Mardin'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 rule here. Today, this town of old stone houses that spread out below a cliff ridge in a tumble of labyrinthine alleyways provides plenty of sightseeing opportunities and bucket loads of old-world ambience.
Places to Visit in Mardin
Sultan Isa (Zinciriye) Medresesi
This old medrese (theological college) was founded in 1385 by İsa Bey, and is one of the best-preserved buildings in Mardin. The complex is comprised of a domed mosque, a mausoleum and two inner-courtyards. The architectural highlight of the building is the intricately decorated and imposing doorways. For those not so interested in stonework, there are incredible panoramic views from the rooftop that aren’t to be missed.
Built in 1469, two domes stand over the tombs of Kasim Pasa and his sister, but the highlights are the courtyard with arched colonnades and a magnificent carved doorway. Upstairs, see the students’ quarters, before ascending for another great Mardin rooftop panorama. It’s signposted 800m south of Yeni Yol.
Forty Martyrs Church
This church dates back to the 4th century, and was renamed in the 15th century to commemorate Cappadocian martyrs, now remembered in the fine carvings above the entrance. Services are held here each Sunday, and there’s a wonderful inner courtyard. A caretaker is usually on hand to provide access to the church’s compact, but beautiful, interior.
The collection here is small, but contains some beautiful artifacts from nearby archaeological sites including Assyrian and Bronze Age pottery. With its regal colonnades and grand courtyards, the building the museum is housed in is worth the entry price alone. This 19th century traditional stone villa has been restored to a very impressive standard, and walking through the finely styled rooms gives you a good idea of how local merchants and others high up in the echelons of Mardin society would have lived.
Sakip Sabanci City Museum
Housed in former army barracks, this superb museum showcases the fascinating history and culture of Mardin. Excellent English-language translations and effective use of audio and video reinforce how cosmopolitan and multi-cultural the city’s past was. Downstairs is used as an art gallery for a rotating series of exhibitions, often including images by iconic Turkish photographers.
Tucked into the eastern edge of the bazaar neighbourhood is the Ulu Camii, built in the 11th century by the Artukid Dynasty. The building suffered badly during a Kurdish uprising in 1832 and has been partially restored. Beneath a prism-shaped dome supported by pillars lies a prayer room divided into three sections. The minaret, with its unique stone carvings, is the highlight of a visit here.
Look for the elegant, slender minaret of this 14th-century mosque. Also worth visiting is the 14th-century Latifiye Camii , behind the Akbank, where a shady courtyard has a sadirvan in the middle. Nearby, the eye-catching Hatuniye and Melik Mahmut Camii have been fully restored.
Mardin Castle towers above town on a rocky crag. A steep path leads up to the fortress, starting from the Zinciriye Medresesi. Dating from the Roman era, the castle was extended in the 15th century so that all the inhabitants of Mardın would be able to seek refuge inside in the event of an impending attack. A relief carving of two magnificent lions can still be seen on the gateway.
The ancient Roman city of Dara is one of southeast Anatolia’s hidden tourist attractions. The highlight of a visit here is seeing the extensive irrigation and aqueduct system. Excavations have uncovered huge towers used to store the water. The site is 40 km southeast of Mardin.
Midyat (60 km east of Mardin) has an atmospheric Old Towndistrict that’s ripe for exploring. The maze of alleyways is packed to the brim with lovely old stone houses, many with elaborately carved facade details. There are nine Syrian Orthodox churchesin town including Mar Aznoyo and Mar Barsaume although the majority of the Christian population who once lived here has now left.
This Syrian-Orthodox Christian monastery is 7 km east of Mardin. The Patriarch of the Syrian-Orthodox Church moved his residence here in 1160 when he and his followers were driven out of Antioch (modern Antakya). Dedicated to Ananias, the monastery complex contains three churches, which adjoin the rear facade of the arcaded courtyard, all surrounded by high fortress-like walls. Don’t miss the underground Sanctuary chamber and the chapel side-room with its 300-year-old wooden throne and floor mosaics.
Tur Abdin Monasteries
Tur Abdin (Mountain of the Servants of God) is a highland region east of Mardin where there are several Syrian Orthodox churches. In the Byzantine era countless monasteries were established here, and by the medieval period the area was divided into four bishoprics with more than 80 monasteries. The decline of Tur Abdin’s religious communities began with the pillaging raids of the Crusades. After WWI most of the Christian minorities who lived here were expelled from Turkey after siding with the French who were trying to set themselves up as their protectors. Due to persecution more Christians emigrated during the 1970s. Today the region is still a homeland for Syrian-Orthodox Christians with several churches and monasteries that can be seen.