Mêrdîn Mardin, Kurdistan – Panorama
Panorama of the ancient city of Mêrdîn, or Mardin, in Kurdistan's Northern Mesopotamia region. © 2019 – Kazjin.com.

Mêrdîn: Crown of Mesopotamia

Mêrdîn (Mardin) is a historic city perched against a hill. The city overlooks the Mesopotamian Plains. Syria, or to be more precise Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), is visible from the rooftops of its historic houses.

Mêrdîn is an ethnic and religious melting pot. Around 85% of the province is populated by ethnic Kurds. The remainder consists of Syriacs and Arabs. Christians, Muslims, and Yezidis (a Kurdish religious minority) live together in relative harmony. This diversity is a reflection of the province’s unique and turbulent past.

The photos below are of Mêrdîn’s Old Town. The first photo was taken from a distance. Photos 2 – 7 provide alternative views from different vantage points.

The 21-rayed Kurdish Sun.


Mêrdîn’s beautiful and meticulously carved limestone buildings are a joy to admire. Just like Amed’s black basalt stone architecture, Mêrdîn’s architecture is unique to its own province and can not be found outside of it.

I imagine living in Mêrdîn’s Old Town must be tough; the town is perched against a hill, so strong legs and good stamina are a must. This region of Kurdistan experiences extreme summers (40 degrees Celsius is normal) and the heat is intensified because of the city’s elevation and because it faces the midday sun. Afternoons are simply scorching hot. Logically, the people aren’t unfamiliar to siesta’s.

There are many historic monuments in Mêrdîn. Not unlike European Old Towns, the most impressive ones are religious structures: mosques, churches, and madrassas. While they are all masterpieces, I believe visiting one of each is enough to get the idea. But I suppose this goes for most religious buildings anywhere.

Mêrdîn’s beautiful and lively Old Town area is quite small; the main road with cute boutique shops can be walked up and down in 30 minutes.

Below are photos of the Mêrdîn’s historic alleyways and some of its beautiful buildings (photos 1 – 10). Also included: a photo of an old madrassa (photo 11) and a photo of a church (photo 12). And last but not least, a short clip of Mêrdîn’s alleyways.

The 21-rayed Kurdish Sun.

Leylan & Kulilk Bar/Café/Library

The highlights of Mêrdîn’s Old Town were probably Leylan Café, which also serves as a library and book store, and Kulilk Bar/Café.

Leylan’s book store had a large Kurdish selection. Kurdish literature was outlawed in Turkey until recently, so it was refreshing to see an extensive and openly displayed selection of Kurdish works. I picked up a few gems, including an English translation of Ehmedê Xanî‎’s 17th century love tragedy “Mem û Zîn” (“Mem and Zin”).

“Mem û Zîn‎” is one of the most important Kurdish literary works. Almost every Kurd knows it or has heard about it. The love tragedy is based on a true story. I visited the tomb of the real “Mem” and “Zin” when I was a kid. Their tomb is located in Cizîra Botan, a historic Kurdish city not too far from Mêrdîn.

Fun fact: “Mem û Zin” is similar to the 12th century epic “Farhad and Shirin” (also known as “Khosrow and Shirin”). This literary work was written by the famous Kurdish poet Nizami Ganjavi. According to many, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, written 400 years later, was inspired by Ganjavi’s epic.

Kulilk Bar/Café was another nice establishment I visited while in Mêrdîn. Especially memorable for its nice atmosphere, aided by the live music they played there (see video).

LO BERDE Kurdish Lyrics

Şevek di nîvê şevê da lo, di giraniya xewê da,
Destê xwe da destê min lo, di bin roniya hîvê da.
De berde de berde, lawo destê min berde,
Evînî bi kul û derd e lo, lawo destê min berde.

Min tu ditî li hewzê gulan, sibê, nîvro û êvaran,
Te ez dîtim li hewzê gulan, sibê, nîvro û êvaran.
Dest avête gerdenê lo, xişîn ketiye guharan,
De berde de berde, lawo destê min berde.
Evînî bi kul û derd e lo, lawo destê min berde.

LEAVE ME BOYEnglish Translation

Dark in the night, in sweetness of sleep,
He just held my hands, under the moonlight.
Oh leave me boy, let go off my hand,
Love is pain and full of misery, oh boy just let go off my hand.

I saw you in the pond of roses all the time,
You saw me in the pond of roses all the time.
You touched my breast, and heard the sound of my earrings,
Oh leave me boy, let go off my hand.
Love is pain and full of misery, oh boy just let go off my hand.

