Mardin is a historic city in Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey. The city is known for its fascinating architecture and location: heavily decorated stone buildings cascading down a mountain, watching the vast expanse of the Mesopotamian plains below.
Mardin lies at the heart of homeland of the Assyrians (also Syriacs, Turkish: Süryaniler), an ancient people who trace their origin to the Akkadian Empire, established in Mesopotamia around 2200 BC. Syriac is a Semitic language directly related to the native tongue of Jesus Christ, Aramaic. Syriac Orthodoxy was established after one of the earliest divisions in Christianity in the 5th century, much earlier than the Great Schism of the 11th century between the churches of Rome and Constantinople. While the Syriac population in Mardin dwindled due to emigration (nowadays Assyrians are more numerous in Sweden than in all of Turkey), they are still very much present in the city, along with more or less all other regional cultures, including Turks, Kurds, and Arabs.
Mardin served as the capital of the Turkic Artuqid dynasty between the 12th and 15th centuries. Much of the Islamic heritage in the city (madrasahs and mosques) dates back to this time.
It was effectively closed to tourism throughout the 1990s by the on-going conflict between the Turkish government and the Kurdish militia PKK in the surrounding countryside, and was omitted from most guidebooks to the area. Mardin has started to catch up with tourism, but don't expect hordes of package tourists. It rewards the intrepid traveller who took the effort to go there with a sense of discovery, along with plenty of beautiful architecture and vistas.
The main street of the historic quarter (Eski Mardin) traverses the town from one end to the other through its centre. It is called 1. Cadde or Cumhuriyet Caddesi for part of its route. At the eastern end of the old town, it makes a sharp U-turn, and then runs along the entire southern edge of the city, before making another U-turn at the western end and thus completing a loop.
While the maps and aerial photos of the old city may look like a labyrinth, it is pretty hard to get lost in the alleys—depending on which side of the main drag you are at, follow the downhill or uphill alleys one after another, and within 15 minutes at most, you will be back at the main street.
The main avenue of Yenişehir (literally "New City", a modern suburb on a lower elevation to the north of the old town) is Vali Ozan Bulvarı, which eventually turns into the road climbing up to the old city with hairpin turns on the side of the hill. You are unlikely to spend too much time in Yenişehir (save for a range of accommodation it offers), but whether coming in from the west (Urfa) or the northwest (Diyarbakır), Vali Ozan will be the first street you will set foot in Mardin.
Although there are roads leading to the city from roughly all cardinal directions, your most likely point of entry will be Urfa. Upon getting close to Mardin, the hilltop old city will greet you from a distance, and as you get closer, the road will swing north, eventually leading to Yenişehir behind the hill. The connecting highways are all well-paved, except for a 100-km section east of Urfa which is full of potholes.
Hitchhiking from Urfa (the ride should take around 2½-3 hours) is very easy, thanks to the hospitality of the local people.
There are buses from Urfa, which take around 4 hours and cost 25 TL. Minibuses (dolmuş) from Diyarbakır take 2 hours and cost 9 TL.
There are daily flights from Istanbul.
- 1 Mardin Airport.
Although there is a small train station just south of the city, it has been in disuse since at least the 1990s. The nearest station with a regular passenger train connection to the rest of the country is in Batman to the north.
Blue minibuses (dolmuş) connect Yenişehir with the old city. They cost 0.90 TL/person. The steep road between the new and old cities might be taken in 30–40 minutes on foot, however it will surely be a very demanding walk, particularly during the peak of summer heat.
The old city is small enough to be negotiated on foot; the distance between either end of the main street can be taken in about half an hour. You will certainly not find any vehicles of any kind on the twisty and staired side alleys — even garbage is collected with the assistance of diligent donkeys there.
All sights of Mardin are located in the old city.
- 1 Church of the Forties (Kırklar Kilisesi) (in a side alley; look for the small sign on the main street). A Syriac Orthodox church dating back to the 10th century.
