Considered one of the most beautiful cities in the region, Mardin is dramatically situated on a hillside and boasts a town center of traditional, hand-cut sandstone mansions with intricate designs, arched passageways, and old markets. Formerly a center of Syrian Christianity, today the city’s architecture reveals a fascinating mix of Islamic and Christian cultures, with minarets nestled among churches and stunning, renovated stone mansions, many now converted into boutique hotels. Towering above it all is the remains of the citadel, originally a Roman and Byzantine fortress and accessed via a walking path up the side of the hill.
Like the Ottoman city Safranbolu to the north, Mardin’s biggest attraction lies in the outer architecture of the local houses themselves; visitors are often tempted to simply spend the day ambling through the city’s alleys and examining beautifully cut lintels and doorways. Among the city’s historical sites are also the 15th century Kasimiye Medresesi, an impressive former learning center on the outskirts of Old Mardin built of white and rose-colored stone and entered through an immense stone portal, and the 12th century Ulu Camii, or Great Mosque, situated at the heart of the city’s center and characterized by exquisitely carved stone decorations, an immense prayer hall with a domed sanctuary, and the famous Artuqid minaret adorned with motifs in the shape of teardrops and Kufic inscriptions. The 14th century Sultan Isa Medresesi, also built during the Artuqid dynasty, is noticeable for its distinctive ribbed dome and finely detailed calligraphy engraved in stone over the monumental portal. The city also boasts the remains of eleven churches, the most notable of which is the lovely, fourth-century Forty Martyrs Church, which remains in use today, holding Sunday services in the Syriac language and allowing a glimpse into one of the oldest Christian liturgies in the world.
The Mardin Museum, which outlines the region’s rich history, beginning with the Bronze Age, is located within the impressive, three-story mansion that was formerly the seat of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate. Many in search of cultural highlights have noted that Mardin is in the midst of a cultural revival; and as it gains dozens of new cafes and hotels, the city is also hosting events such as the Mardin Bienniel, a modern arts festival bringing artists from all over the country to the city’s storied old town center, and the Mardin Cinema Festival, an annual summer festival hosting both Turkish and international films.