This UNESCO-listed city in Turkey is considered an open-air museum


Mardin is a magnificent ancient city in southeastern Turkey. It is located in the northern part of ancient Mesopotamia and is close to the borders of Syria and Iraq. Although virtually unknown to the outside world, Mardin is very famous in Turkey for being one of the most historic and beautiful cities in Turkey.

The old city is located on the side of a defensible hill overlooking the wealthy places of Mesopotamia. It is near the Tigris and is under UNESCO protection – any new construction is prohibited to preserve its magnificent facade.

The Rich Heritage of Mardin

Mardin has a very rich and interesting history and has always been very diverse with populations of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Nestorians, Jews and Turks living there. Today it has a Kurdish majority with a strong Arab presence.

Population: Today the majority is Kurdish with a significant minority of Arabs

Mardin is also a popular place for people who come to discover the often forgotten history of Assyrian Christians who still speak Aramaic. Aramaic is the ancient language that Jesus would probably have spoken.

Assyrians: It remains a stronghold for the Assyrians

Not only is Mardin one of Turkey’s undiscovered wonders (with spectacular old stone hotels), but it’s also an ideal base for exploring the many other ancient sites in the region. It is only a couple of hours drive from the truly ancient site of Göbekli Tepe (a site so ancient it makes the pyramids look young).

Silk Road: It was a milestone on the Silk Road

Crossroads: Mardin sat long at the crossroads of empires

Mardin has long been at the crossroads of empires. This region was an almost perpetual battleground of control between the Roman and Parthian empires and their successor empires and kingdoms. It was fought over by Assyrians, Arabs, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, Parthians, Kurds, Mongols, Ottomans, etc.

Related: When You’re In Istanbul, These Are Things You Can’t Miss

Visit Mardin today

Mardin is often considered an open-air museum. This is due to its historic architecture with most of its buildings using beige-colored limestone rock that has been quarried in the area for centuries.

The city is ancient and located on rugged terrain. Its streets are narrow and winding and the main street is one-way. Many hotels are only accessible on foot and require climbing stairs. Many of its narrow streets are reserved for pedestrians (and whatever livestock the locals may have). It is not recommended for people with reduced mobility.

Streets: Many of its streets are narrow and reserved for pedestrians

Mardin is located in the southeastern part of Turkey. This region has seen a long insurgency by Kurdish forces for many years. This conflict came to a head in 2015 and battles took place across the region, including in the old town of Mardin.

Security: Check current travel advisories before you go

Today the insurgency has subsided and as of this writing appears mostly confined to the remote mountains. In Turkey, Mardin is considered a safe city in the region. Always check the current security situation before you go.

Some main attractions

Some of the main attractions are:

The Great Mosque: It is the main historic Congregationalist mosque in the city, probably first built in the 1170s

Sultan İsa (or Zinciriye) Medrese: Considered one of the most impressive Islamic monuments from 1385. It was built as a madrasa and also has a mosque and a mausoleum

Meryem Ana (Virgin Mary) Church: A Syriac Catholic Church, built in 1895

Red Church (Surp Kevork): An Armenian Apostolic Church

Deyrü’z-Zafaran Monastery: Found in 493 AD is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, it is a Syriac Orthodox saffron monastery

Related: This 9,000-Year-Old Turkish City May Be Older Than The Pyramids

The necropolis and the Roman fortress of Dara

Located just outside Mardin are some of the region’s most interesting Roman ruins. Dara was an important fortified city in eastern Rome that bordered the mighty Sasanian Empire. It figured prominently in the great Roman-Persian Wars of 530, 540, 544, 573 and 604.

Dara: Important fortress city of the Eastern Roman Empire

Today one will see the remains of great walls, bridges (still intact) over a diverted river, an eye-catching necropolis, massive cisterns to survive a siege, and on top of that is the modern Turkish village of Oğuz.

Oguz: The modern Turkish village built on top of the ancient ruins of Dara

One will find a necropolis here in Dara where people dug tombs in the rock to bury their dead. One will be amazed at how little the rest of the world knows about these forgotten attractions – just like the unmissable “City of the Dead” in Russia.

Next: Karahan Tepe is Called the “Sister Site” of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey (and is just as old)

Gobekli Tepe Turkey Map

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