The Citadel is situated at the southeast corner of the ancient walled city of Harran, in southern Turkey, along the caravan routes linking Asia Minor to Mesopotamia and Syria. The city had been occupied from 2000 BCE by the Sabians, a civilization mentioned in Arab sources of the ninth century. The Sabians worshipped the moon god Sin whose temple stood on the site of the citadel. In 642 CE, the Arab conquered the city of Harran peacefully and later the Umayyad Caliph Marwan II made Harran his capital (744-750) until it was conquered and looted by the Abbasids in 750. Marwan II built a mosque in the center of the city and a royal palace on the site of the temple of moon god Sin, which is believed to have been located on the same site as the actual citadel.
The presence of a citadel in Harran was first mentioned around the end of the tenth century. Although its exact construction date is unknown, it was built after 990 when Harran became the capital city of the Numayrids, a local northern Syria dynasty ruled by Waththab ben Sabiq al-Numayri. According to an inscription found on the gateway, the citadel was restored and enlarged in 1059 during the reign of the fourth Numayrid ruler, Mani' ben Shabib. Numayrid rule in Harran ended in 1081 when the city was conquered by the Uqaylids of Mosul. Later, the city followed the Zenghid rulers of Mosul, serving as an important stronghold against Crusader attacks. Nur al-Din rebuilt the citadel in 1149; later, with the rise of Saladin (1169-1193), Harran was annexed to the Ayyubid territories. In 1196, the citadel was rebuilt again by Saladin's brother, al-Malik al-Adil, then appointed lord of Harran. In 1237, the citadel and the city of Harran were occupied by the Khawarizmians as they fled the Mongols; in 1240, al-Malik al-Nasir, the ruler of Aleppo, conquered back the city and brought it back under Ayyubid rule, which lasted until the citadel was attacked in 1259 by the Mongol leader Hulagu. Under the Mongols, the citadel was severely damaged and one of the two towers of the citadel was destroyed. In 1271, the Mongols destroyed the town of Harran, and moved its inhabitants to Mosul and Mardin. According to an inscription found on its southwest tower, the citadel was maintained as a stronghold in order to secure the road between Raqqa in Northern Syria and Urfa in Turkey during Mamluk rule. By Ottoman times, the citadel was no longer a seat of government, and the town was abandoned by its inhabitants, who feared Bedouin raids.
The present structure, which is in ruins, dates back to the Ayyubid period with restorations carried by the Mamluks in the fourteenth century. As it stands today, the citadel is composed of an irregular rectangular enclosure surrounding an inner core. This enclosure measures approximately one hundred and thirty meters by ninety meters, and was formerly surrounded by a moat paved with stones and framed by four polygonal corner towers (of which three remain). The outer defensive walls are punctured by two rows of embrasures accessible, respectively, through a vaulted gallery on the ground floor and an open air walkway above. The citadel is entered from the southwest, through an archway that opens into the vaulted gallery surrounding the inner core. Facing the archway on the gallery wall is a nestled blind arch, decorated with two rows of Mamluk zigzag carving supported on simplified Corinthian capitals. On the southeast wall is a protrusion built by Numayrid ruler Mani' ben Shabib in 1059, as a gatehouse into the inner core. This entry point was removed and transformed into a tower included within the outer defense walls rebuilt by Nur al-Din in 1149. The gate is in the form of a horseshoe nestled within a pointed arch and is supported by pillars decorated with molded interlaced tendrils and two pairs of dogs carved in relief.
The corner towers are composed of an outer polygonal wall punctured by three rows of embrasures. The towers each originally had three floors, each roofed with a brick vault resting on a central cylinder that then supported the staircase. Currently, of the original four, this can only be seen in the better-preserved western tower. The north tower is totally ruined; in the east tower, only the first row of embrasures on the outer shell is still visible; of the south tower, only the first floor of the walls that supported the staircase still remain.
The inner core is a rectangular stone structure that was mostly built by al-Adil in 1196. Adjoining the rectangle is a polygonal tower located on the southeast wall and a square pillar situated next to the north tower, both of which are believed to predate Numayrid rule. Today, the inner core of the citadel still consists of two floors with several rooms roofed by barrel vaults.
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