ARTICLE: NEZAHAT TURKAN PHOTO: BARIS HASAN BEDIR
City That Opens Its Heart
By whichever gate you enter, the Mountain Gate, the New Gate, the Urfa Gate or the Mardin Gate, Diyarbakır is ready to show you vestiges of a 5000-year-old past.
You may not be aware of it, but there are cities that are waiting for you, confident that one day you will come to them. Somewhere you may have seen a giant tower with a relief of a double-headed eagle that may have stuck in your mind. Or you may have read somewhere that “its walls are the longest in the world after the Great Wall of China.” For no reason at all, a line from a folk song frequently played on Turkish State Radio years ago became part of the language: “Diyarbakır flows merrily along / facing towards Urfa and Mardin...” Like fond memories, accounts of this city grow on you until finally one day you pass through its gate. But before you set out, you must tell those who ask where you are going: “To the city of walls, mysteries and people of stern countenance.”
By whichever gate you enter, Diyarbakır is ready to show you the vestiges of a 5000-year-old past. Its history, which began with the Hurrians in 3000 BC, actually dates back to 7000 BC and the Çayönü mound in the township of Ergani. For, older than Diyarbakır itself, Ergani is an example of one of the most advanced villages in human history, exhibiting a development from simple shelters made of woven branches to structures built of mud-brick walls over stone foundations.
Constructed out of regularly cut blocks of black basalt, the city walls stretch for more than 5 kilometers, fortified by 78 towers and with four principal gates. The Harput, Urfa and Mardin gates are the starting points of the roads to those cities. The gate on the banks of the Tigris, where the city’s famous watermelons are grown, is the New Gate, from which you can survey the fertile Tigris Valley in one direction and, in the other, the old city within the walls and the new city without.
THE SEVEN BROTHERS AND ‘HOME BODY’ TOWERS
But where did the rulers of this city, which is enclosed on four sides by walls five meters thick with high towers, themselves live? In the Inner Citadel, of course. Diyarbakır’s Inner Citadel, believed to be the original settlement and defense system, is situated on the banks of the Tigris, on the northeast edge of the Outer Citadel. But the rulers’ palaces survive only in engravings. Two towers of monumental proportions in the southwest segment of the wall, called the ‘Home Body’ Tower and the Tower of the Seven Brothers, are at the same time masterpieces of world military architecture. The name of the former derives from its having briefly provided refuge for homeless people, and the inscription that runs around it in three rows represents the pinnacle of the art of calligraphy. Repaired frequently throughout the city’s turbulent history, the defense walls took their final form in the Roman period. When the Christians of Nisibis (Nusaybin) migrated to Diyarbakır, the city’s western walls were destroyed between 367 and 375, and the portion of the walls extending from today’s Mountain Gate (Harput Gate) to the Urfa Gate and from there to the Mardin Gate were constructed and the people of Nisibis taken inside the citadel as well.
FROM AMİD TO DİYARBAKIR
The name of the city that was founded on a high plateau 650 meters above sea level on the right bank of the river in the upper reaches of the Tigris basin is inscribed as ‘Amid’ on the sheath of a sword from the Assyrian period and always appears as such in both Assyriac sources and works in Arabic. In Roman and Byzantine sources on the other hand, the name of the city is written as ‘Amida’. The Artukid and Akkoyunlu Turks called the city ‘Kara’ or ‘Black’ Amid for the dark color of the walls that surrounded it from end to end, while in the ‘Zafername’, or eulogies in praise of military victories, it is called the ‘Kara Kale’ or Black Fortress. In the Book of Dede Korkut and certain other Turkish works meanwhile it appears as ‘Kara Hamid’. Following the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century, these lands, where the tribe of ‘Bekr ibn Vail’ settled on the banks of the Tigris, are known as the
Diyar-ı Bekir or ‘Realm of Bekir’. Then, in a speech he gave at the local ‘people’s house’ in 1937, Atatürk put an end to this, renaming the city Diyarbakır, by which name it has been known ever since.
CENTER OF ART, CULTURE AND TRADE
Its location at a major crossroads throughout its history made Diyarbakır a center of learning, art, culture and trade. According to accounts by western travelers, products of woven silk and worked copper, iron and gold were exported from Diyarbakır to Moscow and even as far as Mongolia. Money changers were said to enter the city’s markets with enormous precious stones and depart with articles of gold jewelry. Because Diyarbakır was an important stop on the Silk Road, it was also famous for its markets and inns which were a hub of trade in the past. While strolling through the narrow lanes of the Sipahi Market where the feltmakers and clogmakers and masters of copper workmanship once plied their trade, we find that all that remains today of the Herbalists, Goldsmiths, Locksmiths, Jewellers and Cloth Merchants Markets that once brimmed over with products of every variety from silk and textiles to copper and jewelry are the Hasan Pasha Market and inn and the Diyarbakır Bedesten or Jewellery Bazaar. On the right as you enter through the Mardin Gate, the Deliller Han, an inn built in 1527 by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent’s Diyarbakır Governor, Hüsrev Pasha, serves today as a hotel. The Hasan Pasha Han, which highly impressed Western travellers with its 17th century opulence, its underground stables that could accommodate 500 horses, its lovely pool, and its jewellers, knifemakers and bootmakers, was built in 1573.
THE MANY-COLUMNED GREAT MOSQUE
By whichever gate you enter Diyarbakır, you will eventually find yourself at Anatolia’s oldest mosque, the Ulu Cami or Great Mosque, where you will also receive your first lesson about the city. You will learn, for example, that the local building material, basalt, is divided into male and female stone and that the female stone is used for paving courtyards while the male stone is used for all hard surfaces. The material extracted from the mosque, which collapsed following an earthquake and a fire in 1115, was reused in the courtyard facades. The two-storey structure on the western side of the courtyard constitutes the mosque’s most interesting architectural element. While the decorations are typical of 12th century Islamic architecture, the composite columns and mouldings are Hellenistic and Roman in character.
The Zinciriye and Mesudiye medreses together with the Great Mosque constituted a center of religion, culture and learning. The Mesudiye Medrese, which is situated at the northeast of the Great Mosque and adjoins it, can also be entered through the mosque courtyard. This traditional Islamic religious college was one of Anatolia’s first universities, teaching astronomy, biology, philosophy, literature, medicine, physics and mathematics.
WISHES TOSSED INTO THE TIGRIS
The Surp Gregos, Mart Thoma, Saint George, Virgin Mary, Kırklar and Mart Pityon Protestant and Catholic churches and their once sizeable congregations exemplified the brotherhood of Armenians, Jews, Yazidis, Greeks and Chaldeans within the city walls, and numerous travellers from the world’s myriad religions who visit the city’s narrow old streets and houses with their spacious antechambers still stop in today at these churches to pray. But it is the Tigris itself that performs this function for Diyarbakır now. Very soon, on the evenings of the Feast of Sacrifice, papers inscribed with prayers and wishes will be tossed into the Tigris from the Bridge of Ten Arches in the foothills of Mount Kırklar. The childless praying to be blessed with young, the sick to be restored to health, lovers to be reunited. On moonlit nights, these little scraps of white paper will join the exuberant waters of the Tigris, the region’s life-giving source and therefore regarded as sacred by its people. The original source where it all began and a fount of undying hope for ancient Mesopotamia.