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(CNN) — Donkeys amble down the small alleyways, passing through doors and under low arches, and abruptly braying at tourists who are scared around corners. Residents, on the other hand, continue on their way without being disturbed.
Conversations in Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, Kurdish, Torani, Turkish, and Aramaic, an old Semitic language that was originally thought to have been used by Jesus, can be faintly heard reverberating off of the ancient stone walls that surround the area.
Mardin is a city in southeast Turkey that has a rich history that can be seen around every corner. This history dates back thousands of years.
Once upon a time, the town of Mardin was a part of Mesopotamia, which is an area that is encompassed by the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. When viewed from above, the town’s sparkling white and gold buildings form a line of terraces built on a hill that looks across the plains to what is now Syria.
Mardin has a complicated history due to its location at a crossroads where great civilizations like as the Sumerians and Babylonians rose to prominence.
Mardin is filled to the brim with historical sites and cultural attractions at every turn.
Nearly everyone has, at one point or another, been a proud owner of Mardin real estate. Between the years 150 BCE and 250 CE, it was inhabited by Nabataean Arabs; nevertheless, by the 4th century CE, it had developed into an important Syriac Christian settlement that had been created by the Assyrians. The next people to arrive were the Romans and the Byzantines.
The Seljuk Turks attempted to claim it as their own in the 11th century, but their efforts were foiled when the Artuqid Turkomans arrived in the region in the 12th century.
This dynasty, which had its roots in northern Iraq (the region now known as Diyarbakir in Turkey), was successful in maintaining its rule for three hundred years until the Mongols came along and took over. They were ultimately succeeded by a kingdom that was composed of Turkomans from Persia.
Surprisingly, there was still a Christian population residing in the town when the Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim acquired control of it in the year 1517. Due to the city’s long history of religious and ethnic coexistence, Mardin exudes an ambiance and character that is all it’s own.
Mardin is a bustling and energetic town where the past continues to live on in the present, despite the fact that it has ancient credentials.
Take for example Krklar Kilisesi, one of the seven Syriac Orthodox churches, which is also known as Mor Behnam. The Church of the Forty Martyrs, as it is known in English, was first built in 569 C.E., but it got its name when the relics of 40 martyrs were brought here in 1170. The original construction date was 569 C.E.
In terms of architecture, the church is a model of uncomplicated elegance. On the outside, there is a beautiful bell tower that has a dome and is crowned with a cross. It is located in a rectangular courtyard that is surrounded by golden stone walls. Inside, Aramaic Christians continue to observe their centuries-old practice of holding weekly services. This practice has not been interrupted in well least 700 years.
The ruler of the serpents
While paintings of the Shahmaran grace the shop windows, the Mardin Protestant Church, which was established by American believers more than 150 years ago and was closed for nearly 60 years, is now home to a vibrant congregation. The church was built more than a few blocks away.
The term Shahmaran originates from Persian, and it refers to a legendary creature that is half-woman and half-snake. Since the word’shah’ can also mean ‘queen,’ and mark refers to snakes, the Shahmaran was also known as the Queen of the Snakes. She is said to have resided in Mardin, according to the legend of Anatolia.
In stark contrast to the solemn appearance of the churches, the Abdullatif Mosque, which was built in 1371, features ornate ornamentation.
It is difficult to believe that the two massive gateways are built out of one solid piece of stone because of the intricate carvings on them. The main point is a recess that features a stalactite sculpture, and the stonework that surrounds it features both vertical and horizontal patterns.
The initial location of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate was the monastery known as Deyrulzafaran, which translates to “House of Saffron.”
The mosque, which was constructed during the Artuqid era, is a magnificent example of Artuqid-era architecture. The Zinciriye Medresesi, a theological school that was built in 1385, is another. An impressive entryway with fine stonework can be found in the seminary, which is also known as sa Bey Medresesi after the most recent Artuqid Sultan. The stone domes atop the rooftops have ribbing that gives the appearance that they are floating in midair. The path through the gorgeous gardens leads to a modest mosque that has a mihrab niche that has ornate carvings in it and points in the direction of Mecca.
