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Upper Mesopotamia

Published on 22/10/13 in In travel

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Harran 3                                                 Harran, one of the oldest cities in the world

Harran, an area righteously boasting 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 and 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 Parths who even managed to capture Crassus (53 B.C.) This is also the place where, several centuries later, the Roman emperor Caracalla was assassinated.

Harran 11When I first visited the area, a 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 passing of humanity. The few houses, shaped like beehives, were made of mud-bricks –no use of wood, there! On the roofs, the houses all featured an orifice, through which the hot air was funnelled out, an intelligent arrangement for the interior to always remain cool and fresh. This setting is best enjoyed in the small hours of the morning, with skies usually clear of fog.

Harran 12However, 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 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 they're having not as yet converted to Islam. This is also where travellers, merchants and scholars of the Muslim world transferred these ancient texts to Andalusia and Toledo, where they were translated into Latin before their divulgation throughout Europe.

What remains of this important university is a solitary tower and a gate in the middle of the semi-desert landscape. It was destroyed by the Mongols in 1260.

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