Turkey is a heaven for explorers. The Anatolian lands have been the home of various civilizations since the dawn of time, and one can still trace every step of their existence. This winter set your course to southeastern Anatolia to discover the ancient cities of Diyarbakır and Mardin, while strolling down narrow, historic streets.
Diyarbakır: The walled city
Fascinating for its cultural richness, Diyarbakır has magnificent 2,000-year-old walls, consisting of 82 bastions, that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
After a splendid breakfast full of local tastes in the mystical atmosphere of the historic Hasanpaşa Inn, Diyarbakır House or Sülüklü Inn, history and literature lovers need to check out the museum house where Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı, the famous poet and author, was born and raised, the museum house where intellectual Ziya Gökalp was born, Mesudiye Madrasah, one of the first universities in Anatolia, the Ahmet Arif Literary Museum, the Zinciriye Madrasah and the Cemil Bey, İskender Paşa and Süleyman Nazif mansions.
The Great Mosque of Diyarbakır, which was built on a church that is thought to have been established as a Roman temple in 639 A.D. in the Sur district, is considered the fifth-greatest mosque of Islam.
History in every step
Those who visit İçkale, the mosque and companion tombs, find a spacious landscape that was purged of irregular constructions around the area of the Hazreti Süleyman Mosque thanks to work by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization on a 115-acre field.
İçkale, which is the inner parts of the city walls and was the administrative center in every period, features the St. George Church, which covers 20,000 square meters and dates back to the second century B.C., while the Artuqid Palace and buildings reflect the architectural features of the Republican and Ottoman periods. It is a must-see place in the city.
People can also visit the 800-year-old Erdebil Mansion, which is three kilometers from the city. They can relax watching the Tigris River Bridge, also known as Ongözlü (Ten-eyed) Bridge, the river flowing under it, Kırklar Mountain opposite it and Diyarbakır's glorious walls and taste local foods.
Atatürk Mansion, situated at a point dominating the Tigris Valley south of the city, is one of the first places that comes to mind when Diyarbakır is mentioned.
Heaven for history geeks
At the fork of the Diyarbakır-Bingöl highway in the Lice district sits the natural wonder that is the Birkleyn Caves, which have stalactites, stalagmites and cuneiform scripts from the Assyrian Kingdom. It is a must-see historical destination.
Hilar Caves and Çayönü Hill, one of the oldest cave settlements in Anatolia, in the Ergani district are attractive as they shed light on the history of civilization and regional history.
Known as the realm of prophets and saints, the Eğil district is another option for guests. Located on the side overlooking the Tigris Dam Lake, the district is a favorite spot for religious tourism with Ziyaret Hill, featuring the tombs of Hazreti Zülkif, Hazreti Elyesa, Nebi Harun and Nebi Ömer.
Those wanting to explore the local culinary delights of Diyarbakir can enjoy meals such as liver kebab, meftune, içli köfte (stuffed meatballs) and meaty or sour dolma. Visitors can also purchase souvenirs such as traditional handicrafts, exclusively designed gold or silver jewelry, spices, Karadağ rice and Diyarbakır kadayıfı (a much-loved local dessert).
Mardin: The land of tolerance
The city of Mardin, with historical mosques, madrasahs, churches, monasteries and unique architecture, offers an unforgettable holiday for visitors.
In addition to its history, Mardin is one of Turkey's most unique places to visit thanks to the harmony of the city, emanating from the positive bonds shared by different religions.
People visiting Mardin, where the sound of the azan and church bells can be heard together, can stay in historical mansions that have been turned into boutique hotels along with elegant hotels and authentic Mardin houses that serve as hostels.
The Mardin Museum is among the must-see places in the city center.
Watching the sunrise and sunset from Mardin Castle in the ancient city provides holidaymakers with a unique, unforgettable experience.
The Erdoba Mansion or the Cercis Murat Mansion, bearing the marks of the city's unique stone architecture, are among the culinary destinations. Some of the delicacies are Sembusek, içli köfte, kibe bumbar, dolma, stew, ribs, etli ekmek (bread with a meat layer on top) and cheese halva. Moreover, visitors to Mardin can swing by the colorful and bustling market to buy exotic spices, sugared almonds, telkari silver, handicraft objects and local organic soap.
Deyrulzaferan Monastery, Virgin Mary Church and Mor Yakup Monastery are other important historical sites to visit, particularly for those into cultural tourism. Mor Gabriel Monastery, 23 kilometers from Midyat district, is the third largest monastery in the world.
The Dara Ruins, where ancient rock tombs dating back to the 5th century A.D. are located, are considered the "Ephesus of Mesopotamia." The ancient site of Dara was an important settlement on the Silk Road.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Özgür Azad Güngör, the head of Mardin's Tourism and Hotels Association, said that the city is ready to host local and international tourists in the midterm holiday, adding that Mardin has always enjoyed wide interest among tourists.
Noting that the city has a capacity of 6,500 beds, Güngör said: "We are nicely prepared. There is serious demand, and we are looking forward to hosting guests in Mardin."