Earth : Europe : Turkey : Southeastern Anatolia : Mardin
Mardin is a historical city in Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey. A city situated on the top of a hill, it is known for its fascinating architecture consisting of heavily decorated stonework cascading from the hilltop, although occasionally pierced by new, ugly construction.
Mardin lies at the heart of homeland of Assyrians (Süryaniler), an ancient people who trace their origin to Akkadian Empire, established in Mesopotamia around 2200 BC. Assyrians speak Syriac, a Semitic language directly related to the native tongue of Jesus Christ, Aramaic; and mostly subscribe to Syriac Orthodoxy established after the first division in Christianity in 431, much earlier than the Great Schism of 11th century between the churches of Rome and Constantinople. While the population of Assyrians in Mardin dwindled due to emigration (nowadays Assyrians are more numerous in Sweden than in all of Turkey), they are still very much present in the city, along with more or less all other regional cultures, including Turks, Kurds, and Arabs.
Mardin served as the capital of Turkic Artuqid dynasty between 12th and 15th centuries, which resulted in much of the Islamic heritage (madrasahs and mosques) visible in the city today.
Unofficially closed to tourism throughout 90's due to long lasting Turkey-PKK conflict in the surrounding countryside (and that possibly explains why it is omitted from most of the guidebooks to the area), Mardin has recently started to catch up with tourism (still don't expect hordes of package tourists, for sure), and rewards the intrepid traveller who took the effort to go there with a sense of discovery, along with plenty of beautiful architecture and vistas.
The main street of old city, which traverses the town from one end to another through its centre, is called 1. Cadde or Cumhuriyet Caddesi for part of its route. At the eastern end of the old town, it makes a sharp U-turn, and runs along the entire southern edge of city, making another U-turn at the western end of the town and thus completing a loop.
While the maps and aerial photos of old city may look like a labyrinth, it is pretty hard to get lost in narrow alleys—depending on which side of main drag you are on, take downhill or uphill alleys you will come across one by one in a succession, and within 15 minutes at most, you will be back at main street.
The main avenue of the physically almost totally seperated northern suburb of Yenişehir is Vali Ozan Bulvarı, which eventually turns into the street zigzaging on the side of the hill while climbing up to old city. You will possibly not spend too much time in Yenişehir (unless you chose to stay at one of the hotels there), but whether coming in from west (Urfa) or northwest (Diyarbakır), Vali Ozan will be the first road you will set foot in Mardin.
Although there are roads leading to city from roughly all cardinal directions, your most likely point of entry to city will be Urfa. Upon getting close to Mardin, the hilltop old city will greet you from a distance, and as you get closer, the road will swing north, and will eventually lead to the modern suburb of Yenişehir, at the other side of the hill of old city.
There are minibuses (dolmuş) from Urfa, about two and a half to three hours away.
Although there is a small train station just south of the city, it's currently not used and the nearest cities with a regular train connection—as far as passenger trains are concerned at least—to the rest of the country is Gaziantep to west and Batman to north.
The city is connected to the surrounding region with well-paved highways, except for a 100-km section east of Urfa which is full of potholes.
Hitchhiking from Urfa is very easy, thanks to the hospitality of the local people.
Blue minibuses (dolmuş) connect the Yenişehir suburb (lit. "New City", newer and lower suburb at the entrance of the city) with the old city (Eski Mardin). They cost 0.90 TL/person. The steep road between new and old cities might be taken in 30-40 minutes on foot, however it will be a very demanding walk for sure, especially during the peak of summer heat.
Old city is small enough to be negotiated on foot, with the distance between one end to another not exceeding half an hour on the main street. And you will certainly not find any vehicle of any kind on twisty and staired narrow alleys.
All sights of Mardin are located in old city.
Several banks have branches on the main street of old city, complete with ATMs on the exterior walls.
There is a big-box type store (Migros) in Yenişehir, right at the beginning of the ascent towards the old city.
Stores in old city are closed by 9-10PM (even those few that are offering alcoholic beverages, which are typically open till late at night in western Turkey), so make sure you have enough supplies of snacks and drinks (especially water!) for the night.
Local tap water is far too chalky to be tasty and may be unsafe to drink. Buy bottled water instead.
Booking in summer months, especially at weekends, is important since Mardin attracts more and more travellers day by day but there are not lots of places to stay.
The safety situation has been vastly improved since 90's, and Mardin, as well as the surrounding area, seems to be a very safe place with an (overly) heavy presence of policemen in old city.
Mardin's telephone code is (+90) 482.
There are also a couple more internet cafes on the main street of old city.
There is a tourism information office (Turizm İrtibat Bürosu) on the main square of old city, run by students of a local high school. They also offer free internet.
If you are hitchhiking toward Urfa, it will be easiest to take an inexpensive dolmus/minibus from the Mardin otogar/bus station to Kiziltepe, a town just south of Mardin. The bus station in Kiziltepe is right near the dusty highway toward Urfa. You may have to walk a bit to get out of town, or just start flagging and try to get a ride to the edge of town (if the ride isn't going the whole way). If you wear a Kurdish kuffiya, you won't have any problems finding a ride and plenty of goodwill.