The cultural heritage, left by people of different culture and religion who still live in harmony today, is revealed through the stone carving and decoration of its elegant houses, public buildings, churches and mosques that make the old town of Midyat a small treasure of architecture. The town is also reputed for the making of filigree silver jewelry called “telkari”. Midyat is only located a few kilometers/ miles away from the beautiful Monastries and Churches of Turabdin.


Turabdin is a plateau located in the east of Mardin. From the end of the 4th century onward, it was a Syriac Jacobite (also known as Syriac Orthodox) religious center, which is still active today, where many monasteries were opened. The most renowned monastery is Mar Gabriel, also know as Deyr Ul Umur, founded in 397 by Mar Samuel and Mar Shemun. It was only in the 7th century that the monastery began to be called the "Monastery of Mar Gabriel" after its bishop Mar Gabriel (+668). The monastery was and still is the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of the Turabdin. The Monastery of Mar Gabriel is located 18 km/ 11 miles to the east of Mydiat along the Midyat-Idil road.
Another significant monastery is Mar Yakup (Nusaybin). The monastery was built in 328 after the death of Mar Yakup and was dedicated to him. It is an important historical and architectural property in Nusaybin.
The Turabdin Plateau with its monasteries was the center of a flourishing community that spoke Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
Among the numerous churches of Turabdin, one of the most beautiful and most interesting is the Church of the Virgin Mary in Anitli, 40 km/ 25 miles to the east of Midyat on Dargeçit road.

Mar Gabriel 

            Mar Gabriel 



Syriac-Jacobite priests today and in the past

- Town of Belfried Churches -
When our dolmuş stopped at last, the driver turned off the stereo which had been belting out Turkish music all the way from Mardin. All other passengers got out of the car, but I just looked around restlessly. It was a roundabout where some dolmuşs were parked. Seeing me remaining seated, the driver turned his face and told me that we had arrived in Eski Midyat (Old Midyat.) With his urging, I got out of the car, yet I wondered where I was. As I opened the guidebook, in which there was not even the map of the town(!), in search for a ’clue’ to figure out my actual location, one of fellow passengers turned round and spoke to me anxiously,
"Where are you going?"
"I don’t know..."
"Where are you going?," other passengers repeated the question.
"Um... I came here for sightseeing, but I don’t know exactly where to go."
"Ha! Gezmeye geldiniz!" (Oh! You came here for sightseeing!)
They said so in unison, looking convinced. It seemed that the local dolmuş passengers had been puzzled why a strange foreigner had been on board. Now, the person who spoke to me first, nodded to me, saying,
"Okay, then, let’s go together."
I wondered why my ’adventures’ in Turkey always followed the same pattern. I have often been guided by complete strangers in this country. Fortunately it’s always turned out well, though.
He took me across the intersection and walked into a bazaar area along a small shopping lane. As he passed by a small grocery, someone inside called to him. The owner of the store seemed to be one of his acquaintances. They happily shook their hands and hugged each other. The owner who had a stubbly face glanced down at me, and they exchanged several words. Their conversation was not in Turkish (I was not sure whether it was Kurdish or Arabic), so I couldn’t understand what they were talking about, which made me feel insecure and suspicious a little. Then, the stubbly man smiled at me and called a little boy who was playing around the store. He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said to me,
"My son will show you around town."
...I stared at the boy and muttered to myself, "Here we go again." Before I knew it, I had got a little guide although I hadn’t requested it.

