I am not sure whether you have ever travelled to Turkey but if not you defintely need to put it onto your bucket list .
Besides all the nice holiday resorts at the Aegean Coast and at the Medditerrean Coast we need to state the real value of the country which is the natural environment in all parts of Turkey on the one side but what is even much more important are the historical values that you can find and visit all over the country as well .Hundreds of ancient sites from different historical periods . Many Cities which have a history of several thousands of years . Regions that belong to the paleolithic times where Neandertal people lived and where the locations are under protection by today .
Turkey is a real cradle of mankind as many civilizations passed this country which are the base of Western Civilizations .By today Turkey has 19 registered UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES where eg Istanbul , Ephesus , Cappadocia , Bursa, Pamukkale , Gobeklitepe etc belong to .
Moreover by today there are 111 destinations which are on the temporary UNESCO HERITAGE list and are waiting for their confirmation .
In this blog I will tell you a little bit about a very ancient city in the South East of Turkey which is Diyarbakir . Actually most of the cities in that region are all very old cities with historical traces of about 8-10.000 years ago eg Mardin ,Urfa , Gaziantep , Malatya , Kayseri , Van and so many more .
Diyarbakir also became a UNESCO World Heritage with its fortress , its ancient 5 km long city walls and its very special Hevsel Gardens along the city walls in 2015.
All of them are cities which have been part of the ancient silk road in the past .
Romans , Persians , Greeks , Assyrians , Hitits, Urartus, Armenians and others passed this soil , religiouswise Christian , Jewish , Muslims have been part of this region once and left their influences behind .
I visited Diyarbakir about nearly 20 years ago for the first time and in those days we stayed in the ancient Kervansaray Complex which is nowadays a hotel and is a building from the 14-15th century that served to welcome visitors and traders with their camels and horses that were coming down the silk road in those centuries.
Actually in those days it was a short visit while this time we had several days for the trip and some great local assistance . Our guide did not only show us around in the city but also the near surrounding and most important the people and the culture of the city .
On our first day when we landed early in the morning at Diyarbakir Airport which is a very modern airport nowadays, our guide brought us to the nearby Hevsel Gardens which are located at the ancient city walls of Diyarbakir at the famous Tigris River .
You might know that the famous Mesopotamia region which is a extraordinary gem of this area is located between the two very strong rivers of TIGRIS and EUPHRATES and is well known for its fertile soil . The local people imagine TIGRIS as a female while EUPHRATES is a male . This is why the Turkish names are Dicle ,a Turkish girl”s name and Firat which is a boy”s name .
Just few years ago even watermelons of about 60-80 kg were growing in this area.
During our trip it is the month of May and though it is springtime the weather is hot and dry . The sky is very clear and there is a nice flavour of nature , the river and the flowers in the air .
We are sitting at the riverside under the tall green trees and young waiters serve a huge breakfast to us which contains different types of local olives , many different types of local cheese , pastrys , butter , cream , local honey , jam of local fruit , eggs , omlette with dried meat , fresh tomatoes and cucumber , green fresh pepper , a local spicy onion – pepper – tomato paste , mushrooms , some kind of Turkish Delight made of sesame oil and grape juice , a desert made of grapes , Murtuga which is a desert made of cheese ,Turkish Tea in a Samovar and fresh baken Cakil Pide which is a kind of local bread called “Pebble Stone Bread “.
I mean so many delicious and various type of food that you cant imagine . There is sometimes even not enough space on the tables to place all those .
We take our time as a Turkish breakfast needs time and you need to value the hospitality of the landlord .
It is all perfectly organized for us and we enjoy the food, the nice talks , the beautiful surrounding and the weather.
On the Tigris River we can see the ONGOZLU BRIDGE from far which is a bridge from the 11th century .
It is about 178 m long and has 10 bridge columns and was even used by cars just till few years ago but nowadays the usage of the bridge is allowed for pedestrians only .Unbelievable that since nearly 1000 years this bridge is used and still in very good shape !
After our breakfast we actually start our walk into the Old City of Diyarbakir .The city walls are the longest ancient city walls in the world after the Great Wall of China .
They are about 5 km long , 10-12 meters high and 3-5 meters thick .There are about 82 old bastions located in the city walls which are in good shape and per today used for exhibitions for instance .
If you look at a map you will recognize that the old city is surrounded by the ancient city walls and has the shape of a turbot fish .
At the location where the fish has its eye on the map you can see the most important part of the old city . No matter which period it was throughout the thousands of years and emperors, this was always the place of the palace , the center of the government and the military and the most safest place in the city .
