Harran: Beehive Houses in Southeastern Turkey

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As an architect, my trip to Harran in Southeastern Turkey was a dream come true. Since I had already been to the iconic beehive houses of Syria in 2004, I was anxious to see the ones in Turkey. They turned out to be equally beautiful! However, these are uninhabited and popular amongst tourists. Besides, I discovered that Harran is so much more than its gorgeous beehive houses.

Harran city has been important for ages. In fact, it is one of the oldest inhabited places on earth. Due to its strategic location on a major trade route, ancient Harran was part of some of the world’s greatest civilizations. At one point or the other, the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Persians, Hittites, Umayyads, and Assyrians took over the city. Supposedly, Abraham lived here. Yes, the Abraham of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths.

Harran Southeast Turkey

Is Harran Safe?

You are probably asking yourself if Harran is a safe place to visit. Since the town is just 15 km away from the Syrian border, you have every right to ask the question. The conflict in Syria is almost over, and there hasn’t been any fighting in the area for a few years now. The situation is currently so calm that there are few Turkish security forces in the area.

I went to Harran alone with a public bus from Sanliurfa and didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be a fantastic experience. On the bus I met some teenagers who wanted to practice their English, so they showed me around town. Once we reached the highest point, we took a picture, and they left. I thought they would ask for some money, but it was only me and my crazy ideas. Locals are genuinely hospitable!

Children in Harran

Where to Stay in Harran

Most tourists visit Harran on a day trip from Sanliurfa. I rather spend a night or two in every place I find interesting. However, this time it turned out to be impossible. There is not much reliable information online about local hotels. The two I heard about can’t be booked online. Thus, you just have to go there and take your chances. Kümbet Otel and Öğretmen Evi are close to the bus stop, west of the old town.

Therefore, I strongly recommend staying in Sanliurfa. Since I’m a hotel queen, I spent my time in two historic hotels in Sanliurfa’s Old Town. The Elci Konagi is a super comfortable boutique hotel with an original Roman mosaic. My room on the second floor had a private terrace with direct views of an Armenian church converted into a mosque. The Palmyra Boutique Hotel offers huge rooms in front of the Grand Mosque. The decor is traditional and elegant.

Elci konagi Sanliurfa

Where to Eat and Drink

In the past, Harran used to be a popular destination for Turkish and foreign tourists. Unfortunately, due to the recent conflict in Syria, tourism never recovered. That’s why most tourist infrastructure seems abandoned. However, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Harran has a couple of restaurants where you can refresh and grab a bite.

The most visited beehive house turned into a museum is Harran Kültür Evi. There is a small café there where they serve drinks and snacks. Since the place is very popular, you’ll be one of many tourists. However, you’ll be facing a 300-year-old architectural marvel. For a more authentic experience, go to the bus stop. There are a couple of kiosks and kebab stalls.

Harran Restaurant

How to Get to Harran

When I first inquired about how to get to Harran I was told there were no public buses, so I would have to take a taxi. Though taxis are now cheap in Turkey, I didn’t want to rent one for the whole day. If I took one just to take me there, how was I supposed to get back? Luckily, I kept asking around and found out about the public minibus. The minibus (dolmus) connects Sanliurfa’s bus station (Otogar) with Harran several times a day.

Buses operate from the morning to the afternoon, and the journey lasts roughly 1 hour. It’s difficult to find any exact info online, so I advise you to get back to Sanliurfa early. The buses drive along Akçakale Street, so if you are staying in the Old Town, you should walk there and raise your hand as soon you see a bus with a Harran sign on it. To go back, you’ll have to wait for the minibus to fill up.

How to Get to Harran

How to Visit Harran

The main purpose of this post is to help independent travelers find their way to and around Harran. Nevertheless, this may not be an option for you. There are two fantastic options. Our partner GetYourGuide offers a four-day tour of Cappadocia and Sanliurfa with an excursion to Harran. They also have a two-day trip from Cappadocia to Sanliurfa and Harran.

Harran has a new modern part and an old one that looks like a village. The bus from Sanliurfa ends its journey in the modern part, in front of the City Walls. The area around the bus stop is not that interesting, so go under the gate, climb the hill, and visit the archeological sites and Harran village. The beehive houses and Harran’s castle are in the village area.

