Eastern Turkey. You can’t turn on the news these days without Eastern Turkey being mentioned. From refugees fleeing Syria and entering Turkey to Isis slowly creeping nearer and nearer to the Turkish border. This region has the eyes of the world on it. But are those eyes just focused on one thing?
I was recently invited to Mardin, Turkey with a group of international journalists. We were working in conjunction with the UN and EU on a 9.2 million Euro project to promote tourism in the area. When I was first approached to visit Mardin, I had to check where it is on the map. Us travel bloggers can’t know every town in the world! When I saw how close it is to the Syrian and Iraqi borders, I must admit, I did have some doubts about accepting the trip.
After chatting to Katrinka (who lives in Istanbul) from Katrinka Abroad I was convinced that I should go. It was the right decision.
Mardin is an ancient city with a history that goes back to at least 1230 BC. Anyone and everyone has had an influence here from the Assyrians to the Ottomans with the Persians, Romans and Mongols in between. After visiting the old town, I can see why Mardin was such a prized asset. Apart from the stunning architecture, the old town has great views over the vast plains that surround it. These plains go all the way to the Syrian and Iraqi borders so if there was any advancing army approaching Mardin, the town would know about it hours before they arrived.
Wherever you walk in Mardin, the sense of history surrounds you. On our first day we visited the Deyrulzafaran Monastery which was founded in 493 AD for Syriac Orthodox (Assyrian) Christians. There we met a wonderfully charismatic monk who had the look of someone who knew the secret to life! The building is built on a much older site dedicated to the Assyrian sun-god Shamash that was converted into a citadel by the Romans. The monk took us down into a cellar that was part of the original building. With a glint in his eye, he casually mentioned that the ceiling above us was built without anything connecting the bricks! We all slowly edged our way back to the exit after he told us that and he began to laugh at our lack of faith. To give you an idea of the history of this area, the monk mentioned that just outside of Mardin there is a monastery where the monks and congregation still speak Aramaic – The language Jesus spoke.
Coming back to the present day, and staying on religion, Mardin is a town where different faiths happily coexist alongside one another. You can walk around the town and pass mosques and churches that sit next to cafe’s selling Turkish beers and wine. A local told me that during one week of the year, the locals all come out and celebrate the different religions of the town. This is a town trying to embrace its differences to create a better future.
During my brief stay, the local people made us feel so welcome. As I wandered around the town I was invited into a community centre, a school and countless stalls in the bazaar, not to sell me stuff mind but to show off the craftsmanship of the stall holder. On our last night we were having yet another amazing Turkish feast. After everybody finished eating, we all got up and started to dance. I was being taught how to dance like the locals when one of the tourism board ladies came up to me and said “you have become like a local after only 3 days!”. It was not down to me, it was how the local people made me feel. They made me feel at home.
As I danced in that restaurant, I could see the vast plain below me and the Syrian border far off in the distance. I thought of what the poor Syrian people are going through less than 30 miles away from where I was standing. I thought of how the people of Mardin have embraced peace and want to invite the world to their beautiful town. Even though I was so close to death and destruction, I could have been on another planet.
If you type into google “Mardin, Turkey” the second and fifth google predictions are ” Mardin Safety” and Mardin, Turkey ISIS”. All I can talk about is my experience. During my 3 days in Mardin, I found peace and plenty of it. Let’s make “Mardin Tourism” the number one spot on google predictive search shall we?
If you are heading to Turkey and are looking to book a hotel, you can do in the box below:
Have you been to Mardin? What did you think of it?