Mardın’s history reads like a “who’s who” of conquest. The Assyrians, Arabs, Seljuk dynasties, Kurdish, Persian, Mongols and Ottomans have all played a game of government here. Today, this town of old stone houses sprawling beneath a rocky ridge in a maze of labyrinthine alleyways offers plenty of sightseeing opportunities and a bucketful of plenty of old-world vibes. With its wealth of historic buildings – some of which have now been converted into boutique hotels – Mardın’s timeless allure here attracts a brand new group of visitors to enjoy its cultural heritage rather than invade and conquer.
Note: Due to security and safety concerns, please check travel advisories before visiting this region.
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1 Zinciriye Madrasa
This old medrese (theological college) was founded in 1385 by İsa Bey. As one of the best preserved buildings in Mardin, it should be at the top of your list to make a tick. The complex consists of a domed mosque, a mausoleum and two quiet courtyards. The architectural highlight of the building is the intricately decorated and imposing doorway, a beautiful example of Islamic artistry. For those not so interested in stones, don’t miss the stairs to the roof, where you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city.
Locatie: Cumhuriyet Street
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mardin
2 Kasımiye Madrasa
This 15th-century medrese complex consists of a theological college and a domed mosque. The whole complex has a peaceful atmosphere, with its buildings arranged around ornate courtyards. Upstairs, you can explore the rooms where students once studied and lived while learning the Quran. Culture vultures should not miss a visit here as this is the best medrese attraction in town to get a good idea of how it would have once functioned. As with the Zinciriye Medresesi, there is an amazingly elaborate stone carving at the doorway and another stunning view to be admired from the roof.
Locatie: Off Cumhuriyet Street
3 Forty Martyrs Church
This 4th century church still holds services every Sunday, in which tourists can participate. If you’re not here for the weekend, the church interior can still be visited during the rest of the week if you talk to the caretaker (who is usually easy to find nearby and has the key). The interior, with its beautiful decoration, is definitely worth seeing. Above the entrance are some intricate carvings commemorating the Christian martyrs of Cappadocia, whom the church renamed in honor in the 15th century.
Locatie: Health Street
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4 Mardin Museum
The collection here is small but contains some interesting artifacts from the archaeological sites scattered around the countryside around Mardın. The displays of Assyrian and Bronze Age pottery are particularly outstanding. Even if you’re not a museum buff, the building that houses the museum, with its palatial colonnades and grand courtyards, is worth the price of admission alone. This 19th century traditional stone villa has been restored to an impressive standard, and walking through the rooms gives you a good idea of the fine style in which local merchants and others living high in the echelons of Mardın society would have lived at the time lived.
Locatie: Cumhuriyet Street
5 Sakip Sabanci Stadsmuseum
The former barracks of Mardın now houses this extremely interesting museum, which houses the amazing and intricate history of the city. All exhibits have informative explanation panels, and many use multimedia displays to bring the history alive. This is the best place in the city to get a deeper understanding of Mardın’s role through the ages and the city’s cultural and religious mix of Muslims, Assyrian Christians and Kurds. After viewing the main exhibitions, go to the annex art gallery, which organizes a changing program of exhibitions. Also, don’t forget to check out the museum’s cultural events schedule to see if there’s anything on while you’re in town.
Locatie: Old Government Street
Tucked into the eastern edge of the bazaar neighborhood is the Ulu Camii, built in the 11th century by the Artuqid dynasty. The building suffered badly during a Kurdish uprising in 1832 and has been partially restored. Under a prism-shaped dome supported by pillars lies a prayer hall divided into three sections. The minaret, with its unique stone carvings, is the highlight of a visit here. The surrounding bazaar area is a great area to enjoy the modern bustle of this ancient city, so be sure to stroll through the narrow alleyways before or after visiting the mosque.
Location: Bazaar Area
7 Martyr Moskee
This 14th-century mosque has a needle-like minaret with fine carvings. If you are interested in mosque architecture, there are many more mosques in the city to explore, and most of them are located along Cumhuriyet Caddesi. From Şehidiye Mosque, head east along the road for about 200 meters and you will arrive at the thick, gold-stoned Melik Mahmut-Moskee, which also dates from the 14th century. Or drive west about 400 meters and you will come to the Ulu-moskee.