- 2 Zinciriye Medresesi (on the hill towards the citadel; look for the sign on the main street). A madrasah (Islamic school) built by the Artuqids, the rulers of the area then, in 1385. Rooms surrounding the central courtyard have some beautiful wall and ceiling decorations, having similarities with Seljuq art of central Turkey. Definitely a must-see while in Mardin. Free.
- 3 Kasımiye Madrasah, Cumhuriyet, 1711. daily 10:00-20:00. Another madrasah that goes back to the Artuqid dynasty of the 13th century. It has an elephant clock remake on its front and is quite enthralling all over architecture-wise plus offers up some great sunset views. free.
- 4 Citadel (Kale) (on the hill overlooking the old city). While the citadel is inside a military zone and thus is closed for visitors, ascend the alleys of the old city to get to as near as possible to have an enchanting view of the Mesopotamian plains. Never ever try to cross the heavily barbed wire; this part of Turkey is still militarily sensitive in its entirety.
- 5 Sakıp Sabancı Mardin Kent Müzesi, Şehidiye, Hükümet Cd. No:10, ☏ . Tu-Su 08:30-17:30, closed M. Cultural museum of the area.
- 6 Grand Mosque (Tarihi Ulu Cami), Teker, 91. Sk. No:26. You can get some fine shots with this mosque's minaret and dome in the foreground of the far-reaching Mesopotamian plains here.
- 7 Latifiye Camii, Ulu Cami Mh. Another picturesque mosque if you're into architecture or religious monuments.
- Walk the alleys of the old city to grab more of local atmosphere and architecture.
- Watch the Mesopotamian plains everywhere you can grip a good sight. The perspective is such that it's easy to assume the plains extend to the end of the world.
- Enjoy one of the closest shaves in the Middle East. There are several small barber shops along the main street through the old city centre. Most offers include double shaving, head massage, a good conversation and of course a cup of tea. Though be wary of those that will try to rip you off—the first barbershop on the uphill street from the main square will ask 20 TL for the service, which is a totally unacceptable price in this part of the world.
- There is a traditional hamam (bathhouse) in town, along the main street in the old town.
Several banks have branches on the main street of the old city, complete with ATMs on the exterior walls.
There is a big-box type store (Migros) in Yenişehir, right at the beginning of the ascent towards the old city.
Stores in the old city are closed by 21:00-22:00 (even those few that are offering alcoholic beverages, which are typically open till late at night in western Turkey), so make sure you have enough supplies of snacks and drinks (especially water!) for the night.
- Colourful keffiyehs (locally known as poşi) can be a good buy while in Mardin. There is a store on the main street of old city where you can get 4 scarves for 10 TL. The red, yellow, and green kuffiya is the traditional and politically loaded colors of the PKK/Kurdish, and will get you lots of friends in the Kurdish areas (but don't wear it in the Turkish areas).
- 1 Leyli Muse Mutfak, Şar, 227 çayırlı sokak No.2, ☏ . daily 12:00-22:00. It is very traditional both in the appearance of the restaurant and the food itself.
- 2 Revan Kafe Restoran, Latifiye, 1. Cadde, 152. Tepe Sokak No: 2, ☏ . daily from 07:30-late at night. If you are looking for falafel, this won't disappoint.
Süryani şarabı is the local red wine, found in some shops and restaurants.
Local tap water is far too chalky to be tasty and may be unsafe to drink. Buy bottled water instead.
- Mezopotamya Cay Bahcesi (on the main street, towards the end of the city, next to a mosque). Open till late (midnight?). An open-air tea garden shaded by trees with a good view of the Mesopotamian plains below (though not as wide as you can see near the citadel because of a neighbouring building). 0.50 TL for a glass of tea.
Booking in summer months, especially at weekends, is important since Mardin attracts more and more travellers day by day but there are not lots of places to stay.
- 1 Mardia Hotel, 1. Cad. Menderes Mah. Pinarcik Sk. 7/1 (on the main drag (1. Cadde)), ☏ . This new, central hotel provides clean and comfortable lodging with breakfast and restaurant, wifi, and a/c available. 141 TL.
