Due to the protracted military conflict between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels – which luckily seem has come to an end, finally – South Eastern Turkey has long been a no-go zone for tourists. With the easing of tensions in recent years the wonders of Turkey’s south is becoming a more and more enticing option. At the top of the list for any would be traveler in this area should be Mardin, a truly cosmopolitan city overlooking the fertile plains of Mesopotamia.
The wealth of Mardin is hard to put into words. An old city built on top of a mountain, crowned with a castle, Mardin is much more Arabic than Turkish. Mardin is actually unique in Turkey in that the general spoken language in the city is Arabic, the language in the province is Kurdish, but the national language is still Turkish. If you’re lucky, you can also hear and see scatterings of Syriac – one of the few living dialects of Aramaic – still spoken by the Syriac Christian community of the city. Mardin is also apparently home to members of the elusive and secretive Yazidi Community – a faith that seemingly blends together elements from Gnostic Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, among other faiths.
The wealth of Mardin is not just measured in people. The city is known throughout Turkey as being the home of the best handcrafted silver goods available. The silversmith trade was a noted profession of Syriacs, and would often be passed down through a family line in older days. Syriac wine is also famous, and the main street of old Mardin is full of authentic wine stores selling their goods to Turkish tourists and city locals alike. The main street of the city functions as a checkerboard of dried fruits from the Mesopotamian plain, Syriac wine, and silver stores.
The wealth of Mardin also manifests itself in the buildings of the city. Similar to the old city of Urfa, old Mardin is a maze of narrow streets and older honey colored stone houses, with the addition of immense madrassas interspersed with ancient churches. Rooftop cafes rise throughout the city, competing for views of the plains below while the Leylan Cafe and Kitab bookstore in the center of the city sells wine, as well as books in Turkish, Kurdish, and Farsi.
The wealth of Mardin is something that must be experienced rather than read about, seen not heard about. Although a long way from the normal tourist destinations of Istanbul and Turkey’s western coast, Mardin is a must see. The warmth of the people alone – a mixture of the general Turkish/Kurdish/Arabic love of guests, coupled with a small town feel – makes Mardin a city I will never forget.