Locatie: Cumhuriyet Street
8 Castle Mardın
Mardin Castle towers over the town on a rocky outcrop. To get there, take the steep path that leads to the fortress from the Zinciriye Madrasa. If possible, time your visit after the worst of the heat of the day has subsided as walking under the scorching midday sun is quite exhausting. Dating back to Roman times, the castle was expanded in the 15th century so that all residents of Mardın could flee inside in case of an approaching attack. A relief carving of two magnificent lions can still be seen on the gate.
The charming village of Hasankeyf is cut in two by the Tigris River. The city was established by the Romans as a border post with the Persians and called Cephe. Under Byzantine rule, the city prospered, but its heyday ended with the invasions of the Artuqids, Ayyubids, and later the Mongols. Four arches picturesquely projecting from the river are the remains of the original grand use about the Tigris. Perched on the cliff ridge above (where you can get great photos of the river) is the castle surrounded by cave dwellings. The Parthian king Arshak was imprisoned by the Romans here, tied with silver chains to the stuffed corpse of his general Varsak until he died.
A dam project has threatened the future of Hasankeyf since the 1990s, and the opening of the dam is planned for some stage in the near future. When this happens, old Hasankeyf disappears under the water of the dam. While the most important of the architectural remains here will be rescued and moved to the higher ground, the next few years will be the last time to see Hasankeyf in all its atmospheric glory.
Location: 110 kilometers northeast of Mardın
10 Deyrul Zafaran
This Syriac Orthodox Christian monastery is well worth a trip out of town. The patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church moved here in 1160, when he and his supporters were expelled from Antioch (modern Antakya). Dedicated to Ananias, the monastic complex contains three churches, connecting to the rear facade of the arcaded courtyard, all surrounded by high fortress-like walls. The building originally dates from the 5th century but has been destroyed twice; first by the Persians and then by Tamerlane. Don’t miss the subway Sanctuary kamer and the side chamber of the chapel with its 300-year-old wooden throne and floor mosaics.
Location: 7 kilometers east of Mardın
Midyat has an atmospheric Old City district ripe for exploring. The maze of alleyways is filled to the brim with fine old stone houses, many with elaborately carved facade details. There are nine Syriac Orthodox churches in town, inclusive Sea Aznoyo in Mar Barsaumealthough the majority of the Christian population that once lived here has now left. Midyat is also a center for silversmithing and small jewelers with family connections can be found all over the town. Just outside the city (16 kilometers to the south) is Mor Gabriel Monastery, a 5th-century monastic complex consisting of several churches and memorial chambers. Empress Theodora is believed to have endowed the monastery with its rectangular dome.
Location: 60 kilometers east of Mardın
The ancient Roman city of Dara is one of the hidden attractions in southeastern Turkey. While tourists flock to Turkey’s famed archaeological sites of Ephesus and Pergamum, Dara only receives a handful of visitors, leaving you feeling like you’ve stumbled upon your own secret doom. Archaeological work here is still ongoing. The highlight of any visit so far is the extensive irrigation and aqueduct system that has been uncovered, complete with the massive towers that have stored the water. You may walk to the towers.
Location: 40 kilometers southeast of Mardın.
13 Monasteries of Tür Abdin
Tür Abdin (Mountain of the Servants of God) is a highland east of Mardın where several Syriac Orthodox churches. Numerous monasteries were established here in the Byzantine era, and in the Middle Ages the area was divided into four dioceses, with more than 80 monasteries. The decline of Tür Abdin’s religious communities began with the plundering of the Crusades. After World War I, most of the Christian minorities living here were expelled from Turkey after siding with the French, who tried to set themselves up as their protectors. As a result of persecution, more Christians emigrated in the 1970s. Today, the region continues to be a homeland for Syriac Orthodox Christians, with several churches and monasteries on display.
Location: about 10 kilometers east of Midyat
Savur is all about wandering the backstreets and admiring the plethora of beautiful stone houses in this small town. The town is a smaller version of Mardın, with its houses around a small citadel and interesting facades at every turn. Time seems to have stood still here, and there’s an easygoing feel to it that charms almost everyone who visits. There aren’t really many things to do. Instead, Savur is about soaking up the atmosphere and exploring the winding alleys. It makes a great day trip from Mardın in combination with the archaeological site of Good.
Location: 45 kilometers southeast of Mardın