled here until 54 BC. Monotheistic worship originated in Harran during the time of Abraham, who lived in Harran for some years and is said to have married here. A temple was built in his name in the city.
Harran is also important in early Islamic history since it was conquered by Omar in 640 AD. Under Arab rule, Harran was a celebrated center of learning, home to such famous scholars as the 9th-century mathematician Sabit Bin Kurra, the physicist Cabir Ibn-i Hayyan and astronomer Battani. Under the last Umayyad caliph Mervan II Harran became a capital city for the second time. Its golden age was under Eyyubid rule when architecture, art, and technology reached a zenith. After the city was razed by the Mongols in 1260, however, it never recovered its former importance. The ruins of ancient Harran attest to its former splendor. Among the monumental structures dating from various periods of history are the city walls, which are nearly four kilometers in length and five meters in height, city gates, and the keep, which is in a good state of preservation and consists of four structural layers, the earliest dating from the Hittite. On the north side of the settlement mound is the magnificent medieval Ulu Mosque, whose minaret is over 33 meters in height. There are six gates in the walls: the North Anatolia Gate, Lion Gate, Baghdad Gate, Mosul Gate, Rakka Gate, and Aleppo Gate. Excavations, restoration, and field surveys have been continuing here since 1983 under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, and the walls on either side of the Aleppo Gate have been completely uncovered. Archaeologists have also revealed the remains of an Islamic period city with adjoining rectangular plan houses whose rooms open onto courtyards. Tandir ovens, jars for storing grain and wells have been found in the houses, whose walls are built of brick or adobe over stone foundations. The floors are mainly laid with bricks fired at a high temperature, or sometimes of beaten adobe. This city possessed a sewerage system consisting of fired earthenware pipes. Basalt flour mill complexes worked by human power and dating from the Eyyubid period uncovered during excavations of the mound reveal how abundant the grain harvests must have been. Early finds include a bronze age terracotta figurine of a woman, an ancient Assyrian cylinder seal, cuneiform tablets dating from the New Babylonian period referring to King Nabonid and the Temple of Sin, and cuneiform offering inscriptions belonging to the same temple. Eyyubid period finds include glassware with colored figurative designs, a fragment of wood carved with stylised motifs, coins, and pottery which shows that this period was the heyday of ceramic art in Harran. Harran's history is long and complex, beginning with the Halaf, Ubeyd and Uruk cultures, and followed by the Hittite, Hurrian, Mitannian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. During the latter, Harran was ruled by the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Zengids, and Eyyubids. Harran Ulu Mosque is the oldest mosque in Turkey, built by the Umayyad king Mervan II between 744 and 750. The oldest Islamic university was also situated here. The fascinating artifacts excavated at Harran can be seen at Urfa Museum.