There’s a solid reason why the post office should be one of your next stops, too. It was converted for public use in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that it was brought to the notice of domestic tourists when it was utilized as the set for the immensely popular Turkish miniseries “Sla.”
The Armenian architect Sarkis Elyas Lole created the structure in 1890 with the intention of using it as a private dwelling for his family. A large terrace that looks out over the Mehidiye Mosque and the plains beyond can be reached by climbing some stairs and passing through a little archway.
Additionally, in 1889, Lole constructed the military barracks that are today the location of the Saks Sabanci Mardin City Museum. The exhibits, which range from lifelike tableaux to more modern exhibitions, aim to give visitors an accurate picture of life in Mardin, both in the past and the present.
Ancient history is displayed at the Mardin Museum, which was established in 1895 and is housed in the building that formerly housed the Assyrian Catholic Patriarchate. On display, there are artifacts from Mesopotamia and Assyria, as well as Roman mosaics and Ottoman relics.
A hiding place below ground
It is supposed that the city of Mardin got its name from the hilltop defenses that surrounded it.
It doesn’t matter which way you turn in Mardin; you’ll find stunning sights, the most breathtaking of which is the Ulu Camii, also known as the Great Mosque. Even though it was established by the Seljuk Turks, the Artuqid monarch Beg II Ghazi II is mostly responsible for its current form.
In 1176, he issued orders for the creation of new works, and the Ottomans were responsible for bringing these orders to fruition in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Inscriptions dating back to the Seljuk, Artuqid, and Ottoman periods can be found adorning the exterior of the mosque’s lone surviving minaret. This preoccupation with detail is mirrored in tel kare, which is the filigree silver jewelry that is offered in many of the shops, despite the fact that the majority of the items are manufactured in family-owned factories in adjacent Midyat.
The solemn yet majestic Deyrulzafaran (House of Saffron) monastery, which was the first location of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, can be found a few kilometers outside of the city and is an absolute must-see. This huge fortified complex was constructed in a location that was once used for the worship of the sun.
The ancient underground sanctuary is still in existence, despite the fact that it was plundered by Tamerlane, a Mongol-Turkic conqueror who lived in the 14th century and then destroyed by the Persians.
Visitors are led on tours that take them through doors made of wood that are three centuries old and have intricate carvings. They also see wooden litters and thrones that date back hundreds of years, as well as hand-embroidered Bible scenes and other religious artifacts. The faithful who come to attend the services given in Aramaic might stay in one of the simple guest rooms.
In the meantime, excavations at Dara, an important East Roman military city located around 30 kilometers outside of Mardin, have been going on continuously since the year 1986.
To say the least, the discoveries have been quite plentiful. The most recent discovery was a workshop for making olive oil that dated back to the sixth century. This provides further evidence that the city served not only as a major hub for the production and distribution of olive oil but also as the battlefield for a great many wars.
The public can access a great number of the subterranean cisterns that were originally used as part of Mesopotamia’s irrigation system. Because of its immense size, the locals refer to it as Sinden, which literally means “dungeon,” and they say that it was once utilized as a jail. It is located 82 feet down and can be accessed through the basement of a house located in the hamlet, provided that the person who has the key can be located.
When we return to Mardin, one more of the city’s ancient landmarks is the castle. During the time of the Roman Empire, the city was known as Marida, which is an ancient Neo-Aramaic word that means fortress.
Although there is a road that leads almost all the way to the gates of the stronghold, entry is restricted to only those who have permission to do so. There is a possibility that some people will consider the exertion (and the potential risk of heat stroke in the summer) to be worthwhile due to the spectacular vistas.
Others may believe it to be more relaxing to remain in town and take pleasure in a bottle of wine. The majority of those who manufacture wine in the area is of Assyrian descent. They produce wines that are absolutely distinct from those produced anywhere else in the country by adhering to time-honored practices and using grapes native to the area. Certainly, an appropriate way to pay tribute to the diverse cultural makeup of Mardin.