Discover Eastern Turkey

24th, 2012
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In mid November 2011 I decided to take a solo holiday to Eastern Turkey.  I had wanted to visit the cities of Mardin, Sanliurfa and Gaziantep. Before I left I researched on the internet and Guide Books, where I would stay and what I wanted to see in each City

I always book the two front seats on the coaches so I can spread out and get uninterrupted views of the scenery.  The journey from Fethiye to Mardin took 24 hours.  We arrived in Mardin at 4pm in the early evening just as it was getting dark. I stayed in Mardin for 4 nights and enjoyed exploring this interesting area. Mardin is over 4000 feet above sea level and overlooks the Mesopotamian Plain.  It is situated in the south-eastern Anatolian Region of Turkey with Diyarbakir to the north and Syria to the south. Set also between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers the province covers 12,760 kilometres.  My Guide book told me that Mardin has played host to many civilisations, religions, sects, customs and traditions for 7000 years over the historic Silk Route and the fertile Mesopotamian Plain.

On my first morning I woke up to clear blue skies and after breakfast set out to explore the City and get my orientation of the layout.  The location of Mardin on the Silk Route offered several Hans (Inns), Caravanserais and also numerous mosques, tombs, churches, monasteries and a Fortress reflecting the periods in which they were built. The history and culture was immense.  Most of the buildings were made of limestone in wonderful sandy pink colours with no discolouration.

I hired a driver and was driven south to Dara Historical Site situated some 30 kilometres from Mardin and 10 kilometres north of the Syrian Border.  This was an ancient garrison city built to defend the eastern borders of the Eastern Roman Empire in 491-518.

I also visited the Deyrulzafaran Monastery.  A huge beautiful building built in limestone. It was originally a Sun Temple before Christianity.  It still has huge importance today for the Syriac Orthodox Church.  Inside it comprised of receiving rooms, school, dormitories, Church, tombs and was still a working Monastery.  The whole setting and building was most impressive.

I was also shown the Kasimiye Madrasa located below the south-eastern hills of Mardin . It was completed between 1457-1502  and was in marvellous condition.  There is a holy pool inside and again wonderful views over the Mesopotamian Plain.   The ornamentation on the limestone brickwork was outstanding.

The last stop was high up behind my hotel – the Zinciriye Madrasa – another beautiful building with amazing views over the Plain.   High above, on the mountain top was the Mardin Fortress now taken over by the Army. I always love visiting the Bazaars.  Located near the most famous Ulu Mosque the rambling tiny colourful streets are narrow (no cars) with donkeys as the main form of transport decked out in finery. Regional delights include soaps, spices, clothes, jewellery shops, linens, and craftsmen.

Mardin has a typical steppe climate with hot dry summers and cold winters with snow. The high pressure caused by the mountains located to the north of the town means the winter months are cold.  The mountains also stop the masses of cool weather entering the region.  At the same time because of the effect of the southern desert climate in the summer months the general temperature of the province increases greatly.

One of the highlights in Mardin for me was visiting the famous Cercis Murat Konagi restaurant.  A rare example of a female entrepreneur (Ebru Baydemir) in eastern Anatolia setting up a restaurant run by women.  The food was extraordinary and quite delicious.  It certainly had the “wow” factor and the prices were extremely reasonable.

Within this south eastern region is the GAP project – the most multifaceted development project in Turkey bringing active farming with extensive irrigation systems and electricity production. Water obtained from the reservoirs of the Ataturk Dam are carried to the Harran Plain by the SanliUrfa Tunnel System.  The waters of the Euphrates River pass through the tunnels and are distributed to the vast croplands of the Mesopotamian Plains bringing prosperity to the region.  The Ataturk Dam and Hydroelectric Plant is the largest in Turkey and 6th largest in the World.

The languages spoken in this region are interesting. There is a huge Arabic influence with arabic spoken alongside Kurdish and Turkish.  There was very little English spoken so I was forced to speak and try to understand the local Turkish.

After my visit to Mardin I set off early for my 2nd City of Sanliurfa.  It was a 3 hour coach journey.  It is in Sanliurfa that you begin to feel you have reached the Middle East because of its close proximity to Syria.  Sanliurfa gave me feelings of a bright modern clean city when I passed through five days earlier. After arriving at my guesthouse I set off for a walk in the town.  Not really knowing where I was going I came across the famous Balıkgöl pond filled with sacred carp fed by pilgrims and tourists.

The whole area was set in parkland. The Mosque of the Nativity Abraham is built over a cave in which the prophet’s Mother gave birth to Abraham in flight from persecution.  A second reservoir called Ayn Zeliha forms the centrepiece of the attractive park laid at the base of the Citadel rock.  The Fortress overlooks the City. It was a damp and rainy afternoon so I found my way back to the hotel where I sat in reception and read some local information whilst enjoying endless cups of “cay” (tea). The next day was spent  exploring the old bazaar area with its maze of old and narrow streets. Many of the local ladies wore long sequinned dresses – long flowing Arabic robes with glittering edges for the Arabs and deep trousers and flowing an indigo head-dress for the Kurds. I visited Abraham’s restaurant high up on one side of the park where it was fun watching the world go by.

From Sanliurfa I caught the midday bus to Gaziantep in bright beautiful clear weather with sunshine all the way – 2 hours.  A taxi took me to my hotel – Anadolu Evleri – a couple of old Anatolian Houses set behind high walls in the Old City.  The room was small, but

warm and cosy with good heating and tea making facilities.  I immediately enjoyed a meal at the nearby famous Imam Çagdas Restaurant enjoying local traditional food.

The next 3 days was spent wandering around the whole of the Old City including visiting the Castle.  I found it a friendly welcoming place with fascinating shops and workshops in the maze of old streets.

Gaziantep is the 6th largest City in Turkey and is most famous for the pistachio baklava – every other shop and restaurant sold it.  Trades included copper-making, mother of pearl inlaid furniture, shoe making, stone working, antique, gold and silver works + traditional handicrafts.  Prices were very reasonable too.

Each City had its own personality, culture and feel.  The people were warm and welcoming in each place.  It was a wonderful holiday and a great experience, to be thoroughly recommended.

Valerie Forshaw

Copyright – Valerie Forshaw

4th January 2012

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