- 2 Merdin butik otel, 1 Caddesi Ardınç 35 No:16, ☏ . Has a terrace with mountain views where you can enjoy a halal breakfast. Has wifi, too, but rooms can be kind of small and hot water might be a bit scarce. 156 TL.
- 3 Stone Butik Otel Mardin, 1. Cadde 152 Sokak D:No:34, ☏ . This one, very stone-like inside, you'll feel like you're part of a medieval fortress. And enjoy a communal breakfast and some stellar views too. 222 TL.
- 4 Hilton Garden Inn, Barış Caddesi 29 Sokak No: 34, Yenişehir, ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 13:00. Rooms with internet access and LCD TV. Free carpark. 222 TL.
The safety situation has been vastly improved since the 1990s, and Mardin and its surrounding area seem to be very safe with an overly heavy presence of policemen in the old city.
Mardin's telephone code is (+90) 482.
- Kültür Internet, Cumhuriyet Caddesi (on the main street). Internet cafe. 1 TL/hour.
There are also a couple more internet cafes on the main street of old city.
There is a tourism information office (Turizm İrtibat Bürosu) on the main square of old city, run by students of a local high school. They also offer free internet.
- 8 Deyrulzafarân Monastery (Monastery of Saint Ananias, Dayro d-Mor Hananyo in Syriac) (There is no public transport to the monastery, but you can take a dolmuş to 'Cezaevi' and walk or hitchhike for 4 km to the monastery.), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 09:00-12:00, 13:00-17:00. On a hillside 8 km southeast of Mardin overlooking the plains, this is a large and intact monastic community. Deyrulzafaran ("the monastery of saffron", due to the colour of its walls) was the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church until 1932. It was built in the 5th century on the site of a 4500-year-old pagan temple dedicated to solar worship (Güneş tapınağı, a gallery made of huge rock walls with no use of mortar; still intact and visitable at the underground floors of the monastery). True to its original purpose, the monastery has 365 rooms in total, each symbolizing a day the Earth spends on its full cycle around the Sun. The impressive complex (more like a small village than a stand-alone religious edifice) is open, and indeed friendly, to visitors, although its residential and the most sacred sections are inaccessible. A young host will guide you through the open sections in groups, so you may have to wait in the café at the entrance until he returns the preceding group. As the site is actively used for religious purposes, and sightseeing coming only after that, respectful clothing (cover your legs and arms, in addition to your head if you are female) is required, and eating, smoking, speaking loudly, and chattering on a mobile phone are all out. 6 TL.
- Midyat, about 40 min by minibus to the north is renowned for its architecture as well as Mardin. Midyat's stonework is even more detailed than that of Mardin, although the town is on a less privileged flat ground.
- Savur, on the old mountain road to Midyat, is a mini-Mardin: stone buildings spreading over an outcrop.
- Hasankeyf further north on the banks of the Tigris was a very beautiful village with cave houses, a citadel, and monuments from the Middle Ages. Some of this was moved to a higher ground, and the rest has been submerged by the Ilısu Dam lake.
- Beyazsu (Kurdish: Avaspi; both meaning "white water") is about one hour away from Mardin on the road between Midyat and Nusaybin. The area is a favourite weekend retreat of the locals thanks to its waterfalls and greenery, something of a miracle in this arid region.
- Further on, Nusaybin is a border town with an ancient Syriac Orthodox church and a 12th century mosque, and features the fascinating desert ruins of Dara in its outskirts.
If you are hitchhiking toward Urfa, it will be easiest to take an inexpensive dolmus/minibus from the Mardin otogar/bus station to Kiziltepe, a town just south of Mardin. The bus station in Kiziltepe is right near the dusty highway toward Urfa. You may have to walk a bit to get out of town, or just start flagging and try to get a ride to the edge of town (if the ride isn't going the whole way). If you wear a Kurdish kuffiya, you won't have any problems finding a ride and plenty of goodwill.
|Routes through Mardin
|Erzurum ← Diyarbakır ←
|→ Kızıltepe ( W / E) → Şenyurt/Al-Dirbasiyah
|Batman ← Hasankeyf ←