City Of Love Diyarbakır

Steeped in a millennia-old sea of culture in northern Mesopotamia, Diyarbakır is one of civilization’s largest and loveliest river basins.

Diyarbakır stands on a layer of black stone known as basalt. In contrast with the darkness of the stone, however, which is reflected in the city’s historic architecture, Diyarbakır’s long and splendid history has made it a city of wise men down the ages. Perhaps a spinoff of the virtue associated with that wisdom, Diyarbakır has remained true to its history by preserving dozens of vestiges of the civilization that constitutes its identity.


Proof that a city’s history goes back thousands of years, making it an attractive center of settlement from the day it was founded, lies in its names, each one of which is a story, a legend that enriches the city. The city that was known to the ancient Greeks as ‘Amida’, and that has preserved that name with slight changes over the centuries, achieved fame as the ‘Diyar-i Bekir’, or Land of Bakr, thanks to the Sons of Bakr bin Wail, leader of the Bakr tribe, who settled in the area following conquest by the Muslim Arabs in the 8th century. But the name Amid lived on even in the period of the Islamic civilizations. Under the Turkish Republic, Diyarbakır became a province with the city as its capital. But by whatever name it has been known in its long history, Diyarbakır has preserved its identity unchanged as a center of commerce, culture and knowledge.


Diyarbakır is one of the rare cities on earth that has been continuously inhabited since its founding. Evidence of human settlement going back to 11,000 years B.C.E. has been found in scientific studies conducted around its outlying towns of Silvan (Meyyafarikin), Eğil and Ergani. The invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals are among the important landmarks in human history that render this region even more unique.


I gazed long at the Tigris (Dicle, or ‘’Deej-leh’ in Turkish) the first time I saw it in 2004. For some mysterious reason I loved it so much that if I had had a daughter at the time I would certainly have named her Dicle. The Tigris has a magical beauty that you will love at first sight. Diyarbakır is unimaginable without the Tigris, and the Tigris without Diyarbakır. We could say that they were made for each other.  The Tigris merges with the Euphrates to nourish these lands where civilization evolved. The Tigris is a witness to Diyarbakır’s thousands of years of legendary history as the river on whose banks man first grew grain, where he first made the transition to the sedentary lifestyle, where he developed the concept of civilization.

The Tigris brings life, abundance and fertility to the lands through which it flows. Its waters rush in spring, sometimes overflowing their banks, but in summer they flow calm and quiet. The fertile plains come to life with those waters. And the Tigris responds in kind to this land generously warmed by the sun, providing water to drink, cooling its people, even supplying electricity and illumination to her cities. Flowing below the Ten-Arch Bridge, a gift to the city from the period of the Mervanids, the Tigris empties into the Gulf of Basra.


The Tigris is the mother of all waters in Diyarbakır, but the Tigris also has many offspring or tributaries. The reputation of its waters, famous for their taste, once spread all the way to Istanbul, even to the Ottoman Palace. Let us leave the telling of the story to the Ottoman traveler, Evliya Çelebi: “… Wise men of old used to place cotton in the waters of a spring called Hamravat and then weigh it. Cotton that had been soaked in the water of a prized spring in front of the entrance to the Old Palace in Istanbul and then dried was weighed together with cotton soaked in Diyarbakır’s Hamravat water to see which was the lighter. If the cotton was heavy, this was proof that the water was brackish and of no use. It is known from experience that the water of the Hamravat destroys bile, soda and phlegm. Indeed, when Sultan Ibrahim of the Ottoman dynasty heard of the virtues of this water, the imperial gatekeeper came officially to Diyarbakır with an edict saying, ‘Let the waters of the Hamravat be brought to Istanbul!’ Our lord, Melek Ahmet Pasha, was governor of Kara-Amid at the time. When the pasha saw the Sultan’s order, he immediately complied with the request. Taking ten okkas of water each, he filled a total of 24 pitchers, six of silver, six of gold, six of zinc, and six of glass, and sealed their mouths and handed them over to the chief doorkeeper, to whom he also gave ten purses containing gifts. By Allah’s wisdom, the day this pure, cold water arrived in Istanbul happened to be the day the new sultan was enthroned, so that the water of the Hamravat was vouchsafed to Sultan Mehmed the Fourth, son of Sultan Ibrahim. Saturday, the eighteenth day of Receb 1056 A.H., when the sultan took the throne following the afternoon prayers, the first thing he did was drink the water of the Hamravat. To cut a long story short, the water of the Hamravat is the pride of Diyarbakır.” (Evliya Çelebi, Book of Travels, Zahuri Danışman Publication, vol. 6, p. 127, 1970)


The great engineer and inventor, Abu’l Izz al-Jazari, one of the most prominent names in the history of science, has a special place in Diyarbakır. This distinguished 12th century sage put his signature on several important discoveries in Diyarbakır’s Artukid Palace. Al-Jazari, who, besides mechanical robots, invented everything from model clocks to sensitive scales, gathered his projects together in a book 150 years before Leonardo da Vinci. Dicle University is currently engaged in efforts to create a museum in Diyarbakır for exhibiting the models that have been developed based on the studies of Al-Jazari, who is regarded as the father of modern robotics.


