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Though most celebrated for its dramatic location and its Islamic monuments, Mardin is nevertheless inextricable from the Tur Abdin, both culturally and historically. It has several ancient churches, and nearby is the Monastery of Deyrulzafaran, one of the most important stops on anyone's itinerary. The city itself lies on the edge of the Tur Abdin plateau, just before the landscape makes a dramatic descent into the flat plains of Mesopotamia, and it hugs the slopes of a mountain as a necklace would the neckline of a woman. From nearly anywhere in Mardin, the views of Mesopotamia are spectacular and extend all the way south to Syria and Iraq. A trip to the Tur Abdin is typically either begun or concluded in this city, which has a much better tourist infrastructure than any other place in this region (albeit pricey).
For more, take a look at my Mardin page.
Updated Apr 2, 2013
Located some 20 minutes south-east of Midyat, Mor Gabriel Monastery is one of the primary sites when visiting the region. The remote Suriani (Syriac Orthodox) monastery is one of the oldest still functioning monasteries in the world, founded in 397 AD, and one of the most important to the Suriani church. It is also known by two other names: Deyrulumur (or Deir al-Umur), which in Arabic (دير العمر) means the Monastery of Age, and Qartmin Monastery, which refers to Qartmin, a nearby Suriani village, now called Yayvantepe (Saint Gabriel was known as Gabriel of Qartmin). The monastery was restored to its former glory in recent years and is now fully functional and open to visitors, but the buildings were constructed over many centuries. In its interior are churches and halls that date from the 5th - 6th centuries, including the Church of the Virgin Mary and Theodora's Dome. Mor Gabriel Monastery made headlines recently in its dispute with the Turkish authorities over the ownership of the surrounding land (try Googling it).
For more, check out the Mor Gabriel Monastery page.
Updated Mar 31, 2013
This little village was the first we encountered on the road we took from Hasankeyf to the Tur Abdin region. It is called Gönüllü (in the Batman province) and is situated on the edge of a mountain with breathtaking scenery and terraced farms. Its original name was Derdile, before the Turkish authorities changed the names of the villages in the Tur Abdin area, and it contains the ruins of a church. We were regarded quite suspiciously by the few villagers, who probably go on for weeks without seeing an unfamiliar car drive by this (sometimes volatile?) region. Down the road, we did see two men carrying rifles! We were not threatened in any way, but we probably should have stuck to the main roads...
For more, click on Gönüllü.
Updated Feb 3, 2013
Nowadays nothing but a small neglected village amid farms and orchards, Anıtlı, whose original Syriac name is Hah, was historically one of the most important settlements in the Tur Abdin region. It was our main destination in the Tur Abdin on Christmas Eve 2012, specifically for its 3rd century Syriac Orthodox Church of Yoldath Aloho, i.e. Mother of God in Syriac (referred to as Meryemana in Turkish). Considered the most beautiful in the Tur Abdin region, this church is part of a small monastery, which served as the seat of the Bishop of Tur Abdin for a while during its long history. Its importance also stems from a local legend that claims it was founded by the Magi upon their return from Palestine.
For more on the fascinating history of this village, check out my Anıtlı page.
Updated Jan 31, 2013
Although Hasankeyf is not considered in the Tur Abdin region, its proximity makes it an obligatory stop when touring this region (it is in fact in the Batman Province, not the Mardin Province where this page is written). Its magical setting on the Tigris, long glorious history, magnificent mediaeval ruins, and precarious future, however, make Hasankeyf a destination unto itself. Its future is in jeopardy because of the nearby dam project, which, if completed, will flood the valley and drown the city forever - a huge loss for all of humanity! Hasankeyf was our first stop after leaving Midyat on our tour of the Tur Abdin region.
For more, check out my Hasankeyf page.
