Between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the fertile plain that formed the region of Mesopotamia It witnessed a true revolution, starting with the creation of the first cities in the world from settlements dedicated to agriculture. For millennia, these lands in the southeast of modern Turkey were the subject of disputes between civilizations, which left their mark in the form of mosques, churches, cisterns, walls, monasteries, necropolises and entire towns, historical vestiges that in many cases we can still enjoy today. today.

The Southeast Anatolia region It is not the first travel option for practically any tourist who visits the charms of Turkey, but neither does any tourist return disappointed after discovering the oldest temple in the world or the cave where the prophet Abraham was born. The provinces of Mardin and Sanliurfa They are a perfect first bite to start exploring these territories where mass tourism has not yet reached.


Aphordisias


The ancient Greek city near the Aegean Sea that was hidden for centuries in Türkiye

Mardin, the ‘City of the Sun’

On the side of a mountain, like a staircase of houses, stretches the historic city of Mardín. Known as the ‘City of the Sun’, it summarizes everything we will find in the homonymous province of which it is the capital: a melting pot of cultures, architectural samples of different styles and landscapes that range from the green plains to the steep and arid hills.

Mardin skyline.
Mardin skyline.

They crown the urban complex the remains of an ancient castle, which leaves at its feet a network of earth-colored buildings that look towards the Mesopotamian valleys, mosques with their domes and minarets, and a labyrinth of streets where we won’t mind getting lost. As we approach the town by road, the first thing that will catch our attention will be the shape of the buildings, with perfectly flat roofs. There is an explanation for this, and it is that in the face of the torrid heat of the summer months, residents take their mattresses to the roof to sleep outdoors, surrounded by the starry sky.

The Church of the Forty Martyrs (or Kirklas Kilisesi) is our first stop on this tour of Mardin. This religious temple dates back to the 4th century, but did not adopt its current name until the 15th century, when it was renamed in honor of the Cappadocian martyrs, Roman soldiers who were persecuted and tortured for their Christian faith until their death in a frozen lake.

Kasimiye Madrasa.
Kasimiye Madrasa.

In contrast to the orthodox Christian temples, we can visit imposing mosques like the Abdüllatif Cami, built in the 14th century with spectacular sculpted stone doors. And of course, the jewel in the crown, the Great Mosque of Mardin or Ulu Cami. Built in the 12th century, it stands out for its enormous minaret that appears between the houses and can be seen from the rooftops of the cafes while we enjoy a Turkish tea: an even more magical plan under the colors of the sunset.

And if we move a little away from the hustle and bustle of the city and head southwest, we will come across the impressive Kasımiye Madrasa. This architectural complex with enormous domes was built in the year 1469 and its entrance door carved with vegetal and geometric motifs amazes everyone who passes through it. The interior patio is not far behind in beauty and an artificial pond awaits us there, where visitors take the opportunity to throw a coin with a wish in mind. On one side, inside an iwan (a porch with an arch), the waters of the so-called Fountain of Life flow, whose steps symbolize the vital stages and the afterlife. The upper floor houses the classrooms where the students of this school once studied.

Living history at Deyrulzafaran Monastery

Just 20 minutes by car from the center of Mardin, on a hill surrounded by fields of crops and extensive plains, stands the Deyrulzafaran Monastery, in an isolated location, hidden from the persecutions of Christianity. The walls of this complex have witnessed hundreds of years of history, and the place was the headquarters of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate from 1160 until its transfer to the city of Damascus in 1920.

Deyrülzafaran Monastery.
Deyrülzafaran Monastery.

The monastery is structured as a huge rectangular block of limestone, with interior patios and monumental stairs. A door with an inscription in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, welcomes us to the walled enclosure, from which we can access different rooms. The oldest part, the vestiges of a sanctuary where the sun was worshiped, is found at the end of some narrow stairs that take us into a vaulted underground roomwhose roof is held up without the help of mortar, just gravity and an architectural ingenuity ahead of its time.

We continue exploring the monastery in search of church, a small temple with decorated moldings and capitals, paintings and tapestries and a main altar in the shape of an arch. To the left of this, we will see the throne of the metropolitan, one of the senior officials of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Furthermore, in another room lie the tombs of the patriarchs and metropolitans of the monastery. In fact, during our visit we will constantly come across the religious who live there, and that is because still in use and in its church masses are celebrated in Aramaic.

