You would think, that being born in the South East of Turkey, my husband’s natural curiosity would have prompted him to visit places with immense historical value close by. A place such “Harran”; an ancient city with Pagan roots dating back some 2000 years BC.
The site of “The Temple of Sin” (Sin” the Chief God of Paganism), worshiped at some 11000 years ago, home to the Prophet Jacob and of course, the location of the world’s first university. Especially as it is only 40km away from Sanli Urfa, his birthplace.
On one of our jaunts to the South East, I coerced him into a visit and we set out for this ancient site on warm November day, with various family members in tow.
It was obviously market day as people were milling about everywhere. As we turned a corner we were greeted with brightly coloured cloths that covered the dusty ground on which sat piles of clothes, odds and sods and fresh picked veg. Not a stall in site and looking a lot like a car boot sale..... minus the boot. Rising in the distance was the tall pillar that remains of the University. Using this as a landmark we went in search of the site and the existing village of Harran with its conical roofs. I hadn’t realised the village was still inhabited, but signs of life were apparent in the smoke billowing through the rooftops and the washing blowing gently in the breeze. Washing lines were constructed of Iron and could be found in every house courtyard.
We parked the car and as soon as we opened the doors we were accosted by two young girls;
“Hello, what is your name?”
“Where do you come from?”
“How old are you?”
They followed us as we walked to the remains of the castle, all the time chatting about a copper coin they had found and did we want to buy it for 500tl?. Mu and cousin Mehmet smiled and humoured them for a bit until Auntie Ide gave them a couple of coins lira and they went on their way, minus around 498tl.
We wandered in and around the ruins of the castle avoiding the large holes in the floor. These had been designed for ease of use when dropping prisoners through into the dungeons below. I snapped away with my newly purchased camera, taking shots of ancient arches with sunlight pouring through onto the rough stone floors, then, wandering through the narrow alleyways of the village itself, we spied an elderly man sweeping his courtyard. A “Salem Alekum” from Mehmet and a brief conversation later, we were invited in for a look around and I excitedly set about with the camera, snapping away at piles of circular compressed dung used as fuel for the soba and his dry goods store with sacks of bulgur and flour piled high under the conical domes of his village abode. The old man himself was a magnificent creature with a nut brown face, heavily lined and trimmed with a white beard. His head swathed in a lilac pusi (headscarf), the colour that denotes Arab descent, or so I am told. I was itching to photograph him naturally but I did not want to appear rude so I pretended to take photos of a bird that had landed on the fence and managed a surreptitious shot, using the zoom. Success, it was a beaut of a photo and captured his persona beautifully.
This kindly old gent invited us to stay for dinner, but, we declined and I did feel so sorry for him. He was obviously lonely after the recent death of his wife and was now having to do his own cooking and housework after years of being looked after.
Our next stop was the ‘Harran Culture Ev’, a tourist centre and small pansion ran by Linda and Fatouche, the two daughters of the owner. Fatouche greets us: ‘hello, what is your name”, “where are you from”, “how old are you”. Linda however, (who insisted that was her real name), was fully conversant in five languages no less. Whether that was true of not I don’t know but I can confirm three of them as she spoke to the boys in Turkish, to me in English and we also had a brief conversation in Spanish.
Venturing inside, through a maze of connecting archways, I counted 19 rooms, each with a conical roof containing not so ancient treasures. Plenty of tourist paraphernalia sits alongside smoking rooms and tea lounges where glass pipes balance on silver trays and kilims and cushions await you. Lining the outside walls are artefacts collected from the village; stone tablets covered in calligraphy, huge pestles, goatskins used for yoghurt making, animal horns, wagon wheels, sun bleached fox carcases, sections of ancient columns, hand woven tapestries and silk scarves. Ide has thrown herself into tourist mode and I have taken photos of her in action, pretending to make yoghurt, raising a sledgehammer preparing to batter bulgur in a huge stone pestle and posing beside various artefacts.
Time for Çay and we sit on tiny stools, roughly a foot off the ground at circular stone tables and drink as the girls regale us with tales of life in Harran and their hopes for the new hotel that their father is currently designing. It’s a pleasant afternoon and after several cups of çay we bid them farewell and drive along to the site of the world’s first university. Sadly, it’s fenced off. Had I been alone, I would have squeezed through or climbed over but that would not be appropriate in this family outing. Once again I resorted to my now beloved zoom as I took shots of the remains.
As we made our way back to the car, three young girls appear;
‘Hello, what is your name’
‘Where do you come from’
‘How old are you’
I'm thinking at some point, someone has either left behind or kindly donated a Linguaphone tape to the village. If so, I would imagine it’s pretty worn out by now!
This is a guest post by Kym Ciftci, who writes for www.turkeywithstuffin.wordpress.com, a blog about life in Turkey, from a 40 something wandering soul finally settled on the Aegean Coast. Happily married to a native with a large and entertaining family. Mother to a fellow wanderer in his twenties. Bilingual, prolific writer, always on an adventure and an advocate of Desiderata. Addicted to travel, food, ancient history and photography, this site tells tales of all of the above and includes thoughts on the general weirdness that makes Turkey....... well, Turkey'
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