Early morning on a Monday I took a Turkish Airlines flights to Mardin from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Renowned by its privileged location on top of a hill, the beauty of its sand-stone buildings and the ethnic and cultural mix of its inhabitants, it has a tiny and sandy airport. While I was being driven to the old city I felt the strong heat despite being only 9am of a mid September day.
I started my walk though Mardin’s hilly and narrow old town, where donkeys are the only way of transportation. Mesmerised by the beautifully detailed limestone buildings, most of them very well-preserved and currently in use, I was frequently stopped, saluted and asked to take photographs, mainly by kids. I posted a few when I was back home as a way of thanking their friendliness. After a wander, you get the feeling that things have not changed that much in the last centuries and that life here is slow paced and marked by the extreme seasonal weather: snow in winter and extremely hot in summer.
A series of coincidences made me meet Gabriel, a Syrian Christian guy. He invited me to his jewelry shop and offered a glass of home made Syriac wine while we had a little chat in English. As his shop seemed to be a social meeting place for local youngsters, I met him and his friends later that evening and had a beer enjoying the sunset falling over the mesopotamian valley.
This hospitality was a constant during my trip. Locals have a big sense of pride regarding their origins, their long history and heritage plus a strong sense of identity, which is built upon tolerance towards all kinds of religious movements and ethnic groups. Mardin is mainly populated by Syrian Christians, but this does not even matter a bit in a predominantly Islamic country. Talking to Gabriel and his friends, all in their 30s, gave me a rich perspective on issues like Turkish identity or joining the EU. Mardin is definitely an example of multi-ethnic living and incredibly interesting is to sit and look at all this diversity while sipping some tea.
The city’s main attractions are its several churches and mosques spread along its narrow and hilly alleys. The fortress, Kasimiye Medresse, Zinciriye Medresse, the Grand Mosque and Dayrul-Zeferan Monastery. There is also quite a range of accommodation available, from old houses converted into boutique hotels to more basic hostels with shared facilities.