The surroundings of Mardin include the town of Hasankeyf and Midyat.
On the edge of the desert close to the Syrian border lies Ceylanpinar D.Ü.Ç state farm where in the middle of the steppe landscape wheat is grown on a large scale. The region was also home to the ahu or goitred gazelle, a species which was at one time threatened with extinction, but now lives on protected reserves.
The Deir az-Zafaran is a Jacobite monastery situated about 7km/4mi east of Mardin. The Patriarch of the Jacobites has resided here almost uninterrupted since 1160, when he and his followers were driven out of Antioch (Antakya). The well-tended site surrounded by a high wall is also a boys' boarding school. Dedicated to Ananias the monastery contains three churches which adjoin the rear facade of the arcaded courtyard: the sixth century St Mary's Church, the Ananias Church which was founded by Anastasios I (491-518), a rectangular building (with a pyramid roof and a bell-tower which was added later) and the memorial chapel with a crypt for the Jacobite patriarchs.
An old bridge dominates the town of Hasankeyf 110km/68mi northeast of Mardin. It crosses the Tigris which narrows at this point. The town was established as Cephe (Kiphas) by the Romans as a border post against the Persians. Under Byzantium it became an important bishop's see. The town's prosperity ended when it fell to the Artukids and Ayyubids and later a Mongol invasion. Four arches remain from the old bridge which was restored in the 12th century. On a rock overlooking the bridge lie the remains of the Artukid palace, which can be reached via a steep flight of steps through three gateways. The palace also 12th century was known as the "Castle of the Forgotten" as nobody dared to mention its real name for fear of death. The Parthian king Arshak was incarcerated by the Romans and was tied with silver chains to the stuffed corpse of his general Varsak until he died. Outside the town stands 15th century Zeynel Bey Türbesi a cylindrical building constructed out of natural and blue bricks in a herringbone pattern. As a dam is being built in the Tigris valley (Ilisu Baraji), in 1994 part of the town is set to disappear under water.
Mar Gabriel Monastery
25km/16mi south of Midyat on the road to Cizre, at a junction 3km/2mi before the village of Yayvantepe, a metalled road leads off to the north towards the Mar Gabriel Monastery (about 2km/1.25mi). This fifth century monastery complex consists of several churches and memorial chambers. Its name derives from Bishop Gabriel (593-667) who is said to have revived the dead. The Gabriel Church with the wing of the choir as the narthex, a transverse nave, central apse and two annexes is situated behind the entrance on the right. To the west stands St Mary's. The memorial chambers to Egyptian monks and 40 martyrs can be found on the north side of the inner courtyard. The Empress Theodora is thought to have endowed the rectangular dome structure with an octagonal interior.
92km/57mi southeast of Mardin and 17km/10mi north of Nusaybin lies the village of Istilil and the remains of the ancient settlement of Dara. The town was expanded under Justinian in the sixth century, but it declined in the seventh century after suffering a defeat by the Arabs. Remains of the town wall and part of an old flight of locks have been preserved. The water comes from a powerful karst spring (worth a visit) which supplies water to the Çaçak Çayi near Seyhmehmet in the north of the valley.
The regional center of Kiziltepe made the headlines in the early 1980s when a blood feud led to violence. It is situated some 20km/12mi southwest of Mardin. In 1766 it was the seat of a provincial governor. In 1840 it was scarcely more than a village and did not become an administrative center again until 1945. The Ulu Cami with its magnificent portal and impressive prayer niche date from the town's heyday in the 13th century.
