14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Mardin
Mardın'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. With its wealth of historic buildings - some now converted into boutique hotels - Mardın's timeless allure is attracting a brand new batch of visitors here to soak up the cultural heritage rather than invade and conquer.
Note: Due to security and safety concerns, please check travel advisories before visiting this region.
1 Zinciriye Medresesi
This old medrese (theological college) was founded in 1385 by İsa Bey. As one of the best preserved buildings in Mardin, it should be top of your things to do tick list. The complex is comprised of a domed mosque, a mausoleum, and two tranquil inner-courtyards. The architectural highlight of the building is the intricately decorated and imposing doorway, which is a beautiful example of Islamic artistry. For those not so interested in stonework, don't miss climbing the stairs to the rooftop, where you'll be rewarded with panoramic views over the town.
Location: Cumhuriyet Caddesi
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mardin
2 Kasımiye Medresesi
This 15th-century medrese complex consists of a theological college and domed mosque. The entire complex has a peaceful atmosphere, with its buildings set around graceful courtyards. Upstairs, you can explore the rooms where students once studied and lived while learning the Qur'an. Culture-vulture tourists shouldn't miss a visit here as this is the best medrese attraction in town to get a real feel for how it would have once functioned. As with the Zinciriye Medresesi, there is some astonishingly elaborate stone carving work on the doorway and another gorgeous vista to admire from the rooftop.
Location: Off Cumhuriyet Caddesi
3 Forty Martyrs Church
This 4th-century church still holds services every Sunday, which tourists are welcome to attend. If you're not here for the weekend, the church interior can still be visited throughout the rest of the week if you speak to the caretaker (who is usually easily found nearby and has the key). The interior, with its beautiful decoration, is definitely worth seeing. Above the entrance are some intricate carvings commemorating the Christian martyrs of Cappadocia, which the church was renamed in honor of in the 15th century.
Location: Saǧlık Sokak
4 Mardın Museum
The collection here is small but contains some interesting artifacts from the archaeological sites scattered amid the countryside around Mardın. In particular, the displays of Assyrian and Bronze Age pottery are excellent. Even if you're not a museum fan, the building the museum is housed in, with its regal colonnades and grand courtyards, is worth the entry price alone. This 19th-century traditional stone villa has been restored to an impressive standard, and walking through the rooms gives you a good idea of the fine style in which local merchants and others high-up in the echelons of Mardın society back then would have lived.
Location: Cumhuriyet Caddesi
5 Sakıp Sabancı City Museum
Mardın's former army barracks is now home to this extremely interesting museum, which traces the staggering and convoluted history of the town. All the exhibits have informative explanation panels, and many use multi-media displays to bring the history alive. This is the best place in town to gain a deeper understanding of Mardın's role down through the centuries and the town's cultural and religious mix of Muslim, Assyrian Christians, and Kurds. After you've browsed the main exhibits pop into the attached art gallery, which hosts a changing program of exhibitions. Also, don't forget to check out the museum's cultural events program to see if there's anything on while you're in town.
Location: Eski Hükümet Caddesi
6 Ulu Mosque
Tucked into the eastern edge of the bazaar neighborhood is the Ulu Camii, built in the 11th century by the Artuqid 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. The surrounding bazaar neighborhood is a great area to soak up the modern bustle of this ancient town, so be sure to have a wander through the narrow alleyways before or after visiting the mosque.
Location: Bazaar Area
7 Şehidiye Mosque
This 14th-century mosque has a needle-like minaret that boasts fine carvings. If you're interested in mosque architecture, plenty more mosques are in town to explore, and most of them are strung out along Cumhuriyet Caddesi. From the Şehidiye Mosque, head east along the road for about 200 meters and you'll arrive at the bulky, golden-stoned Melik Mahmut Mosque, which also dates from the 14th century. Or head west for approximately 400 meters and you'll come to the Ulu Mosque.
Location: Cumhuriyet Caddesi
8 Mardın Castle
Mardin Castle towers above town on a rocky crag. To get there, take the steep path that leads up to the fortress starting from the Zinciriye Medresesi. If possible, time your visit after the worst of the day's heat has dissipated as walking up under the midday blazing sun is quite exhausting. 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 charming village of Hasankeyf is cut in two by the Tigris River. The town was established by the Romans as a border post with the Persians and named Cephe. Under Byzantine rule the town prospered, but its heyday came to an end with the invasions of the Artuqids, Ayyubids, and later, the Mongols. Four arches sticking picturesquely out of the river are all that remain of the original grand bridge across the Tigris. Up on the cliff ridge above (where you can get great photos of the river) is the castle surrounded by cave dwellings. The Parthian King Arshak was incarcerated by the Romans here, tied with silver chains to the stuffed corpse of his general Varsak until he died.
A dam project has put Hasankeyf's future under threat since the 1990s, and the opening of the dam is slated for some stage in the near future. When this happens, ancient Hasankeyf will disappear under the dam's water. Although the most important of the architectural remains here will be saved and moved to higher ground, the next few years will be the last time to see Hasankeyf in all its atmospheric glory.
Location: 110 kilometers northeast of Mardın
This Syrian-Orthodox Christian monastery is well worth a trip out of town. 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. The building originally dates from the 5th century but has been destroyed twice; first by the Persians and then by Tamerlane. Don't miss the underground Sanctuary chamber and the chapel side-room with its 300-year-old wooden throne and floor mosaics.
Location: 7 kilometers east of Mardın
Midyat has an atmospheric Old Town district that is 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 churches in town, including Mar Aznoyo and Mar Barsaume, although the majority of the Christian population who once lived here has now left. Midyat is also a silversmith center, and small family-run jewelry workshops can be found throughout the town. Just outside town (16 kilometers to the south) is Mor Gabriel Monastery, a 5th-century monastery complex that consists of several churches and memorial chambers. The Empress Theodora is thought to have endowed the monastery with its rectangular dome.
Location: 60 kilometers east of Mardın
The ancient Roman city of Dara is one of southeast Turkey's hidden attractions. While tourists flock to Turkey's famed archaeological sites of Ephesus and Pergamum, Dara receives only a handful of visitors, allowing you the feeling that you've stumbled onto your own secret ruin. Archaeological work here is still continuing. The highlight of a visit so far is the extensive irrigation and aqueduct system that has been uncovered, complete with the huge towers that stored the water. You are allowed to walk down into the towers.
Location: 40 kilometers southeast of Mardın.
13 Tür Abdin Monasteries
Tür Abdin (Mountain of the Servants of God) is a highland region east of Mardın 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 Tür 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.
Location: Approximately 10 kilometers east of Midyat
Savur is all about wandering the backstreets and admiring this small town's glut of gorgeous stone houses. The town is a smaller version of Mardın, with its houses spilling around a little citadel, and interesting facades at every turn. Time seems to have stood still here, and there's an easygoing feel, which manages to charm nearly everyone who visits. There's not actually many things to do. Instead, Savur is about soaking up the atmosphere and exploring the squiggling alleyways. It makes a great day trip from Mardın if combined with the archaeological site of Dara.
Location: 45 kilometers southeast of Mardın