15 August 2022 The Future is the Product of the Past

Remains of first Islamic madrassa found in Turkey’s Harran

The remnants of a 12th-century madrassa (Islamic institution of higher instruction) have been discovered in the archaeological site of Harran, located in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa.

Excavation work has been continuing for eight years in Harran, which is one of the world’s oldest settlements on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. Mehmet Önal, head of the Archeology Department at Harran University and leading the excavations in the Harran settlement, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that Harran is frequently mentioned in history books as it is one of the oldest settlements in the world.

Harran, a onetime Assyrian and Umayyad capital located 44 kilometers (27 miles) southeast of the city of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border, was an important Mesopotamian trade center on a road running south to Nineveh in modern Iraq and has been continuously inhabited since 6,000 B.C.

Mehmet Önal added that during 2021 excavations, they found important remains such as a street, a monumental gate, and a madrassa.

Photo: AA

Stating that they encountered a university structure in the settlement for the first time in this year’s studies, Önal said: “We have determined with archaeological evidence that the madrassa belongs to the Zengid era. Previously, it was known that Harran had five madrassas. This was the first time we came across one of the known madrassas of this region.”

He said they have determined the structure had 24 rooms above ground and have now completely unearthed the monumental door of the madrassa along with its five rooms, and the portico partially, adding that there is also a kitchen next to those rooms with large stoves and a brick and clay oven.

“Another feature of the kitchen is there are many bones of sheep and goats inside the hearths and ovens. This shows us that food was prepared here and people here left the city in a rush, leaving the food on the stove without being eaten, after being thoroughly convinced that the Mongols would take over the city,” he explained.

Photo: AA

Önal said that they determined the madrassa belongs to the 12th century and that they will learn more after excavations in the region are completed.

World’s first university

Cihat Koç, a district governor in Harran, said the history of education in Harran dates back to 3000 B.C., and that studies were carried out in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and theology.

Harran is a place that pioneered the science and scientific education, Koç said, adding that, “With our work this year, we have unearthed the first of the five big madrassas, five big university campuses.”

A view from the remains of the madrassa found in Harran, Şanlıurfa,
A view from the remains of the madrassa found in Harran, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey. Photo: AA

“The world’s first university is at Harran. We are working seriously to uncover all the ruins of this university,” he underlined.

Harran is an important ancient city where trade routes from Iskenderun to Antakya (ancient Antioch) and Kargam were located, according to UNESCO’s website. “The city is mentioned in the Holy Bible,” says the website. “It is important not only for hosting early civilizations but it is the place where the first Islamic university was founded. The traditional civil architecture, mudbrick houses with conic roofs, are unique.”

The first excavations in Harran began in 1950. The site has been on UNESCO’s tentative list since 2000.

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