My little guide, whose name was Cüneyt, began to walk ahead of me silently. Turning to the left at the end of the lane, and to the right at the next corner, he kept walking at a very quick pace. As I asked him to slow down the pace, he took a look back on me, and just slowed his walk without saying anything. Generally, Turkish children obey their parents and help them as well. He didn’t seem reluctant to guide me despite having been interrupted while he was playing with his friends, but at the same time he also seemed perplexed at dealing with a strange foreigner.
Soon, we got to a building, on the top of which Turkish national flag was flapping in the cloudless sky. As he knocked on the door, a gate keeper opened it. We went inside and I found that the building was a kind of museum that was converted from an old monastery or someone’s mansion. A honey-colored stone building stood in front of the doorway, and an external staircase stretched upward. There was also a small annex on nearer side to the entrance, and the gate keeper first let us in the cool room there. He showed us an old well which had provided drinking water in the past, and he said that the room used to be a kitchen. In the main building, there were several bedrooms, and they were still kept tidy with beds and quilts as if they could be available to use immediately as guest rooms.
I walked up the steep stone steps to the flat roof of the building. As I saw the view from the rooftop, I felt as if I slipped into another country other than Turkey, because the first things that caught my eye were the bell towers of the churches in the town. The belfries had a greater presence than the dozens of minarets. I squinted in the reflected glare of the sun. It was sometime after noon, and the sun overhead was beating down on the box-shaped hazel colored stone houses and narrow streets below. The townscape of Old Midyat still had the remains of medieval atmosphere as in Mardin. The critical difference between Midyat and Mardin was that Midyat was lacking a scenic rocky hill.
As Cüneyt noticed that I had become interested in the most visible church seen from the rooftop, he took me there directly after we got out of the museum. Walking through between outdated houses, he lead the way. As we approached the picturesque belfry rising amid the residential blocks, I understood that it was located on slightly higher ground, and that made it stand out conspicuously. The gate was closed, but Cüneyt ran to a house next door and came back soon with a pretty girl aged 14 or 15. She unlocked the gateway and let us in the church. Her family seemed to be the keeper of the site. The church looked quite charming, and fine patterns were inscribed on the facade of the honey-colored building. I noticed that the bellfry was not a separate tower but was just on the building, and I saw a ladder leaning on the top terrace where the bell was placed. The girl told me that the name of this impressive church was "Mor Sarbel."
"When does the bell ring? It’s still in active use, isn’t it?" I asked her.
"Yes, it rings at six o’clock everyday."
Her answer disappointed me somewhat, because it seemed impossible for me to have a chance to hear the bell ring unless I stayed overnight in this town. I still wish to hear the sound someday.
Midyat seems famous for its silver-made materials as well. Passing by the area where jewelry shops stood side by side, Cüneyt flicked a glance at me but didn’t say anything, seeing that I was not interested in them. Walking together on the street, he was spoken to by several shop-keepers. It was funny, because they told him not to bother me by following around. They misunderstood that a small boy was tagging around with a foreigner out of curiosty. He looked offended and talked back to them proudly, "I am giving her a tour!!!"
Actually, Cüneyt was a good guide. He didn’t talk much and didn’t do or say anything unnecessary. When we passed by a small kiosk where some beverages and other things were being sold, I asked Cüneyt casually if he would like something to drink. However, although he had been with me for most of the day, he suddenly became shy. I asked him again what he would like to drink, but he bashfully looked at the ground and made no reply. I encouraged him not to hesitate and to tell me what he wanted.
"Ne istiyorsun?" (What would you like?)
"Çay? Kola?" (Tea? Coke?)
"Söyle." (Name it.)
"... kola. (...coke.)
It was a faint voice, but as he took a bottle of coke from the shop keeper, he drank it with relish and smiled in embarrassment. His shy and unsophisticated manner made a favorable impression on me
Instead of silver jewelry, I bought two music cassette tapes at a music shop that Cüneyt took me to. It was on the upper floor of a building in a quiet shopping arcade. The friendly staff were willing to play the cassettes of Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic music at full blast one after another to let me listen to them so that I could make up my mind which one to buy. I got two cassettes of "halay" music (one of Turkish folk dance music) that were still lingering in my ears, since the dolmuş driver had been playing them throughout the journey.
After that, we caught a minibus which shuttled between Eski Midyat (Old Midyat) and New Midyat called "Ester" and went to a tea garden that Cüneyt suggested. He said he sometimes visits there with his family on holiday. After spending some hours with me, it seemed like he was getting used to me. I had a glass of tea and wrote my diary in the shade of a tree, while he was playing on the swing at a small park next to the garden. The waiter was looking curiously at the strange pair of us from a distance.

The quiet afternoon passed very quickly. Just before I went back to Mardin, I paid a visit to the grocery to thank Cünneyt’s father for providing me with a good guide. The father, who was absorbed in emailing on his cell phone, raised his face and asked me if I had enjoyed the tour. It seemed nothing special for him to make his son take care of me for a good half day, which amazed me. Of course, neither the father nor Cüneyt expected anything, such as money, from me. They helped me to find a returning dolmuş to Mardin as well.
I am always thankful to Turkish people for their friendliness and kindness to strange foreign travellers, but I still don’t know how they can do so many favours for them as if it were a matter of course. They look like they are not aware of the fact that "they are so kind."

I missed Mar Gabriel Monastery (Deyrü Umar) after all. Mar Gabriel was founded in 4th century and is one of the oldest active Christian monasteries. It is located 20km southeastward from Midyat. Yet, there is no public transportation to/from the monastery and hiring a taxi is the only way to get there, which costs around 20$ one way. According to my guidebook, Mar Gabriel is the highlight of visiting Midyat, but I didn’t regret not having visited threre. I prefered to follow my little guide’s simple advice. His logic is like this: the monastery is very far → you have to take a taxi → it is expensive → don’t go.
I think the best part of "travelling" is not visiting obvious places as planned, but rather chance incidents and meetings with new people whom you never expected to acquainted with beforehand.
<Early Summer 2004>