We enter this part and visit the different locations one after the other – the Lion Fountain , the Museum of Ataturk , The Suleymaniye Mosque , the museum buildings on each side with historical remains of Diyarbakir , the very old Saint George Church that is from the 3rd century , the Amida Mound that is under excavation and the remains from the Palace of the Artuklu period of the 12th century. One of the museum buildings has a gorgeous view to the Tigris River in case you might need some rest under the shadow of the local trees and a fresh wind with a cup of a cold local basil or lemonade drink !
After our visit of the inner fortress we move on to some other parts of the old city to Ulu Camii .
The mosque has a rectangular shape and is from the 7th century .
It was built at the place where in former times the Mar Toma Church was standing .It seems that this place was a very holy site even before the Muslim and the Christian period . The building made out of black and white stone blocks with its gorgeous decorative elements ,its huge inner yard is really overwhelming and definitely a Must See in this city .
There are numerous historical buildings within the old city of Diyarbakir .The old streets and especially the old Kervansarays , the Hans are taking you hundreds of years ago back in time . You will see all the old shops selling gold ,silver , tea , spices , dried fruit , coffee, any kind of products in iron and wood .
We walk along the old shops where people are forging iron , carving wood , cooking coffee as in the old times . Cute coffeehouses are hidden in the backyards of the Kervansarays with their little shops to sell silk , special fabrics , local products ie anything you can imagine .
Inbetween you will see all the little restaurants with special local food eg serving liver which is a very beloved food in Diyarbakir even for breakfast sometimes while regional music is playing in the background .
Most importantly people are smiling and are very very friendly especially the young people are extremely helpful !
There are also here and there the old type of Diyarbakir villas or local houses with lots of rooms and a huge garden as usually big families like clans were living here .
The walls of the houses are beautifully decorated with white stones and paintings .The gardens often have a huge pool or fountain and big trees so that the houses are very cooling in opposite to the hot temperatures outside .
During our walk through the old city we first take a rest at the famous Hasanpasa Han and later at the house of the poet Cahit Sitki Taranci which has also a typical architecture for Diyarbakir .
We all feel a huge sympathy for the city and the people as everything is so pleasant , guests are welcome , the locations are great and worthful to see and taking some break here and there to observe the surroundings is fine.
The first day is full of a lot of impressions and beautiful insights and in the evening we just fall tired into our beds .
On the 2nd day actually our great goal is to visit the Zerzevan Fortress that is quite new to see as the excavation of this archeological site just started in 2014 under the direction and surveillance of Doc Dr Aytac Coskun and are still going on .
Zerzevan is located about 50 km south of Diyarbakir on the way to Mardin .The old city dates back to the 8th century BC . Later it was also a fortress and location used by the Persians in the 5th century BC and then by the Romans from the 1st century AD onwards .Zerzevan was located on the old KINGS ROAD and was always of high strategic , economic and military importance .
In Roman times it was the last military force stop before the borderline and located at the most south eastern point of Anatolia . Military forces as well as civilians were living here as the location was located on the trading routes of the region.
While we visit the site I am more than excited . The young archeological team is guiding us .
They are from the University of Dicle which is close by and are the ones exploring and excavating the site .
They are very excited while telling us how they found and excavated the different parts of the Zerzevan Castle .
Today you can see parts of the city walls of Zerzevan Fortress , the South and the North Tower , rock altars at several points , an underground rock church from the 3rd century AD , a military depot ( arsenal ) , houses where people and soldiers lived , an underground shelter , really huge water depots that were used for the whole city , waterways and rock graves .
I would like to draw your attention to an exraordinary historical piece that was found here in Zerzevan Castle.
Actually it is a bronze baptismal bucket that dates back to the 6th century AD and was dedicated to the church by an old greek family of Antiparos that was found at the highest point of the settlement close to the church at a baptistery pool .
It is a very special historical piece that is normally exhibited at the Archeological Museum in Istanbul .
During our visit to Diyarbakir it was a great luck that this very original piece was exhibited at the Museum of Diyarbakir so that we could admire the piece at its original destination.
While we walk further in the site we come to a very mystic and awesome place which is a hidden, probably the first , rockcave of a Mithraeum of the 2nd century AD .
The rocktemple is about 7 meters long and 5 meters wide and has a height of about 2.5 meters and has different ancient rock paintings with symbols of the Mithraism like the light crown , columns and niches at the east wall , a rock pool where probably animals eg bulls were sacrificied and ceremonies took place either with water or with blood . So far it is the one and only rock temple of the Mithraism that is found and which gives the whole site a very special meaning and mystic flair .
