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DİYARBAKIR

Centre of all things Kurdish                   Population: 850,000 (officially but must be much more unofficially)

hasan1Old names: Amedros, Amed, Dikranagerd (Armenian)

Way over in the southeast of Turkey, Diyarabakır is a city in three parts: the modern city, the walled city beside it and the squatter camp of gecekondus beside that. For visitors only the old city will be of any interest. But what a wonderful place it is, full of interesting old mosques and museums in fine old houses, wrapped up inside the huge basalt walls. 

Unfortunately Diyarbakır's recent history as the heart of the Kurdish resistance has militated against it developing a tourism industry on the scale of Mardin. Recently the rapid restoration of the old buildings suggests that the government plans to change that situation. Provided peace holds that's fantastic news but for the time being you still need to keep an eye on what's happening politically.

Most of the accommodation is concentrated around Dağ Kapı (D. Kapı, pronounced "Dah Kaper"), the large tower that now stands detached from the walls beside the dreary square created when the old local bus station was turfed out of the town centre. This is a great place to stay since you'll be within walking distance of almost everything. 

Don't leave town without:

  • Trying kaburga dolması (stuffed ribs) at Selim Amca's - it's more palatable than the other local favourite dinner item, ciğer (liver).
  • Drinking meyankökü şerbeti, a liquorice drink sold by vendors on the street corners near the Nebi Cami

Around town

For most visitors the prominent Ulu Cami will be the first port of call. Screened from the main square by a wall with a deceptively small arched entrance cut through it, the mosque runs along one side of a spacious courtyard and immediately evokes the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, albeit without the glittering mosaics.diyarulu

Built in 639 on the site of the ancient Mar Thoma church, the Ulu Cami is the oldest mosque in Anatolia, and you could pass several happy hours here simply inspecting the carved inscriptions on its facade, and the ancient columns and capitals reused in the surrounding buildings. In late 2013 it was still undergoing extensive restoration.

Despite having been restored several times over the centuries, the Ulu Cami has a timeless quality about it, which is hardly the case with the Hasan Paşa Hanı facing it across the road. This magnificent stripy structure focused on a wide courtyard dates back to 1573. Now a facelift has restored its joie de vivre. Cool music attracts a youthful crowd of students, and what were once the rooms in which trade goods would have been stored while their owners slept upstairs have been converted to house extremely popular breakfast restaurants. You’ll have trouble dragging yourself away.

The han and the mosque are readily acessible from the main road, but to get a feel for old Diyarbakır you need to plunge into the medina-like back streets which harbour intriguing small museums, ancient churches, and lovely old mosques with extraordinarily beautiful striped minarets. The snag is that the streets are narrow and winding, rarely wide enough for a car to pass, and once you’ve got lost in them it won’t be easy to find your way back out again (the tourist office in the Dağ Kapısı (Mountain Gate) provides a good free map).

cahitCahit Sıtkı Tarancı MüzesiEasiest of the museums to locate is the Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı Müzesi which is very close to the Ulu Cami. Although the house was once home to one of Turkey’s finest romantic poets and exhibits a few of his belongings, you come here primarily to admire the exquisite local architecture in which flowers of white stone are incised into the heavy basalt to picturesque effect. The museum displays lots of interesting information about the local music and architecture but labeled only in Turkish.

The house immediately next door is now open as a museum to the poet Ahmet Arif (1927-91) who was born in Diyarbakır.

The house in which the Turkish nationalist Ziya Gökalp was born in 1876 is similarly beautiful in design, if a little harder to find. The Esma Ocak Evi (bang on the door for admission) is apart from the other open houses immediately opposite Surp Giragos.

Several churches are grouped together near the striking, detached Dört Ayaklı Minare (Four-Footed Minaret), in front of the much more conventional Şeyh Mutahhar Cami.churchesThe more cosmopolitan past

Most interesting is the Meryemana Kilisesi (Church of the Virgin Mary) which is still used by Diyarbakır’s tiny Syrian Orthodox community, although the Mar Petyun Keldani Kilisesi (Chaldean Catholic Church) is also surprisingly large.

The Armenian Surp Giragos Kilisesi, with its five apses and striking belltower, has just undergone a $2,600,000 restoration. The bookshop housed on the ground floor of the priest's house which forms part of the complex displays interesting information about the days before 1915.

If you go to send a postcard from the post office near the Four-Footed Minaret you’ll find yourself unexpectedly queuing for a stamp inside another church that has been given a completely new use.

No one could visit Diyarbakır and overlook the extraordinary walls with which it’s ringed. Built from basalt, these date back to the days of the Roman occupation, although every successive ruler of the city appears to have felt the need to stamp his mark on them by adding a tower or tweaking a length of the wall.

Recently some stretches have been spruced up to appeal to visitors with the addition of landscaping and children‘s play areas.

In theory you can walk right round the walls, certainly at the bottom and in some places along the top of the ramparts. In reality, however, gecekondus (shanty towns) still cling to parts of them, and you will probably feel very conspicuous, not to say uncomfortable, venturing into these on your own. Unfortunately this means that two of the most photographed towers -- the Yedi Kardeş Burcu (Seven Brothers Tower) and Malikşah Burcu (Shah Malik Tower) - - continue to be largely off-limits for the time being.

diyartower1In 2013 the Archaeology Museum was due to be moved into what used to be the closed military zone of the İç Kale (Inner Citadel), a short walk away from the Hasanpaşa Hanı. Today a peaceful and evocative place despite a grisly recent history, the Citadel is accessed by passing under an impressive high-arched bridge dating back to 1206-7 when the Artukids held sway over the whole area from here to Mardin.

