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MİDYAT

Heart of the old Syrian Orthodox community                            Population: 62,000

DSC04131Back in the 1990s the small southeastern town of Midyat hardly featured on the travel radar, being effectively cut off behind curfews, roadblocks and general anxiety about visiting the area.

But it was always way too good a secret to last, and now its cover has been well and truly blown.

The reasons for this are not hard to identify. Over the last ten years the general security situation in the southeast has improved by leaps and bounds, which means an end to most of the pesky impediments to travel. At the same time the popular TV series Sıla beamed images of Midyat’s lovely honey-gold houses into sitting rooms countrywide with the result that Turkish travellers have been rushing to eye up the sets for themselves.

Neighbours they may be, with a shared history and architecture, but Mardin and Midyat could hardly feel more different. Where Mardin wraps itself tightly around a hillside, its streets narrow and congested, Midyat lies flat on the plain, its streets wide and inviting. And where Mardin’s churches play second fiddle to its gorgeous old mosques and medreses, in Midyat it’s the Syrian Orthodox (Suryani) churches whose towers dominate the skyline.DSC04130

Both towns have large Arab populations who live alongside the Turks and Kurds. On their clocktower the Midyat authorities use images of a minaret (Muslim), church tower (Christian), and peacock (Yezidi) to play up the idea of local multiculturalism, but in reality while there’s still a fairly sizeable Suryani community here all the Yezidis, followers of the Peacock Angel, left a long time ago.

Like Mardin, modern Midyat is trying hard to put its unhappy past behind it. Indeed, in some ways it seems to be behaving as if the past didn’t exist at all.

A new ring road now whips most travellers in and out of the mish-mash of unappealing high-rise apartment blocks that is Yeni Midyat (New Midyat), skirting Estel (the older “new” Midyat), and leaving the old town to slumber undisturbed. 

As soon as you arrive at the minibus terminal in Eski Midyat (Old Midyat) you will start to see what it is that made the makers of Sıla so keen to film here. Midyat may not straddle a hill like Mardin, but immediately across from the bus terminal you will see the first of its many picturesque old houses (199 of them subject to preservation orders).

At once you are faced with a choice: you can duck straight into the old town via an abbara, one of the arched walkways that hint at Midyat’s mixed Turkish-Arabic heritage, or head along the main drag until you come to an intersection, then cut up into the old town past a tempting line-up of silver shops selling filigree jewelery (telkari).DSC04125

Around town

Whichever approach you choose, your first port of call should be the wonderful Konukevi (guesthouse) which used to belong to the head of the Protestant community and stands as far uphill as a town on a plain permits.

As the fussy Ulu Cami in Divriği is to the more sober Selçuk architecture of nearby Sivas, so is this house to the more modest Midyat dwellings around it – a sort of rococo twist on what is already a pretty frilly style of local stone masonry. The house is built on three levels with a courtyard on the ground floor and two spacious terraces on the upper levels which would have allowed the owner to scan his domain and peer out into the rural distance.

The upper terrace is a good place for you, too, to peep down on the minutiae of local life. On the flat roofs you will see many curious metal platforms, the tahts or thrones on which people sleep during the heat of summer and which are raised up off the ground to keep their occupants safe from passing scorpions.

If you’re lucky you may also see, hanging out to dry like sheets on a washing line, some of the locally made pestil (fruit leather) – dried and pressed fruit sometimes with nuts embedded in it – that is on sale all around town.

It's possible to stay in the Konukevi although not in the topmost room that was once described by The Little Hotel Book as “the most gorgeous single room – in the whole country”.

No matter. Outside, Midyat is one of those places where just roaming the back streets is reward enough for the time taken to get there. And if you do want more specific sights, you can always go in search of the five old churches whose belltowers punctuate the skyline interspersed with the minarets.

Like Mardin, Midyat has a mixed cultural heitage. Thirty years ago the residents included around 5000 Christians, mainly adherents of the Syriac Orthodox faith, an offshoot of Orthodox Christianity which split from the mainstream in the sixth century. Since then migration to work in northern Europe, combined with the troubles in the southeast, has forced numbers down until there are only about 20 original families still living in the old Christian quarter.

DSC04126Finding the four Syrian Orthodox (Suryani) and one Protestant church is no easy matter since they’re buried so deep amid the surrounding houses that they feel like ever-retreating mirages in the desert. Unfortunately it’s rare to find their doors unlocked even on Sundays since most of their congregations moved to Europe in the 1980s and ‘90s.

If you’re lucky enough to get inside any of the Suryani churches you’ll find them newly restored and decorated with the same brightly painted wall hangings as can be seen in Mardin, an art form that is now on its very last legs. In one, an informal school teaches children Turoyo, a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus that is still used in Suryani church services.

Estel boasts one specific attraction which is a Cultural Centre housing typical local artefacts including some of the massive wooden “tahts (thrones)”.  

Within easy walking distance of the town centre is the small Monastery of Mor Hobel and Mor Abroham whose doors stand open but where harsh restoration has provided guestrooms while stripping away the romantic patina of age. Near the entrance an imposing modern konak (mansion) stands as proof, were it really needed, that today’s local families are almost as large as those of Midyat’s late 19th-century heyday.
 
Eating
The Kasr-ı Nehroz and Shmayaa hotels both have their own restaurants but while here it’s well worth exploring the local eateries in search of unexpected regional tidbits.
 
At lunch-time, for example, you’ll be able to eat perde pilav (stuffed rice in a crisp pastry case) and juicy kaburga dolması (stuffed ribs) at the popular Cihan Lokantası on the main road opposite the minibus terminal.
 
Later in the day the place to be is the lovely courtyard of the Gelüşke Hanı. As the sun starts to sink pigeons flock to roost on the roof and the dying light colours the walls an impossibly beautiful shade of honey. The han is stuffed full of ethnic bits and bobs, and its waiters are skilled at getting guests up to dance. If would be hard to imagine a more romantic place than this in which to end a visit to Midyat.
 
Just beside one of the han's entrances is a shop selling Siirt kilims, stripy blankets that are,  despite their name, hand-woven on site. Thye make cheap and excellent souvenirs, as do the home-made red Suryani wines.

Sleeping

Hotel Demirdağ, Estel. 

Kasr-ı Nehroz, Midyat. Tel: 0482-464 2525

Konukevi

Shmayaa Hotel, Midyat. Tel: 0482-464 0696

Otel Matiat. Tel: 0482-462 5920 (2km out of town on Mardin road)

Transport info

The nearest airport is in Mardin whence there are regular dolmuşes to Midyat. You can also get here easily by bus from Diyarbakır.

The minibus terminal in the old town saves visitors a walk or taxi ride from Estel.

Day trip destinations

Bacın (Güven)

Beyazsu

Cizre

Dargeçit

Gercüş

Hasankeyf

Kalecik

Mardin

Mor Gabriel (Deyrulumur)

Nusaybin

Savur

Tur Abdin

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-267910-the-marvels-of-midyat.html

 

 

 

 

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