Write Hasan Mert Kaya Photos: Mustafa Yılmaz, Fethi İzan
From afar, Mardin looks like a medium-size city. As you approach it, however, the town grows—every street in its bazaars from which the aromas of fresh spices emanate opens up on to brand new worlds awaiting discovery.
I first went to Mardin in 2002, to prepare my capstone thesis for college. I thought I would stay a day or two, finish my work quickly, and go back. I realized I was mistaken when I hopped off the plane and hit the road from Kızıltepe toward the city center. That was the first moment I saw Mardin. It was love at first sight. Mardin stood like an elegant necklace attached to a delicate neck. It also looked upon the Mesopotamian Plain from a commanding position at an eagle’s-nest altitude.
THE MESOPOTAMIAN PLAIN
Gushing with fertility, this plain stretches out to infinity. The lights of Syria are visible in the distance after dusk. As “somersaulting” pigeons flap their wings toward freedom at sunset, the color of the plain is tinged with blue. The plain becomes a sea and every car and truck transforms into a boat cutting across this tranquil sea. The best place to see this view is from the terraces of the eagle’s nest that is Mardin. The slightly bitter bite of Mardin’s cardamom tea on your tongue and the fine melodies of the local music transport you to a fairy-tale realm.
NUSAYBİN – KIZILTEPE – MİDYAT
With its districts, too, Mardin is as old as history itself. The Nusaybin School of Philosophy enlightened humankind with illuminating science from thousands of years ago. The Beyazsu River near it conveys fertility to Nusaybin with its clear, ebulliently flowing waters. Midyat is another of Mardin’s treasures, a crossroads where religions and cultures interact thanks to its mosques, churches, and the Mor Abraham Monastery. The People’s House in the center of Midyat represents one of the apexes of the local practice of masonry. Kızıltepe is another of Mardin’s important centers, rapidly expanding as it spreads out on the plain. Kızıltepe’s farmers grow the tastiest red lentils in Turkey. Koçhisar Mosque—a classic example of medieval Islamic architecture—is one of the places you absolutely have to visit here.
The ancient town of Dara, located on the Mardin–Nusaybin road, is essentially the Ephesus of the region. The city had its glory days in the time of the Persians. After Alexander the Great, the Roman and Byzantine empires left their marks as well. Traces of Islamic civilizations were also found in ongoing excavations conducted by Mardin Museum.
Mardin is home to the highest concentration of Syriac Christian places of worship. Dozens of churches both large and small comprise the treasure trove of faith found in the region of Tur Abdin, whose name means “mountain of God’s servants.” One of the most notable of these houses of worship is Deyrulzalfaran Monastery, located four kilometers from Mardin’s city center. The construction of the building, which rests on the foot of a mountain, dates back to before Christian times—amid olive trees, it is a silent witness of centuries gone by.
MARDIN ULU MOSQUE AND MARVELOUS MADRASAHS
The effect of the Artukid era on Mardin architecture is great. Meanwhile, the Ulu Mosque—still under restoration—enchants those who see it with its splendor. Its grand minaret is filled with the most beautiful examples of Islamic calligraphy. The most characteristic and impressive structure in the city silhouette of Mardin is, for sure, the minaret and partitioned dome of Ulu Mosque. Zinciriye (Sultan Issa) Madrassah, situated at the foot of Mardin Citadel, is among the dozens of Artukid artifacts in the city. The inscription of the Islamic God’s ninety-nine names, inscribed in teardrop shapes on the inner side of the madrasah’s crowning door, is proof of how stone turns into art, prayer, and worship in Mardin. In Kasımiye Madrasah—the only madrasah from the Akkoyunlu era in Turkey—is a place where you will be brought to tranquility by the melody of the natural spring waters flowing along its walls.
IN THE CITY CENTER
From afar, Mardin looks like a medium-size city. As you approach it, however, the town grows—every street in its bazaars from which the aromas of fresh spices emanate open up onto brand new worlds awaiting discovery. The scent of rich coffee ground in coffee mills mixes in with that of the roast chickpeas endemic to the area. In the coppersmiths’ bazaar, amid shops and stands where local products are sold at their very freshest, one simply can’t tell how a day goes by. When one wanders the narrow streets of Mardin, the passages known as “abbara” stand out—they are beautiful architectural solutions made to take full advantage of the limited space. You can wander the bazaars of Mardin peacefully and safely—the local shop sellers are very genial and hospitable here. Many shop sellers will offer you a bitter kind of coffee known as “mırra.” With a unique taste and aroma, this type of coffee is as beneficial for digestion as it is delicious. Another traditional pastime in Mardin is pigeonry, which is very much like falconry. Many Mardinians release their pigeons from their cages around evening time. My recommendation is for you to go to a café or tea garden nearby and dive into watching these lovely creatures accompanied by the peerless view of the plain.
Mardin cuisine incorporates legendary delicacies. In venues where Southeastern cuisine is best represented, you can expect kebab- and meat-heavy dishes. In the Yenişehir area, however, you might discover exquisite flavors in the vegetable- and meat-based dishes prepared by congregations of local women. Stuffed ribs, “ikibet,” “kibe,” “kitel,” and Mardin-style sausage are only a few of the region’s charming delicacies. The small greasy spoons in the side streets of Mardin’s bazaars are also options for places that offer daily wholesome dishes and delicious morsels.
Mardin Museum in Cumhuriyet (Republic) Square in Mardin—which is itself an open-air museum—shines a light on the city’s archaeological past. One absolutely must visit Mardin Museum for a close look at the millennia of history in Mardin. Meanwhile, the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum and Dilek Sabancı Art Gallery bring even more of the city’s centuries of distilled culture to visitors.
MAKE SURE TO STOP BY
Mardin, a cultural treasure that overlooks Mesopotamia is a world that you must discover and feel in your soul. Every time is the right time for you to get to know this city, where you will feel as if you belong even on your first visit.
The historic Mardin Citadel looks on to the Mesopotamian Plain from above. The city was built at the feet of the mountain on which the citadel stands.
The Mardin Coppersmiths’ Bazaar is full of handmade products that incorporate local motifs.
The remains of the Mor Jacob Philosophy School in Nusaybin, one of the world’s oldest academies.
The crown portals are among the apexes of masonry in Mardin.
A view of the plains from the remains of Mor Eugene Monastery, perched on a high point in the Bagok Mountains.
Pigeons are the lovable guests of these stone houses.
The shadows of arched buildings are a nice stopping point during the heat of noontime.
Mardin more than deserves its praise as the city where stone turns into poetry. (Zinciriye Madrasah)
“Telkâri”—silver wire crafting—is one of the handicrafts that have a deep history in Mardin.
It is always possible to find fresh spices in the city’s bazaars.
As evening approaches in Mardin, the plain turns into a sea, with cars becoming ships that float on it.
The rhythm in Mardin’s architectural style draws one into gazing at historical buildings.
With all its splendor and magnificence, Ulu Mosque’s minaret is the silent, proud witness of history.
The silhouette of the historic city—a fantastic place to tour in the daytime—turns into a necklace at dusk.
The dozens of churches and monasteries are among the elements that enrich Mardin’s culture.
Nana Narsa, named “woman of the year” in 2012, inscribes traditional designs on fabric using natural dyes.
Historical locations in Mardin are repaired and put under conservation every day.
There are many places you can discover in Mardin for regional delicacies.