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Monday, July 05, 2021

Mardin: Gateway to Mesopotamia

Mardin view from the citadel

This historical city located in south eastern Turkey is the gateway to Mesopotamia. It lies at the center of the homeland of the Syriacs, an ancient race who trace their origin to the Akkadian empire, established in Mesopotamia around 2200 BCE. It also served as the capital of the Turkic Artuqid dynasty between the 12th and the 15th centuries. I am talking about the offbeat cultural gem of Mardin that lies on the southern slopes of a 3,450 feet tall highland and that overlooks extensive limestone plateaus.

Tobacco Store in Bazaar of Mardin, Turkey

A lot of you might not have heard of Mardin as it was unofficially closed for tourism throughout the 1990s due to long lasting Turkey-PKK conflict in the surrounding countryside. Things are still iffy at the borders, but Mardin is welcoming tourists these days. It is the kind of place that rewards fearless travelers with a keen sense of discovery. And this holds especially true for the Mardin old town that is officially under the protection of UNESCO. This old town is known for its fascinating architecture with forts, churches, mosques and narrow alleyways all decorated in a wide variety of stonework. Add to this its diversity in people who form a beautiful mix of Turks, Kuds, Arabs and Syriacs. And you have one charming setup.

Narrow and Tall stone streets of Mardin

Located near the Tigris river, a walk through Mardin’s old town gives you great views of the Mesopotamian plains in the yonder. During its glorious past, Mardin, which used to grow wheat, barley and sesame, would also act a trade hub between today’s Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan. You can imagine all of its rich past as you walk the alleys of the old city while soaking in the local atmosphere and architecture. The ideal place to start would be the main bazaar, where you can meet the ever smiling and hospitable people selling everything from carpets, tobacco, vegetables, fruits, clothes, meta work, day to day items and more.

Mardin Citadel view from a local cafe

From the main bazaar, you could head to the citadel, from where you can catch the majestic vistas of the town and the flat plains below. You can’t enter the citadel premises as it is inside a military zone, but you can walk all the way up to the barbed wire to catch the fascinating views of the Mesopotamian plains. On the way down from the citadel, you could drop by Zinciriye Medresesi, an Islamic school built by the Artuqids in the 14th century. This madrasah is known for its beautiful wall and ceiling decorations.

Fruit and Vegetable Market at Mardin

The other places to see in Mardin are Kirklar Kilisesi (Church of the Forties), a Syriac orthodox church dating back to the 10th century, the intricately decorated Abdul Latif mosque, Mardin museum, the 5th century Deyruz Zafran monastery (The Monastery of St Ananias) and the 6th century Mor Behnam church.

Mardin Museum

In between all your explorations, you can try some of Mardin’s specialties, which is getting a good shave at a local barber, taking a bath at a local hamam and having conversations with locals over some delicious Turkish and Kurdish food.

Zinciriye Medresesi, Mardin, Turkey

As Mardin is not on the main tourist map, you will not find a lot of tourists, which could also be a blessing in disguise as you might have the entire city to yourself . This means that locals will have more time to engage in conversations with you. And knowing them, they will invite you into their homes for tea or food. This is a great way to learn more about the local culture while sharing some stories from your country too.

Kirklar Kilesesi or Church of Forties, Mardin, Turkey

If you are a culture buff who like historical cities, then you will definitely find the stone architecture, bustling bazaars, narrow alleyways and Mesopotamian plain views to be very appealing. I recommend this hidden Turkish gem to all intrepid travelers. This south eastern part of Turkey is so very different from the rest of the country and is a certain treat to the senses.

Main Door to Abdul Latif Mosque, Mardin

How to reach there:

The nearest airport is Mardin airport, which is well connected to Istanbul by Turkish and Pegasus airlines. The airport is located about 30 minutes from the old town.

The nearest railway station is Gaziantep, located about 338 kms or 4 hours away.

The nearest bus station is Mardin. Mardin is well connected by road with the rest of the country. Regular buses ply between Mardin and Gaziantep/Sanliurfa.

Rugs being stitched at Mardin Bazaar

Best season to visit:

Mardin experiences hot summers with temperatures staying in the high 40s degree Celsius. The best season to visit would be October through February. However, this also happens to be the rainy season. Spring and Autumn months also make for a great time to visit. If heat is not a problem, then you can visit all year round.



Young boys pose for me at Mardin, Turkey

Where to stay:

There are quite a few hotels located in Mardin old town that cater to a wide range of budgets. Try to find a place close to the main bazaar so that you are close to all the action.

Garbage collection from on a donkey at Mardin, Turkey

Where to eat:

Most hotels serve food too, but if you wish for some authentic local dining experience, then, you should head close to the main Mardin bazaar. The top restaurants would be Seyr-i Merdin and Damak Sofrasi. And if you have a sweet tooth, then head to Sadik Kunefe.

The Mesopotamia Plains of Mardin, Turkey

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Sanliurfa – one of the top 10 experiences in Turkey

2) Gaziantep – the home of the baklava

3) Midyat – another offbeat gem known for its stonework architecture

4) Beyazsu – known for its waterfalls and greenery

5) Deyrulzafaran monastery – a 5th century monastery that was the seat of patriarchate of all Syrian orthodoxy until 1932.

6) Savur – a place where time stands still and that is known for its gorgeous stone houses

7) Killit – village known for its abandoned stone houses

8) Dara – an ancient Roman city

9) Tur Abdin monasteries – home to several Syriac – Orthodox (Assyrian) churches
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