Water and climate brought humans, and humans civilization and culture, to Diyarbakır. Vestiges of  Zoroastrianism and of the Yezidi and pagan cultures can also be found in this city, which is held sacred by all the monotheistic religions. The Great Mosque at Dağkapı, one of the city’s most important centers, has the distinction of being one of Anatolia’s first so-called great mosques. The history of the building, whose architecture resembles that of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, dates back to the ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. The rotating columns on either side of the pulpit of the madrasa section are just one of the architectural masterpieces of Diyarbakır. Immediately adjacent to the Great Mosque, the Nebi Mosque is among a small number of monuments left from the period of the Akkoyunlu (White Sheep clans) in Anatolia. Berides the Chaldean Church and the Church of the Virgin Mary, there are some 20 other churches in Diyarbakır, where  the shrine of the Prophet Jonas and of St. George, one of the most important figures in Christianity, are also noteworthy. Diyarbakır is important in the history of Islam as well, boasting 541 Companions of the Prophet Mohammed (‘sahabe’) in a city which, after Mecca and Medina, harbors the largest number of such personages in the Islamic world. The shrines of the prophets and other places of pilgrimage around Diyarbakır in general enrich the city as a center of faith.


Although it is not known exactly when work on them began, the city’s defense walls are thought to have been given their original form in the Hellenistic period. Approaching six kilometers in length, they are masterworks of masonry thanks to the towers and royal symbols as well as magnificent examples of the art of calligraphy added in the medieval period under the Artukid and Ayyubid dynasties. From a bird’s-eye view, the city has the shape of a turbot fish inside defense walls punctuated by five gates and sixteen towers.


A center of attraction where trade routes intersected down the ages, Diyarbakır’s medieval hans are among the city’s must-see sights. Their dates of construction expressed in centuries, these hans draw attention for their spacious courtyards and original architecture. All products of the Ottoman period, they are used today mainly as shopping centers and hotels. Among the hans, almost each one of which has a story to tell, Hasan Paşa Han, the Çifte or Double Han, and Sülüklü Han are just a few for which you should set aside time. At Hasan Paşa Han in particular you can sample outstanding dishes that appeal to both the eye and the palate in the local coffee salons.


Although it is not well known today, the cultivation of roses dates back to the Assyrian period in Diyarbakır. In the Ottoman period the city’s rose gardens (gülistan) where dozens of varieties were raised were important centers of rose oil and rose water production. Large rose gardens outside the city walls are depicted in a miniature painting in a work, “Beyan-ı Menazir-i Sefer-i  Irakeyn’, compiled by Matrakçı Nasuh in the 16th century. Evliya Çelebi also mentions Diyarbakır’s roses in his Book of Travels: “The banks where the great river flows are lined with rose gardens, sweet-smelling vegetable gardens and basil beds. These are the excursion grounds where the people of Diyarbakır make merry on the banks of the Tigris six months of the year.”


A modern city that fits no molds, Diyarbakır is growing and developing by the day. The dynamism of its young population and the vibrancy they add to the city are evident in the cafes. Life here involves a high rate of book reading as well as concerts and cultural events, including ballet, dance and theater, summer and winter. It’s easy to find all the European products and brands in the city’s modern shopping centers, and thousands of students attend Dicle University, one of Turkey’s leading institutions of higher learning.


The towns of Diyarbakır province are rich in attractions to lure culture and history buffs as as well as nature enthusiasts.  Silvan, the ‘Martyropolis’, so-called because of the forty Christian saints who were martyred here in the Roman and Byzantine periods, or ‘Meyyafarikin’ as it was known as one of the leading capitals of the Ayyubid dynasty, is a virtual open air museum with its city walls, Salahaddin Ayyubi Mosque, Zembilfroş Castle and Malabadi Bridge. The pre-historic cave settlements, religious centers, silkworm growers at Kulp and mineral spas at Eğil and Ergani are among the other sights worth seeing.


Turkish Airlines and AnadoluJet fly to Diyarbakır and back from both Istanbul and Ankara every day of the week.


There are accommodation alternatives to fit every budget in the city center. If you like you can stay at a 5-star hotel, a boutique hotel or at facilities offering more modest accommodation. All are spotlessly clean and offer service with a smile.


Be sure to eat liver at Dağkapı, and have a typical local breakfast at Hasan Paşa Han. Diyarbakır’s magnificent kadayif pastry is a legendary taste.