Updated Jan 30, 2013
Considered the capital of the Tur Abdin region, Midyat is an ancient town where church bell towers still dominate the skyline. Because it had been for centuries a majority Christian town, Old Midyat boasts nine churches, and fewer mosques. Six of these churches come with beautiful bell towers that rise from within the maze of winding alleys and elegant stone mansions. Although Midyat's population is now mostly Kurdish, with a large minority of Moslem Arabs (known as Mhallami or Mhalmoyo), there still is a small community of Syriac Orthodox Christians (Suriani). The Suriani who have remained have recently recently been joined by others returning from the Diaspora, hoping to keep alive and maintain the 1800 years of Christian heritage in Midyat and its surroundings. Midyat makes an excellent starting point from which to explore the villages and monasteries of Tur Abdin, and though still quite provincial, it has the infrastructure to support tourism, including excellent boutique hotels in the old part of town. Midyat is where my tour of the Tur Abdin began.
For more, take a look at my Midyat page.
Updated Jan 30, 2013
The village of Altıntaş was known by its Syriac (Suriani) name Kfarze before it was renamed by Turkish authorities. In the early 20th century, its population was two thirds Syriac Orthodox Christian and one third Kurdish Yezidis. Much like elsewhere in Tur Abdin, the Christian population is probably extinct, but the town's main church - built in the 6th century and dedicated to Mor Izozoel - seems to have been restored. It is located some 15 kms northeast of Midyat, not too far from Anıtlı (Hah) where the famous Church of the Mother of God (Meryemana) is located.
For more, check out the page: Altıntaş.
Updated Jan 17, 2013
One of the most accessible of the Tur Abdin villages, Barıştepe is about 10 kms northeast of Midyat. The village was originally known by its Syriac name, Salah, before the authorities changed the names of villages in the region, and it has a long, important history. During the Seleucid period, the village had a Hellenistic temple dedicated to Heracles, of which some ruins are said to remain. Under the Persians, it had a Zoroastrian temple, which is now thought to be under the Church of Mor Yakub (Saint Jacob). This 4th century church was once part of a larger monastery that served as the seat of the bishop of Tur Abdin after a schism with Deyrulzafarn.
On our visit to the region on 24th December 2012, we drove past Barıştepe, regrettably, without stopping. I was unable to take a photo of the town, but instead I photographed a large poster of it at Deyrulzafaran Monastery two days later (see attached).
Click on Barıştepe for more.
Updated Jan 16, 2013
Located 20 kms north-east of Midyat, just north of the road from Mardin to Dargeçit, İzbırak is one of many villages in the Tur Abdin area crowned by a church. It was the first such village we encountered soon after crossing the border from the Batman to the Mardin province as we drove south. Like other villages in this area, İzbırak is also known by its original Suriani name, Zaz, before Turkish authorities imposed Turkish names on them. Most of the native Suriani (Syriac Orthodox Christian) inhabitants left in past decades only to find Kurds move in and take their place. The village has four churches, including the ancient Mor Dimet, which has a bell tower that dominates the surroundings. Only Mor Dimet is preserved, the other three are in ruins.
For more, check out the İzbırak page.
Updated Jan 15, 2013
Located between Mardin and Deyrulzafaran Monastery, the tiny village of Eskikale was once known by its Arabic name of Qala'et Mara (قلعة مرا, also spelt Qaletmara, otherwise Kalıtmara in Turkish). It originally contained three churches, but only one remains: Mar Gergis (Mor Gewargis in Syriac and Cercis in Turkish), which was recently renovated. The village was traditionally mostly an Arab Christian one (with some Syriacs), but its original inhabitants have largely left over the past century and Moslem Kurds or Arabs took their place. There is now a mosque in the town with a slender Ottoman-style minaret. The village's Arabic name means the Fortress of the Lady or the Maiden because of the now ruined hilltop castle that towers above. Its Turkish name, Eskikale, means "Old Fortress". Although technically a separate village, Eskikale is located just outside the Mardin city border and can easily be reached on foot.
For more, go to the page: Eskikale.
Updated Jan 12, 2013