The border town of Nusaybin on the Çaçak Çayi is situated 83km/51miles southeast of Mardin. It lies only 5km/3mi from an old settlement of Nasibina which is mentioned in Assyrian texts dating from the first millennium B.C. The results of the excavation of the Girnavaz settlement which began in 1982 show that the site was inhabited at the beginning of the third millennium. B.C. In 68 B.C. Roman Lucullus captured the town for a short period, but it finally fell in A.D. 115. In 363 the Christian population was forced to move to Amida (Diyarbakir) after a peace treaty was agreed between Byzantium and the Persians. The famous theological college of the Syrian Ephraim was closed and moved to Urfa. It was forced to close there too probably as a result of accusations of heresy associated with its adherence to Nestorian teachings. The Nestorians reject the belief that Mary was the mother of God, only the mother of Jesus. The flourishing town was destroyed in 1260 by the Mongol hordes, but came under Ottoman control in 1515. The town received a boost when it became the border station for the Baghdad railroad. One interesting church can be found in the town, namely the fourth century Mar Jakub Kilisesi which is a square building with a pyramid roof, apse and double-aisled narthex. It was enlarged in 759 and restored in 1872.By the time of the Seljuks Nusaybin had become a dilapidated town and Ibn Battuta described it as a virtual ruin. When the town ceased to be a garrison before 1540, it became no more than a village. Only when Hafiz Pasa marked out the location of a new bazaar in 1837 did Nusaybin begin to recover and by 1870 it became an administrative center again.The surrounding area contains a number of interesting Christian monasteries. The Mar Augen Monastery can be reached on foot (6km/4mi) from the village of Girmeli, itself 20km/12mi east of Nusaybin. In the Middle Ages, it was home to several hundred Nestorian monks and then Jacobites. Ruined walls, churches, towers and a cloister can be seen in the complex which remained under Nestorian control until 1505.
Tur Abdin Jacobites
"Mountain of the Servants of God" is the name that is sometimes given to this highland region (900-1,400m/2,950-4,590ft) east of Mardin. It is bordered to the east and north by the Tigris, in the west by the Mazdagi-Curbe and to the south lie the Syrian plains. Between the fourth century and the Arabic conquest countless monasteries were established here and the Tur Abdin developed into a center for the Syrian Jacobites. In the Middle Ages the area was divided into four bishoprics with more than 80 monasteries. The decline began with the Crusaders whose pillaging raids extended into the prosperous villages of Tur Abdin. In the First World War, most of the Christian minorities were expelled after the French emerged as the Jacobites' protectors. In the 1970s more Christians emigrated. Now about 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (Jacobites) live here, some of whom speak Aramaic, the language of Christ, although a modern Aramaic dialect known as Türöyö is more likely to be heard. Only six of the monasteries are now used by monks.
Another minority group live on the Tur Abdin. The Yeziden (or Alevites) are regarded with mistrust by the Turks because of their liberal interpretation of the Koran and their refusal to pray in mosques. None of the Yeziden villages has a mosque and the Turks regard them as devil-worshippers. Their religion is an amalgamation of Islamic, Persian and Christian elements.
Midyat is the geographical and administrative center of Tur Abdin. It lies 60km/37mi to the east of Mardin and consists of two quarters some 3km/2mi apart. The western quarter is inhabited predominantly by Moslems, while the eastern part with its churches is clearly Christian. Many of the large multi-story town houses resemble those in Mardin with facades of finely carved stone. The old church Mar Philoxenos became known as Mar Aznoyo after its restoration, while in the Mar Barsaume the metropolitan himself conducts the services. Midyat is a center for silversmiths and many workshops and small shops selling their jewelery (telkari) can be found in the town.
Midyat - Monasteries
Midyat is the ideal place from which to visit the monasteries. 15km/9mi east of Midyat near Arnas stands the Mar Kyriakos Monastery. The church on the northern side of a galleried courtyard was restored in the 19th century. The choir is said to date from the eighth century. Near to the village of Keferzi about 7km/4mi southeast of Arnas stands the monastic church of Mar Azaziel. It contains an iconostasis with acanthus capitals on columns which support an architrave.
100km/62mi west of Mardin lies the regional center of Viransehir, meaning ruined town. A relatively modern town, until 1883 it consisted of a small bazaar and an administrative building for the local council which lay within the ruins of Antoniopolis (Konstantina). It is now a progressive town with a modern hotel alongside the ruins of the ancient settlement.The ancient town of Antoniopolis (Maximilianopolis) was laid waste by the Persians at the beginning of the fourth century Restored by Maxentius, it was destroyed by an earthquake ca. 350 and rebuilt as a Roman castle with a double wall and then called Constantina (Tela). By 1644 it lay in ruins again. Under Ibrahim Pasa the son of the rebellious Egyptian governor Mehmed Ali, the old castle became a winter residence (1833-1840) and was known as Yenisehir (New Town). In 1908 an uprising by Kurds and Turks almost completely destroyed the town.
The small village of Anitli is situated 10km/7mi southwest of Izbirak and is noted for the domed church of El Hadra (St Mary's). Of interest are the decorated external walls and the relief work on the narthex doors (ca. 700).
Situated on a peninsula and likely founded in the 7th C, ancient Knidos, was first discovered by the archeologist Sir Charles Newton in 1857-58.