Inside the İç Kale now houses a fine Archaeological Museum (closed Mondays) with the finds from many rescue digs carried out in recent years before sites were drowned by dams. It also houses the Kent Müzesi (City Museum) although this has no English labelling making it hard for visitors to appreciate. 

Also here are the remains of an old prison and of the very impressive Church of St George. This may date back to the third century and has surived as well as it has because it was later turned into a hamam. Its striking white pillars and elliptical dome have no parallels elsewhere in Turkey. 

Right beside the İç Kale is the 12th-century Hazreti Süleyman Camii where several early Islamic heroes are buried, attracting crowds of worshippers no matter what the time of day.

This is a town with almost limitless attractions to detain its visitors. There is, for example, the glorious Gazi Köşkü, a stripy stone summer house dating back to the 15th century that sits out in the fields overlooking the Dicle river (Tigris) and now houses a lively restaurant and tea garden.

Then there’s the Deliler Hanı (now converted into the Otel Büyük Kervansaray), innumerable glorious mosques that rarely see a foreign tourist, and a cheese market that is a mouth-watering feast for the eyes.dengbej

Finally, don't miss the Dengbej Evi, a wonderful venture housed in one of the better-signposted of the old houses in the back streets. Dengbej is a style of unaccompanied music in which the great sagas of Kurdish history are recorded. Sitting in the enclosed courtyard, admiring the exquisite stone architecture and listening to the old men relaying their songs back and forth, it's hard to remember the darker Diyarbakır of not so long ago. 

Eating and drinking

diyarbreakOne of the most popular things to have for dinner in Diyarbakır is grilled ciğer (liver) which can be sampled at any number of places, formal and informal, around Dağ Kapı. Personally, I prefer the more casual liver-eating scene in Urfa. 

Another local favourite is kaburgaı dolması (stuffed lamb ribs shredded onto rice), best sampled at the Selim Amca restaurant within easy walking distance of Kıbrıs Caddesi. You need to be a group of two or three at least to take advantage of this delicacy.

While it's Van that is best known for breakfasts those on offer in the Hasanpaşa Hanı are veritable banquets well worth foregoing one so-so hotel breakfast to experience.

Prices at the Hasanpaşa are a little on the high side. To join in the atmospheric han experience while spending a little less money look for the signposted but less obvious Sülüklü (Leech) Hanı, so named because at one time leeches used for medical purposes were stored here. 

On my most recent visit (May 2014) two lovely new breakfast venues had opened in restored houses in the old city. The Zinciriye Konağı is behind the Ulu Cami, the Diyarbakırevi near the Chaldean church. Both look guaranteed to do well. 

Sleeping

100 DSC03566Although there are a few hotels right inside the old city, the best choices of places to stay in all budgets can be found in and around Kıbrıs Caddesi, near the Dağ Kapı (Mountain Gate) in the walls.

Compared with the hotels on offer in Mardin, Urfa, Elazığ and even Tunceli, Diyarbakır's seem a little stuck in a time warp with toilet bowls that are not properly secured to the ground, centrally controlled heating and dodgy furnishings still ruling the roost. The market is wide open for a truly boutique hotel. Needless to say, prices don't always reflect the deficiencies in the amenities.

Otel Büyük Kervansaray

Class Hotel. Tel: 0412-229 5000 Worth a look, not least because behind the mundane exterior it actually incorporates a lovely old Diyarbakır house.

Dedeman Hotel. tel: 0412-229 0000. If you prefer to stay in a chain hotel this Dedeman is more centrally located than most, within walking distance of Dağ Kapı.

Hotel Grand Güler

Hotel Kaplan

Liluz Hotel. Tel: 0412-224 3434. Glitzy new place inside the walls near the Nebi Cami. Charging in euros - not a good development. 

Miroğlu Hotel. Tel: 0412-229 6000. Just down the round from the Turistik Hotel.

Turistik Hotel

Transport info

Diyarbakır airport (DIY) is west of the town centre and offers regular flights from İstanbul and Ankara. You can get there by bus from Kıbrıs Caddesi.

City buses and dolmuşes pass the fine new bus terminal and will drop you at Dağ Kapı near most of the hotels.

The separate İlçe Otogar/Garajı serves the towns and villages in the immediate vicinity such as Eğil, Silwan, Siverek (for Urfa) and Mardin. To get to the İlçe Garajı take a dolmuş from Kıbrıs Caddesi. 

Diyarbakır's growing prosperity has spawned far too many cars and getting out of the city can take much longer than you might expect. Don't leave things to the last moment. 

Day trip destinations

Eğil

Elazığ

Ergani

Hasankeyf

Malabadi

Mardin

Şanlıurfa

Silvan

Read more about visiting the city: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-194706-return-to-diyarbakir.html

Read more about the İç Kale and my relationship with Diyarbakır: http://www.turkeyfromtheinside.com/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=46&Itemid=218

Read about the dengbej tradition in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/28/kurdish-singing-storytellers-rise-dengbej?INTCMP=SRCH

See images of Diyarbakır's many stripy mosques: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.301287956705110.1073741868.137912259709348&type=1

sulukluSülüklü Han cat

 

 

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