Skylife: 2001 / SEPTEMBER

Each stone placed side by side was like a letter in mysterious stone writings. Stone upon stone rose into walls lining the narrow streets, but the walls still keep their secrets. Houses that are cool in summer and warm in winter, and courtyards on many levels are concealed behind them. None of their windows ever come face-to-face with those of a neighbouring house. This architecture woven of stone belongs to a culture with very ancient roots. Here the soft, amenable Midyat stone has taken shape in the skilled hands of Syrian Christian craftsmen, as they built houses rising up the gentle slopes. Both inside and out they are decorated with the distinctive stone carving of Midyat. On the architraves of doors and windows, beneath the eaves, on columns and arches, tulips, carnations, and twining vines have enrichened the tranquil, unassuming lives of their inhabitants. As I looked at the lace-like carving the patterns spoke to me of fertility, patience, melancholy and faith in this land suffused with an ancient mystique.

Midyat is a town in Upper Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in whose embrace civilisations have thrived. It stands in the centre of the high limestone plateau of Turabdin, with the city of Mardin to the west, Hasankeyf to the north, Cizre to the east and Nusaybin to the south. The word Turabdin means Mountain of the Servants of God, in reference to the monks who have lived in the nearly eighty monasteries founded in this region since the 4th century. The Syrian Orthodox church was founded here, and since 1478 Midyat has been the metropolitan diocese. However, the history of the area goes back long before Christianity to the Hurrians who lived here in the 3rd millenium BC. Ninth century BC Assyrian tablets refer to Midyat as Matiate, meaning City of Caves, and indeed, at Eleth 3 km away are the caves where the earliest inhabitants made their homes. Throughout history peoples have arrived and departed like migrant birds through this mountainous region. Conquerors were proud to have taken possession of its wealth, as in the case of the Assyrian king Ashurnasipal II, who declared in 879 BC, ’I have subdued Matiate and its villages. I have won abundant spoils and subjected them to high tribute and taxes.’ Such events as these were common in the region, which was ruled in turn by the Mitannians, Assyrians, Urartians, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Abbasids, Seljuks and Ottomans.

Today minarets and church towers rise into the sky above Midyat, where Syrian Orthodox culture has left its mark on stone carving, filigree work, weaving, woodwork, the arts of the goldsmith and coppersmith, and many other local handcrafts. The Syrian Orthodox people, also known as Assyrians, are among the most ancient indigenous inhabitants of Upper Mesopotamia. In 38 AD, when the region was still part of the Roman Empire, they rejected paganism in favour of Christianity. Today, however, the Syrian Orthodox community in Midyat is on the decline. Migration began in the 1960s when many went to Germany as guest workers, and is still continuing. Yet they still feel Midyat to be their true home. Kenan, a young filigree craftsmen whose elder brothers and many other relatives are living abroad, asserted, ’One hour spent here is worth a lifetime there.’ He went on to patiently describe the intricacies of his craft to us. Making filigree jewellery requires patience and dedication.

Midyat is a fascinating mosaic of religions, languages and traditions, which coexist here in friendly tolerance. As well as Muslims and Christians there is a smaller number of Yezidis, a people whose religion of Persian origin is thought to be related to Zoroastrianism. All share the joys and sorrows of their neighbours, whatever their faith or race, and a friendly greeting suffices for doors and hearts to be opened. We met Ahmet on a street where a hoard of children were playing. Pigeons took wing from his courtyard, and he told us that both Mardin and Midyat were as celebrated for their domestic pigeons as Urfa. ’We are all brothers here,’ he said adding, ’People who love pigeons also love peace.’ From the courtyard there was a view across the rooftops, and in the distance could be seen the Konuk Evi (Guest House) at the summit of the hill. This lovely old traditional house was purchased and restored on the initiative of former town governor Feyzullah Özcan, a man who is still remembered with affection here, and the metropolitan diocese, and will soon find a new lease of life as accommodation for official guests.

In the cultural mosaic of Midyat the calls to prayer from the minarets and ringing of church bells from the spires seem to speak not of division but of unity in the midst of diversity. Prayers chanted in the cathedral of Mort Smuni mingle with those in the 1300 year old church of Mor Had Bsabo in the village of Gülgöze (formerly Aynverd) to the east: ’O God, Reawaken the love within me. Burn to ashes all selfishness, envy and malice, and warm my heart...’ Words of love transcend distance. It can courtyard of the 1st century Monastery of St Mary, and is infused in the pale yellow stones of the 4th century Monastery of Mor Gabriel. Words of love and good wishes in four languages resound in the ancient city of Midyat.


nursait /izgi - 2011-12-28 13:36:20
Midyats people were friendly and humanist persons than ten century.this life are going to be a long time.
nursait izgi - 2011-06-18 10:38:54
midyat(turabdin)is the best beautıful city in world cities.there are historical mosques and churches with lifefull midyat people.in midyat every person is brother and sister.this brotherhood is in misyat culture and humanity.thanks my midyat

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