Mardin, an ancient hilltop city of honey-colored stone buildings, overlooks the fertile plains of Mesopotamia. This region, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is considered the cradle of civilization of the West. Mardin itself dates back to 4000 BCE and has witnessed the passing of many cultures, from the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Muslim Ummayids, who introduced Islam to the city. Mardin was also an important stopover point along the Silk Road due its strategic position at the junction of two transit roads.
Today, Mardin is a diverse city of Kurds, Turks, Arabs and Syriac Christians. Women cloaked in head scarves and dark flowing skirts float down narrow sloping streets, past glowing mosques, madrasahs and caravanserais, before disappearing into shadowy arched arcades that house markets and serve as passageways. Old men in black suits and skull caps idle away their hours in the city’s many tea houses, chatting and contemplating the views of the expansive plains below. The younger men sell jewelry, copper ware and textiles along a bustling thoroughfare throbbing with cars and Arab music, the only street in Mardin that is wide enough to permit the passage of vehicles. In the rest of the city, donkeys provide the sole source of transportation, functioning as garbage collectors, porters and water carriers.
In our day and a half here, we have met only two people who speak English, the Imam of the Great Mosque and the owner of a nearby restaurant. Nonetheless, absolutely everyone we have encountered has been incredibly warm and friendly and treated us like royalty for being foreign. For now, Mardin is a favorite destination only among Turkish tourists. I highly recommend coming before the hoards of foreign tourists arrive and you can still feel the thrill of stepping back in time as you wander the streets of this ancient city.