Called Marde by the Persians, Mardia by the Byzantines, and Mardin since the Arab conquest, this magnificent mountaintop city of the ancient world has been a settlement since 3000 BC. Situated upon a lofty mountainside, nearly every building is set like a terrace rising one above the other with a view of the broad plains nearly a kilometer below the castle on the summit. While Mardin has become a tourist center the majority of visitors are Turkish so it has managed to keep a more authentic feel than many other cities. Mardin is very much one of Turkey’s many museum cities where normal daily life and history blend together to make every corner of this beautiful place of ornate stone buildings worth getting lost in.
On the western edge of the old city is the incredibly picturesque Kasımiye Madrasah where Kasım Paşa and his sister have been entombed under a pair of stately domes. Started in the 12th century and not completed till the 15th due to the ever disruptive Mongolians it was built as a religious school and mosque. Like many sites in Mardin, this beautiful three-domed building has a great view of the valley below and surrounding hills. Unfortunately the upper floors and terrace of the now disused school are closed to visitors though it’s really the inner courtyard and its pool that are the main attraction.
Syriac Churches of Mardin
There are a number of Suryani churches here in Mardin, some Orthodox and others Catholic. The most famous of these is called Kırklar Kilisesi (Forty Martyrs Church) which has an entrance beautifully decorated to commemorate forty martyrs. There is also the Suryani Catholic Meryemana Kilisesi (The Church of Mother Mary) which is right on the main street among a few others.
(also referred to as Sultan Isa Medresesi)
Other than the city itself Zinciriye Madrasah is probably Mardin’s most famous sight with a pair of magnificent domes and large windows and terraces looking over the plain from one of the highest points in the entire city. For the best view of the domes go up one of the side streets to the east of the madrasah and work your way up until you find yourself on the slopes below the castle then work your way west (left) until you are above the building with a magnificent view of the domes, the minaret of Ulu Camii and the plains below.
Cost: Free (if you can get permission)
Unfortunately the mountain-top castle is closed to visitors and, while you can see a bit of it from below there is no good vantage point that we are aware of for seeing the castle.
(Grand Mosque of Mardin)
The Grand Mosque of Mardin dates from the 12th century though it was heavily damaged in the mid 1800’s during a period of local rebellion. While the mosque itself is rather plain (though certainly grand in scale) the massive ornately carved minaret is well worth seeing.
Deyrul Zafaran Manastırı
(House of Saffron Monastery)
About 6 kilometres east of the city of Mardin lies an ancient Syriac Orthodox Monastery built on an ancient Persian temple to the sun god. As it is somewhat removed and surrounded by its own sites we’ve given Deyrulzafaran its own page. Be sure to check it out!
How To Get There
As it is the center of a province and a sufficiently large city there are many coach buses running to and from Mardin regularly.
Mardin has its own small airport just outside the city with regular service from major cities like Istanbul and Ankara.
While getting here by private car is easy, parking in the old city can be somewhat of a challenge. There’s one parking lot at the entrance to the old city just off of Cumhuriyet Street, though it’s a bit of a walk from there to the center of town. There is also another parking lot right at the center in Cumhuriyet Square though trying to find space in the afternoon or evening can be hard.
Where To Stay
As Mardin has become popular with tourists, especially local, there are a good number of accommodation types to choose from. There are two questions you need to ask yourself when picking a hotel here: do you want quality? And do you want to be in the old city? There are plenty of options at all price ranges and of different quality though the ones in the old city will cost more for what you get regarding room. As far as location you choose between the convenience of staying right in the old city and having everything within walking distance or needing to bus/drive into the old city from wherever you stay in the new city. If you’re into catching sunrises at 5:30 like I am then staying in the old city is the clear winner!
As the city faces south, sunrise and sunset cast dramatic shadows across the city and turn it from a honey colour to deep orange. The view from above Zinciriye Medresesi is one of the best to watch a sunrise or sunset.
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.