Mardin, Turkey- The Shining City of Mesopotamia

Updated: Mar 28

Its architectural heritage visibly covers the steep slopes with elegantly-built golden houses that overlook the ancient plains of Mesopotamia. Mardin – a golden city, a magical place! Its rich cultural, historical and archeological heritage greets visitors with new sights, sounds, and unforgettable experiences around every corner.

Recently asked if I would be interested in writing about Mardin, it did not take long to say “Yes”. I knew of Mardin and had already done a bit of research to find pictures of it, finding it completely fascinating. Digging deeper and learning more would be an experience not to be missed. Mardin holds thousands of years of history and culture. Its physical location is one of incredible, ethereal, other-worldly beauty. Its place in the annals of history and mankind is epic and unparalleled.

My interest was further heightened after beginning to watch the 2019 Turkish TV series “Hercai” (“A Fickle Heart”). Along with other locations in the region, the series is being filmed largely in the Midyat district of Mardin. The story takes place in modern times with cell phones, internet, TV, and modern dress. However, set against the strength and power of the ancient architecture, with heavily-decorated stonework on the buildings that cascade down the mountain, the narrow streets that go from one to the other with stair-cased steps, you might feel you have stepped back in time centuries ago, to the ancient world of Mesopotamia.

Mardin is a city and multiple (former/titular) bishopric, located in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey. It is the capital of Mardin Province and famous for the Artuqid (Artıklı or Artuklu in Turkish) architecture of its old city. It is near the Tigris River and known for its strategic location on a rocky hill that rises steeply over the flat plains of Mesopotamia. It is an important tourist destination for visitors coming to Turkey from other countries, as well as those visiting from other regions within Turkey.

View of Old Mardin’s ancient, narrow street stairs. Street in Old Mardin

Mardin is an enchanting city, showcasing a cultural wealth and architectural heritage passed down for literally thousands of years. This timeless, poetic city was created by the artistic spirit and creativity that came alive in the hands of the many masons that gave form to its stones. It is an architectural treasure chest with its golden stone houses masterfully and elegantly built on the steep slopes. It achieved an extraordinary harmony between climate, geography and architecture. Past civilizations, and a culture thousands of years old, are reflected in the stair-cased streets, the small squares, and in the traditional dwellings within this ancient yet somehow modern city.

Traces of the first settlements in the region go back to the Neolithic Age. The peoples, states and empires of the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Mamluks, and Ottomans, all left their mark on Mardin, also called “the city of rocks”. Built by Hamdanis in 975-976, the hilltop citadel with its excellent stonework (at the top of this picture) stands on a hill dominating the city. It is considered a military zone and not open to the public. Below the citadel lies part of the Old City of Mardin.

Mardin and its surrounding area has seen the joining together of diverse groups. Due to its geographical location, the region was a center of many ethnic groups, societies, religions, and cultures. From the Sumerians to the Babylonians; the Persians to the Greeks and Romans; from Sabiis to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Throughout its history, however, Mardin has preserved its authentic character.

The Great Mosque of Mardin (Ulu Camii) is Mardin’s oldest mosque. It is located in the heart of the Old City. From numerous inscriptive plaques, indications are that it was probably founded in the 11th Century by the Seljuks, and developed to its current state in the time of the Artukid ruler, Kutbeddin Ilgaz in 1186. The current minaret was rebuilt in 1850 following the destruction from an earthquake in the 19th Century.

Mardin is also home to the Monastery of Deyrulzafaran, the ecumenical seat of the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Congregation dating back to the 5th Century. It was an important religious center for Syriac Orthodox Christians until 1932. At present, it is a place to visit as well as a shelter for impoverished Syriacs.

The monastery was enlarged with additional sections that were built later. Two other structures form a trinity around the Deyrulzafaran Monastery. They are the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Mar Yakup Monastery.

Church of the Virgin Mary Mar Yakup Monastery

The Monastery of Deyrulumur, one of the largest and most celebrated buildings of the Syriac Orthodoxy, is located in nearby Midyat county. This county is famous for its silver jewelry known as “Telkari”. Syrian Orthodox gold and silver smiths, whose work is famous throughout Turkey, still practice their craft, with their workshops side-by-side those of Muslim coppersmiths.

One of the most important regions of Mesopotamia is known throughout history as the Fertile Crescent. This crescent-shaped region spans modern-day Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan, the western fringes of Iran – and the southeastern fringe of Turkey where Mardin is located.

The Mardin region has been called the “cradle of civilization”. Settled farming first began to emerge as various peoples cleared and modified natural vegetation to grow domesticated plants and crops. Early human civilizations then began to flourish. Advances in the region include the development of writing, glass, the wheel, agriculture, and the use of irrigation.

The Mardin Museum, formerly in Zincirli Medrese, was constructed by the Artukidsin in the 14th Century. The present museum was opened in 1995, having been restored to its original condition. It houses collections dating from 4000 BC to the present day and represents many different periods.

The Mardin area, and especially the Midyat district, is known for its silver works. In the Ethnography Hall of the Mardin Museum, there are exhibits of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, diadems, hair jewelry, and copper and silver ornaments. There are also clothes, swords, prayer beads, and coffee sets (known locally as mırra).

In the Archaeological Hall are exhibits of tools from the old Bronze Age. And others representing the Assyrian, Urartu, Hellenistic, Roman Empire, Bysanzine Empire, Seljuks, Artukids, and Ottoman Empire periods.

The old-style carving of Mardin is preserved in its houses. Since Mardin is located in a volcanic area, the basic material used in the local architecture is the easily-workable calcareous rock. Mardin houses are isolated from the street, surrounded by high walls which also provide protection from the harsh climate conditions. They are stacked on top of one another, which provides each house with a full, unblocked view of the plains of Mesopotamia. It is said that one can see all the way to Syria.

The most important feature of these houses is the stone craftsmanship called “Midyat Work”. Doors, windows and small columns are dressed with arches and various motif. Above the house doors are carved pictures of the Kaaba, if the owner has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. The door knockers have a distinctive form resembling the beaks of birds. Often lanes run through arched tunnels beneath the upper floors of the houses. Relief carvings of animals and fruit on these homes lend the city a dream-like character, and the modern world seems to fade away.

The city of Mardin is a residential center where for hundreds of years, people have lived together fraternally, sharing the same geography. Neighborhoods are only separated by places of worship and cemeteries. Each person, regardless of religion or race, lives together and shares each other’s sorrow and happiness. The peal of bells is mixed with the Muslim call to prayer today just as in the past.

Mary Bloyd is a retired corporate manager, living in Centerville, Ohio with her husband, Jon. A mother of one daughter and grandmother of four beautiful children, she loves cooking for her family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all manner of food and cuisine. A dedicated colorist, she is also a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and loves to travel.

@Copyright by North America TEN and Mary Bloyd

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