Deyrülzafaran Monastery Church.
Deyrülzafaran Monastery Church.

Roman remains in Dara

When the lands of southeastern Turkey were the scene of struggles between the Sassanid Empire of Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire, the latter raised the city of Anastasiopolis, later Dara, as a supply center for soldiers that was gaining importance and recognition thanks to its strategic location for trade. However, its era of splendor came to an end when the region passed into the hands of the Arabs, taking advantage of the weakening of the Romans and Persians.

Dara site.
Dara site.

Thus, the city of Dara was relegated to a simple settlement, practically forgotten and abandoned. Today, these vestiges of a glorious past can be visited just 7 kilometers from the border with Syria, where we will find the ancient roman necropolis excavated in the form of artificial caves in the rock walls, as well as remains of monumental structures that have survived the passage of time. If we cross a huge door carved into the mountain, we can access a large space with more tombs and bone remains.

Walking a few meters from the necropolis, we enter the current town of Dara, with many houses built with ancient Roman ashlars. Thus, we will reach the archaic cistern. This enormous underground structure not only demonstrates the great engineering and architectural skill of the ancient Romans, but also the importance that Dara had in the past.

Dara Cistern.
Dara Cistern.

Midyat and the Mor Gabriel Monastery

Life in Midyat It passes peacefully, without losing its authenticity, its culture and its traditions. On the one hand, dozens of jewelry and silver ornaments stores. For the other, syriac orthodox churches that reflect the past of this community that had to hide in more remote places fleeing persecution due to theological disputes. And in the middle of everything, a labyrinth of alleys between ocher buildings.

Very close to Midyat, what would become the most important monastery in the region, the Mor Gabriel Monastery. This monastery was built taking maximum care of the architectural beauty, something that we can continue to appreciate today thanks to the restoration work. Monumental doors, domes, mosaics and even the tomb of Saint Gabriel await us, where devotees collect the sand that surrounds it, endowed with healing qualities according to tradition. In addition to a few dozen monks, the metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Türkiye lives here.

Mor Gabriel Monastery.
Mor Gabriel Monastery.

Sanlıurfa, the birthplace of Abraham

There are few places in the world with as much mysticism as the city of Şanlıurfa. A two-hour drive separates this city, already in the neighboring province, from the city of Mardin, and provides us with a perfect stop to continue our tour of southeastern Turkey. According to tradition, this place was neither more nor less where Abraham was borna key figure in both Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The prophet is said to have come to life in a cave, where his parents hid from the persecution of the Assyrian king Nimrod, moved by the prophecy that a child would be born who would be able to challenge him. Today, that cave can be seen through a glass display case at the foot of the Mevlidi Halil Mosque. This sacred place is located in the Balıklıgöl areafull of gardens, ponds with carp, temples and madrassas.

City of Sanliurfa.
City of Sanliurfa.

The rest of the visit to Şanlıurfa takes place among lively alleys, a colorful and aromatic bazaar and Roman and Christian vestiges. Another essential stop is the Archeological Museum, one of the most complete in all of Türkiye. This center exhibits true archaeological treasures that help us understand not only the evolution of society in these lands from the Neolithic to the Ottoman era, but also the very origins of civilization, and it collects findings from Göbekli Tepe, the most ancient of the world.

Göbekli Tepe, the origins of civilization

A 20-minute drive from Sanliurfa and we will have before us a discovery that revolutionized the world of archaeology. Göbekli Tepe was built more than 12,000 years agobut it still has many unknowns to be resolved, probably hidden underground, and barely 10% of the site has been excavated.

Göbekli Tepe site.
Göbekli Tepe site.

The discovery of the temple just 30 years ago shook theories about The origins of civilization, the first human settlements and the emergence of more complex concepts such as religion. Thanks to the installation of walkways we will be able to see the remains of the temple from all perspectives. Specifically, it is divided into four circular enclosures with double stone walls, to which are added a series of monolithshuge T-shaped stone blocks with carvings of wild animals, such as foxes, wild boars, snakes, birds and scorpions.

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