I cant describe the feeling when we stand in front of this temple and look inside .Unbelievable that this hidden and secret place was just found at the eastern wall of the Roman Fortress in 2017, that close to the castle but was not known till the 21 st century . It is a super feeling when you are interested in history and culture to be at this very unique place.
The very young archeologist who is responsible and a very important player of the team is just standing at my side . I dont know how to thank him as he did a great job for mankind , for his country and his birthplace Diyarbakir . Unbelievable how successful and engaged these people are , how they love their job and how patient they are . I can just show him my highest respect and wish him all the best for their further work .
I cant describe it differently , I am really overwhelmed by the site and the young team working over here !
Wow – what a Great Job !
We are walking though the site for hours under the intensive sun . As we are so excited we dont feel any warmth , heat , hunger or thurst – we are just blended by the view and the history of Zerzevan Castle that is told by the archeologists .
Just in the afternoon when we are going to leave we remember to drink some water and to take some rest under the shadows of a little teahouse at some windy and cool place .
I would also like to mention that the 3000 year old castle is nowadays also a destination for sky observations as it is one of the 10 best places to watch the sky in Turkey .
This is probably also the reason why the mithraeum is secretly located at this place .
While we were in Zerzevan Castle the preparations for the international sky observation festival on the 11th and 12 th of June 2022 were going on .
Meanwhile Zerzevan Castle is also on the tentative UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE list and waiting for its confirmation from the authorities .
We leave to go back to Diyarbakir . Hasanpasa Han is our destination where we are going to in the late afternoon to do some shopping – we buy different sorts of tea , lots of local spices in a real spice shop . Once you get in you can smell all the intensive flavour of all of them , really impressive ! Some of our friends are buying dried fruit ,fresh and dried almond , local Dibek coffee , chocolate with walnuts and nuts , some buy golden jewelry , some silk scarfs and some local dresses and decorations .There is so much to see and to buy . It is so obvious that this place was on the trading route of the silk road for hundreds of years as the character of the old city is still the same .
We also drop by the Surp Giragos Armenian Church which is just restored and looks really gorgeous . It is definitely a fascinating place to be visited . In the backyard there is also a nice coffeeshop in the garden where you can buy some nice souvenirs and have some small bites and drinks .Very impressive and pleasant architecture and ambiance !
I mean wherever you look there are some historical places , buildings , streets , Hans , backyards – it is really unbelievable !
In the evening we are invited to a gorgeous dinner that takes place in a huge garden restaurant with live local music . Here we can just live what the local people like – being together , eating their meal together at long tables in the community , singing together , enjoying the entertainment and cultural exchange .Also for us it is a lovely night under the half moon and the stars of a warm summer night with a great southeastern Anatolian cuisine and drinks !
The next 2 days we spent in Mardin and its surrounding which is also a very special old city in South East Anatolia in Mesopotamia .This part I will tell you in a separate blog !
Our last day our guide has a surprise for us and what we do is that we take a short trip to Egil which is a small location about 80 km north of Diyarbakir . It takes about more than 1 hour to get there .
Egil is also located at one arm of the Tigris .The water has a different and very beautiful nile green color here.
The importance of Egil is that the remains of the palace of the old Artuk Kings is located here in Egil .
We take a little boat and have a short drive along the beautiful and very fertile and natural coastline along the ruins and we can see the old fortress at the top of the rocks .
It all looks so beautiful , untouched and so unreal somehow .
It is all a present to us and we are so thankful !
As you can see there is so much to tell about Diyarbakir and its surrounding .
History of so many different periods , wonderful historical buildings and there is still so much to see , to explore and to learn .
For sure this city has been always a very important destination throughout thousands of years where you see the historical traces and a deep culture still today which needs to be valued !
In the past 2 decades the city of Diyarbakir was unfortunately place of some serious unrest due to political reasons but it is so nice to see that the unrest is resolved , people can smile again , earn money again and the city is growing and blooming and really shining to its best !
Everybody earns to live in peace and I do wish the people in this region a prosperous and peaceful future and that all the values will be held high and protected to its best as they are cultural values not only of Mesopotamia or Turkey but even of mankind .
Diyarbakir is like the crown of the fertile halfmoon of Mesopotamia and deserves it in full !
I do hope that you enjoyed my blog and my impressions that I tried to give you on this blog !