The southeast part of Turkey is a gem, and one of the shiny ones has got to be the ancient city of Mardin. Some of you might think that it is dangerous and unsafe due to its proximity to Syria, but it is actually an extremely safe city. Mardin is home to a million nice people, and unlike popular perception, it is neither in ruins nor under terrorist control. On the contrary, Mardin is a modern city with a beautiful ancient citadel built on top of a hill. The area is full of history and culture, and only those daring to explore will enjoy all that Mardin has to offer. Here are 7 things to do in Mardin, and the list is not even exhaustive!
1) Take a walk around the old city
Located on a hill overlooking the modern part of Mardin, the ancient city is an amazing, beautiful place. The traditional houses of the area are built with honey-coloured bricks and are uniformly rectangular in shape. The alleyways are a confusing maze of lanes and staircases, but this is exactly the charm of Mardin’s old city. Allow yourself to get lost in the old city, also wander and discover new things on your little adventure. It could be the little boy running down the stairs, the beautiful honey-brick house or the market stalls packed along the narrow streets. These experiences will make your trip to the ancient city of Mardin a special one.
2) Drink tea in one of the traditional houses
Many of the traditional houses in the old city of Mardin have been converted into boutique hotels and teahouses. Pop into one of the teahouses and have a cup of chai on the rooftop balcony. Enjoy the impressive views of the vast Mesopotamian plains and of the beautiful houses behind you. With views to die for, the ancient city of Mardin is a great place to relax and take in the scenery.
3) Explore the historical monuments around the old city
There are tons of historical monuments around the old city of Mardin. From centuries old Islamic schools to houses of officials and mosques, there is something to see on every lane you walk on. Some of the more exquisite ones include the Mardin Girls’ Vocational school, which was built in the 16th century. Explore the beautiful courtyards and the balconies offering dramatic views of the Mesopotamian plains, or the intricate designs on the monuments themselves. These historical monuments are beautiful and you can spend all day looking at them.
4) Visit the many centuries-old mosques hidden in the alleyways
Some of the mosques are located on the main drag within the old city of Mardin. However, the best-kept secrets are those located off the main street. Walk through the little alleyways and you will find old mosques well blended with the surrounding houses. Many of them are small, given the squeeze, but they sure are stunning. Here is a tip: the best way to identify these mosques is by their minarets!
5) Watch sunset over the grand Mesopotamian plains
What is the fuss about plains? I used to think the same until I saw the Mesopotamian plains with my very own eyes. The vast plains were extremely flat and they continued into the horizon. It was also the cradle of the first civilisations on Earth. To be able to personally see the plains for yourself is an ethereal experience. It is not only about the history, but also about the fact that the old city is built on a hill, which sticks randomly out of the flat plains.
6) Enter one of the few Assyrian churches
You heard right, there are churches in Mardin and Syria used to be an Orthodox Christian country. Most of the Assyrian churches are located out of the main part of the old city. As such, they command unobstructed views of the vast Mesopotamian plains. If you are lucky, you may be able to enter the church. Apparently they are only open for mass, and on a rotation basis.
7) Go on a short trip to the Assyrian monastery of Deyrul Zafaran
Deyrul Zafaran used to be the seat of the Syrian Orthodox patriachate. It is one of the most spectacular Assyrian monasteries you will find outside of Syria. Located just a couple of kilometres from the old city of Mardin, Deyrul Zafaran is an easy half-day trip. Although it is largely restored, you can still catch a glimpse of the magnificence of Assyrian Christianity. It is interesting to note that there are many resemblances between Assyrian churches and Ottoman mosques. Could one have influenced the other?
The old city of Mardin is a gem that few tourists have actually heard of. In fact, tourists shun this area of Turkey due to the perception of instability and danger. However, Mardin is just like any other bustling city in Turkey: it is constantly in movement and there are many people who play and work in it. Located just at the edge of the Mesopotamian plains, there is so much history and things to do and see in Mardin. It would be a pity to miss out on what Mardin has to offer simply because of insecurity. Take the leap of faith and enjoy the ancient city of Mardin. I assure you that you will leave Mardin not just in one piece, but also in a piece more enlightened.
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