Mesopotamia’s Precious Gem

History begins with writing. But when it comes to Mardin, the story of life and civılization goes back to pre-history.

How to rekindle the pleasure of discovery in a jaded traveler who has seen the cities of the world and made the acquaintance of different cultures? In a word: Mardin. You can compare any city with any other. But Mardin? Never! Whatever the Pleiades are to the other constellations, Mardin is to other cities. A bit of Jerusalem, a soupcon of Sicily, eastern as well as western. Mediterranean for its olives, quintessentially eastern for its spices, Mardin is uniquely itself for its myrrh and, beyond all that, the sheer awe its culture arouses.

With its architecture, Mardin is a giant monument. With its nature, an attractive oasis that inspires awe. With its history, a majestic plane tree. With its languages, its cuisines, its music and its traditions, it is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. And with its enviable multiculturalism crowned by tolerance, it is a model for mankind and a lesson to be learned. Indeed, the reasons for you to go to Mardin are too numerous to fit into this article! Mardin is a true dream that you can experience in a waking state.

Witness of the millennia, stone is far more than just stone in Mardin. If you ask, can stones talk, in Mardin the answer is yes. And not only do they talk, they sing, they recite poetry, and, remembering God, they rejoice. The entrance to Sultan İsa (Zinciriye) Madrasa, a legacy of the Artukids, the tribal atabegs of medieval Turkey, is proof positive - a masterpiece of the art of calligraphy, flanked by intricate inscriptions in the form of tear drops in which the 99 names of Allah are inscribed inside drop-shaped motifs. You can   gaze for hours on this magnificent art worked in stone and think of nothing else. Every minute spent here will enhance your admiration for the masters who once made these stones speak. And the acoustics of the madrasa courtyards are the stones’ song.

A song sung by the water that flows through the middle of the courtyard in summer, and babbles in winter never revealing from whence it comes. Water in Mardin not only relieves aridity, it flows wisely, its flow in stages symbolizing man’s birth, youth and maturity. The call to prayer and bells of Mardin’s intermingled mosques and churches resound across the vast Mesopotamian Plain. As time flows like water in Mardin, you feel the pressure of the multitude of places worth seeing. As one who has had a chance to see it several times, I must say that you will need to give this fairy tale city at least a week in order to see and understand everything. Your heart will fill with indescribable sadness as you leave each place you see, for you will realize in the back of your mind that you have not done it justice and that you must come back again after seeing the other places.

But such returns are very difficult, because you are mingling here with living history, and the splendor of the stone and heights of aesthetic beauty will make your head spin. Only much later will you realize that you have forgotten hunger, thirst and time. For Mardin will fill your soul, and you will realize the aptness of Unesco’s decision to include it on the World Heritage List.

The people of Mardin say of their city that it is ‘a spectacle by day, a necklace by night’.   Indeed, viewed from afar, the city resembles the elegant neck of a woman. And when night falls and the houses and streets light up, it means the time has come to show off the necklace around that neck. I should point out for photography buffs: the most beautiful views of Mardin are to be had from Kızıltepe and the Kızıltepe-Mardin highway. When you look from a distance, you will think it is just another city in the foothills of a mountain.

But that illusion will be short-lived, dissipating completely as you approach closer. When you pass the new city situated in the plain and wind your way into the historic city, you will brim over with the desire to explore its nooks and crannies.  Everywhere you look, every landscape you see, is going to draw you to it. The best thing is to get out of your car at the Square of the Republic and begin your explorations. Mardin Archaeological Museum with its majestic minaret is going to attract your attention right off the bat, and immediately adjacent to it the Church of the Virgin Mary. The Archaeological Museum in particular is a must-see sight harboring important artifacts from ancient times. Next to the museum and the church, the Church of the Forty with its peaceful courtyard is another of the city’s characteristic structures.

When the time comes to delve into Mardin’s streets, choose any quarter at random and lose yourself in its narrow lanes both to explore and to find yourself. Many a surprise awaits you in the back streets with their passageways long and short, known as ‘abbara’, running below the houses. They will take you now to the ornamental door of a house, now to a fountain, now to a group of wide-eyed, smiling children. Don’t forget to snap their photo before their mothers call them home: Şeyhmus, Sultan, Ali, Ömer, Theodora, Gabriel, Florans.

Mardin is the city of the Artukids, traces of whom you will encounter almost everywhere. The minaret of the Great Mosque, one of Mardin’s most prominent symbols, represents the pinnacle of stone workmanship. The Şehidiye Mosque with its delicate minaret, the smaller Şeyh Çabuk Mesjid, and the Hatuniye Madrasa are the Artukids’ other gifts to the city.

Among the rare monuments in Anatolia of the period of the Akkoyunlu, the Kasimmiye Madrasa has opened its doors to visitors in all its splendor following restoration to its original appearance. If you have taken a break on the terrace of Şehidiye Mosque to watch Mardin’s famous tumbler pigeons, then it’s time to plunge from eagle’s eyrie Mardin into the depths of the Mesopotamian Plain to explore the city’s environs and neighboring towns.

Mardin is also one of the most important centers of Christianity. One of Mardin’s oldest monasteries, Deyruzzaferan is said to predate Christianity, going back to the Persians. The monks of this monastery, for centuries the seat of the Syriac Christian Patriarchate, grew saffron. While there is no saffron left today, vestiges of its rooted past are still in evidence at the monastery. Other monasteries large and small were built in the mountains around Deyzzaferan, most of them visible by telescope at the exit. The Deyr ul Umur Monastery at Midyat is at least as imposing as Deyruzzaferan.

And the hundreds of churches and monasteries of every size at Tur Abdin, ‘Mountain of the Servants of God’ where the famous Syriac sages of the East were trained, lie waiting to be discovered in all their mystery. At the same time the ancient city of Dara on the road to Nusaybin displays the succession of civilizations at Mardin in a most striking way. The dungeon (actually a cistern) and water canal at Dara, where Greek, Persian, Roman and Byzantine settlements are found side by side, are must-see’s.

October is one of the best times for visiting Mardin. If you have plans to travel in October, you can make seeing Mardin your top priority. Mardin, a living dream in the lower reaches of eagles’ eyrie Mardin Castle