The Mardin & Diyarbakir Region
Far from the main touristic sites in Istanbul and along the coast, the area between Diyarbakir and Mardin contains some of the most fascinating sites in the country—and some of the places least visited by tourists. As a historical crossroads, the area offers immense diversity in language, religion, and architecture. Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish-speaking city in the world, is an imposing fortress town of black basalt rock, filled with ancient churches and spectacular mosques, a testimony to its importance through the Roman, Sassanid, Byzantine, Islamic, and Ottoman times to the present. Its fortress and surrounding gardens were recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city’s Great Mosque is one of the oldest in the country, showcasing a distinctive blend of architectural styles from the Byzantine period to the present, and is considered one of the most significant mosques in the world. Over the walls, one can look out at the dramatic landscapes offered by the Tigris River Basin; and every spring, thousands descend upon the city to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year.
Located 96 kilometers south of Diyarbakir, Mardin stands in stark contrast; for unlike the black basalt stones that grace the buildings of Diyarbakir, Mardin is known for its white limestone mansions and is sometimes called the White City. Visitors arrive here largely to take in the city’s famous architecture, famous food and soap, and cultural life. East of Mardin and around the city of Midyat lie some of the most important and ancient monasteries in the world: the monasteries of Tur Abdin, the “mountains of the servants of God.” Here, in monasteries nestled away in gardens and high on cliffs, communities still worship in Syriac; a dialect of Aramaic, the Syriac language spread throughout the Middle East and Central Asia between the sixth century BCE and the seventh century CE, becoming the most widely spoken dialect in the Middle East and existing alongside Greek and Persian. It was once used in the liturgy of Jews, Christians, and Mandaeans and was likely spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Today, the language is maintained by a dwindling community of Syrian and Assyrian Christians, and the services conducted in the region’s remote monasteries harken back to the earliest years of Christianity.