Monday, 20 May 2019

Of Mardin's monasteries, wine and stone houses


From Gaziantep it was onwards to Mardin. Mardin was high on my visit list as it is at the confluence of several religious and cultural inflection points. Among others, Mardin is a cocktail of Arab, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox Christian and Turkish influences.

The narrow stone streets and houses
of Mardin's old city (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Mardin is so close to the Iraqi and Syrian borders that kite flying may easily turn into a crossborder activity if one is not careful! Arabic is widely spoken in the city. Historic Armenian, Greek and Syrian Orthodox monasteries and churches dot the region.

Inside one of the many historic
churches found across Mardin (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Like many cities in Turkey, Mardin has an old and a new section. 

For travelers the stone houses and narrow lanes of the old city hold more charm than the new, high rise buildings and supermarkets of Yenisehir or New City. Walking around the old city there is always a chance of running into an ancient place of worship or monument, e.g. Mor Behnam Kırklar Kilisesi, Zinciriye Medresesi or the Mardin Museum. Not to mention the Protestant Church, Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque) or the Mardin Evleri.

The courtyard of the historic
Syrian Orthodox Church in Mardin (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
While in Mardin, there are some worthwhile day trips to consider, e.g. to nearby monasteries – functioning monasteries with entrance fees and guided tours! 

There is also the historic town of Hassankeyf - which may be underwater by the time you read this post. Hassankeyf is expected to be submerged by June 2019 as a large dam has been built close by. Once the dam's reservoir is filled then the existing town will be underwater. It's worth noting some historic monuments and the town's entire population have been moved to the 'New' Hassankeyf located not far from the 'original' town.

The 'new' Hassankeyf town on the
Tigris River in the Batman province near Mardin (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Wine is another attraction in Mardin. Remember the monasteries mentioned above? Well, these monks and their friends ferment wine from local grapes in large quantities. It's reasonably priced (or cheap if you're buying wine in a highly taxed environment like Singapore) and easy drinking. The wine is readily available in shops dotted on the main street of the old city.

Grapes from the Midyat valley produces decent
wine which is easily available across Mardin city (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Mardin is about architecture and history. It's about soap (yes, there's a lot of good locally produced soap around) and wine. It's about narrow lanes and stone houses. It's about keeping alive Christian monuments and practices in a country which is 99.8% Muslim (according to Turkish government sources). For travelers heading to Turkey's east, Mardin is a necessary stop.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

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