The 21-rayed Kurdish Sun.

Deyrulzafaran Monastery

We didn’t have a lot of time, but wanted to make the most out of our road trip. So we decided to visit nearby historic sites instead of visiting more of Mêrdîn monuments. Our first stop was the 5th century Deyrulzafaran Monastery.

Deyrulzafaran Monastery, also known as Mor Hananyo Monastery, Dayro d-Mor Hananyo, The Monastery of St. Ananias, Dêra Zehferanê (Kurdish), Dairo d-Kurkmo, or simply “The Saffron Monastery”, is an ancient monastery located three kilometers South East of Mêrdîn town. Services are held daily by one of only two remaining monks. They still use Aramaic for their services–the (endangered) language of Jesus of Nazareth.

Before the monastery was a monastery, it was a temple dedicated to the Assyrian sun god Shamash. And before it was an Assyrian sun temple, it was most likely a Mitanni temple. The Romans converted the sun temple into a citadel, and Mor Shlemon transformed it into a monastery in 493 AD – over 1500 years ago. Such is the history of Mesopotamia; without beginning and never-ending.

The monastery thanks its “saffron” nickname to the warm color of its stones. Or so they say. I personally don’t buy that theory because the same stone is used  everywhere in the province–and none of those buildings share that nickname. My personal theory is that it held treasures in the past, especially because of its importance in antiquity. Screenwriters pay attention: the next paragraph will twitch your tails–and make my theory all the more likely!

The monastery is huge: there are 365 rooms–each dedicated to a different day of the year. It is also full of niches and caves, dug out by hermit monks who used to live in them. Some hermit monks would wall themselves up inside the caves and live there until death: the caves became their tombs!

Hundreds of rooms, thousands of niches and caves, ancient history, and hermit monks who may have had something to hide? Sure, “saffron”, which is an expensive red spice, refers to the monastery’s yellow limestone…

My visit to the monastery was short, but the interesting stories were well worth the visit.

Deyrulzafaran Monastery Entrance, Mêrdîn, Kurdistan
Entrance to the 5th century Deyrulzafaran Monastery (Saffron Monastery) in Mêrdîn (Mardin), Kurdistan. © 2019 – Kazjin.com.
The 21-rayed Kurdish Sun.

The Ancient City of Dara

Up next was Dara, an ancient city located right on the border with Syrian Kurdistan. Dara is located within the borders of a Kurdish village of the same name.

The exact foundation of Ancient Dara is unknown , but it became a Byzantine fortress city against the Sassanian Empire in 506 AD. Dara is one of the largest ancient cities in Northern Kurdistan and excavations continue to this day. The city can still be seen with its remnants of churches, palaces, markets, dungeons, armories, cisterns, cave houses, city walls, and tombs. The Romans engineered this city marvelously; they directed the river Cordes (now run dry) to flow through the city. Here, they also built the world’s first arched dam.

All of this and a lot more was told to us by Farhad, a young Kurdish boy who acted as our guide. His knowledge of Dara was extraordinary and he pointed out many details that we would have otherwise missed. Like the rock carvings of “Tawûsê Melek” (the Peacock Angel), a sacred figure in the ancient Kurdish Yezidi religion– and undeniable visual evidence of this region’s Kurdish antiquity.

All following photos are of Dara; visit my blog for more information and higher quality photos.

Entrance to Dara is free of charge. When we visited, there were few other visitors. This incredible historic site has not been properly developed for tourism, so the Kurdish locals aren’t profiting from this ancient marvel.

If this historic city was located in Turkish areas of the country, the Turkish State would have prioritized its development in order for ethnic Turks to profit from it.

Dara was by far the highlight of my visit to Mêrdîn Province.

The photos are of the following places: dungeons of Dara (photo 1), water cisterns (photo 2), exterior of the ancient city with its many caves and man-hewn rock formations (photos 3 – 6), and interior of a burial place (photos 7 – 8).

Road Trip Destinations & Route


City, Town or VillageMêrdîn (Mardin)
Other Places VisitedDayrulzafaran Monastery & Ancient City of Dara
Year(s) Visited2019
Previous Entry
Next Entry
Publication Date2019-09-13
Last Update2021-09-02


© 2023 - kazjin.com

KURDISH HERITAGE // kurdish-heritage.org | instagram | youtube | twitter | vimeo | flickr | imgur | archive.org | reddit | maps

PERSONAL // contact me | instagram | youtube | the black list | letterboxd | patreon | all links

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?