How to Visit Harran

Things to Do in Harran

Enter the Town through the Ancient City Walls

The first thing you’ll notice as soon as you step off the minibus is Harran’s ancient City Wall. This was the outer wall of the old city of Harran. It is unclear when the wall was built, though it’s estimated it dates back to the Early Bronze Age (3000 – 2500 BC). We do know that it was in the shape of an ellipse, some 4 km in length and 5 meters tall.

Six monumental city gates used to adorn the impressive wall. East Bagdad Gate, North Greek Gate, West Aleppo Gate, South Raqqa Gate, Mosul Gate, and Lion Gate. Today, only the western portion of the wall and Aleppo Gate still stand. That’s the one facing the bus stop.

Harran City Walls

Learn about the Harran Tumulus

Once you cross the Aleppo Gate, walk up the hill until the flag pole. You might not be aware, but you will be walking above the Harran Tumulus, an ancient burial mound. Parts of the ancient tumulus are on display in a rectangular archeological fenced area on your left.

Archaeologists have been working in the area since 2003. They’ve uncovered several bronze figurines from the Early Bronze Age. You can see the figurines at the Archeological Museum of Sanliurfa. The museum is quite interesting and will help you appreciate the importance of Harran.

Harran Tumulus

Admire the Tarihi Harran Ulu Cami and University

Continue walking down the stairs next to the Tumulus archeological site until you reach the famed Harran University and the Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami). Built between 744 and 750 AD by the last Ummayad caliph Mervan II, the Great Mosque is the oldest Islamic place of worship in Turkey. You will recognize it by its 33.3-meter high minaret.

Other than the minaret, the archeological site includes parts of a fountain, a mihrab, and the eastern wall. In the surrounding area, archeologists have unearthed the remains of several Turkish baths, cisterns, courtyards, and a covered bazaar. Unfortunately, the site is closed for visitors. All you can do is admire it from the outside.

Great Mosque of Harran

Visit Harran Kültür Evi

After visiting the ancient mosque, head directly to the village. It is packed with beautiful beehive houses. Like the ones in Syria, Turkey’s beehive houses are conical dwellings with a high dome. They are made of layers of mud and straw and have few doors and windows. The houses are perfectly sustainable, staying cool in summer and warm in winter.

The Harran Kültür Evi is the most popular restored beehive house in town. This kümbet house (as beehive houses are known in Turkey) has 18 interconnected rooms. Its owner Mustafa has turned it into a museum displaying traditional clothes, jewelry, and other handicrafts that belong to his family. Entrance to the museum is free, but you are advised to leave a tip.

Harran Beehive House Kültür Evi

Walk around Harran Fortress (Kalesi)

A few steps away from Mustafa’s house museum, you’ll see another impressive structure: Harran Fortress (Kalesi). The three-story castle was also known as the inner city wall. Once again, the last Ummayad Caliph Mervan II commissioned the structure. The castle used to host the Moon Temple of Harran.

To truly admire the castle in all of its glory, you should walk all around it. Tourists don’t visit this part of the village, so you’ll probably be on your own. There is a fence around the castle, though broken in a few places. Don’t go in, as it’s dangerous. The excavations are still going on, and the place doesn’t seem safe.

Harran Castle (Kalesi)

Visit Tarihi Kümbet Evi

After visiting the castle, walk along the village streets searching for more beehive houses. They come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Some of them are in groups of three or four. Others have dozens of conical roofs. There is even a small modern mosque with a similar shape. Take your time and enjoy the experience!

The Tarihi Kümbet Evi is another beehive house restored and opened as a museum. It is bigger than the first house and more decorated. When I visited, I was literally the only guest, so I stayed a little bit longer. Eventually, its owner appeared, so I gave him a tip to substitute the entrance fee. According to some online sources, there are two more restored beehive houses opened for tourists, but I couldn’t find them.

Harran Beehive House Tarihi Kümbet Evi

Enjoy the authentic atmosphere!

One of the things I love about Harran is its authentic atmosphere. People don’t live in the beehive houses anymore, but they use them for animal shelters or storage. Since they live next to the old houses, the whole area is full of life. I saw locals working, chatting, and going about their business. Kids with huge smiles were running along the street or taking care of the animals.

To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of children running after me. I advise you to bring small gifts for them (a coin or candy will work). It will make them truly happy! I also saw different animals roaming freely on the streets: cows, sheep, goats, cats, dogs, and chickens. Finally, on my way back, I passed by the fields where hundreds of locals were harvesting their crops.

Harran, you are not only incredibly beautiful, but completely real!

Life in Harran

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