Cityscape of old city of 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.
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.
- Church of Forties (Kırklar Kilisesi), (in a side alley; look for the small sign on the main street). A Syriac Orthodox church dating back to 10th century.
- Zinciriye Medresesi, (on the hill towards the citadel; look for the sign on the main street). A madrasah (Islamic school) built by the Artuqids, rulers of the area then, in 1385. Rooms surrounding the central courtyard have some beautiful wall and ceiling decorations, having similarities with Seljuq art of central Turkey. Definitely a must-see while in Mardin. Free.
- Citadel (Kale), (on the hill overlooking the old city). While the citadel itself is located inside military zone and thus is closed for visitors, ascent the alleys of the old city to get to as near as possible to have the fascinating view of the Mesopotamian plains lying below. However, never ever try to cross the heavily barbed wire, as it equals to suicide according to locals.
- Walk the alleys of old city to grab more of local atmosphere and architecture.
- Watch the Mesopotamian plains everywhere you can grip a good sight. The plains look as if lying flat till the end of the world.
- Enjoy one of the closest shaves in the Middle East. There are several small barber shops along the main street through the old city centre. Most offers include double shaving, head massage, a good conversation and of course a cup of tea.
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.
- Colourful keffiyehs (locally known as poşi) can be a good buy while in Mardin. There is a store on the main street of old city where you can get 4 scarves for 10 TL.
Local tap water is far too chalky to be tasty and may be unsafe to drink. Buy bottled water instead.
- Mezopotamya Cay Bahcesi, (on the main street, towards the end of the city, next to a mosque). Open till late (midnight?). An open-air tea garden shaded by trees with a good view of the Mesopotamian plains below (though not as wide as you can see near the citadel because of a neighbouring building). 0.50 TL for a glass of tea.
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.
- Basak Hotel, Cumhuriyet Cad. Kışla Sok. 2 (on the main street of old city, about 5 min of walk away from the main square), ☎ +90 482 212 62 46. Quite clean rooms with a TV and a fan and not so clean (read "dirty") shared bathrooms, with showers providing water that can be described as "warm" at best (in summer). Check the windows first -to see if the crank is not broken- before deciding which room to stay, because it is almost impossible to sleep without an open window in summer months, even when the fan is on. Rooms facing the street has a lovely view of the minaret across the street. One of the cheapest places to stay in Mardin. 20 TL/person. 15 TL/person for open air bed on the roof.
- Bilen Otel, Vali Ozan Caddesi 72, Yenişehir (at the entrance of the city), ☎ +90 482 212 55 68 ([email protected], fax: +90 482 212 25 75). A three-star hotel mostly getting good reviews, although some of the rooms are in need of a renovation. Rooms with en-suite bathrooms, satellite TV, and central heating. The downside of the hotel is that it's located in Yenişehir suburb, i.e. not in the old city. 40 TL pp, including a not-so-good breakfast.
Mardin's telephone code is (+90) 482.
- Kültür Internet, Cumhuriyet Caddesi (on the main street). Internet cafe. 1 TL/hour.
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.
- Midyat, about 40 min by minibus to north is also known for its stonework architecture, with even more ornaments than Mardin's.
- Hasankeyf further north on the banks of Tigris River is a fantastic village with its cave houses, citadel, and other monuments from Middle Age. You'd better hurry on visiting the place as the whole town might be submerged in as near future as 2013 due to a (yet-to-have-a-final-decision) dam project.
- Beyazsu, or Avaspi in Kurdish (both meaning "white water"), is about one hour away from Mardin on the highway between Midyat and Nusaybin with waterfalls and some greenery, something of a miracle in this arid region, where locals like to visit at weekends.