Kasimiye Medresesi stands on the outskirts of old Mardin. Overlooking the flat Mesopotamia plains, it was completed in 1502 and considering its age, is in remarkable condition.
It was a short walk downhill to reach it. No traffic passed and the large wooden door was locked when we arrived. We waited for the key holder to arrive.
He was an old man, who I estimated to be in his 80s. His age slowed his movements while he produced a large, black metal key.
While slowly turning the key to open the door, he explained that in previous years when the Medrese was in full use, it was important to knock using required protocol.
Women would tap the door knocker at the bottom while men would lift the door knocker to tap the top. Both produced different sounds and would ensure the door was opened by someone of the same sex.
What is a Medrese?
In Ottoman times, the main purpose of a Medrese was a religious school of Islam. Other subjects were taught including science as long as the topic did not contradict religion and students were segregated into groups depending on their level of education.
Sultans of the Ottoman Empire took great pride in the Medreses they built and they often invited renowned scholars from throughout the Arab world to teach, thus ensuring global knowledge.
The reputation of a scholar would also encourage students to travel from far away just to be taught by that person. There are many Medreses in Mardin however the Kasimiye Medresesi is considered to be the biggest and the best.
The Kasimiye Medresesi
The south facing entrance leads way to a courtyard with two floors. In the middle is a pool of water, fed by a slim funnel of water coming from a source in the wall. It represents the Sirat Bridge that every Muslim will pass before going through to paradise.
All rooms were carefully designed to be out of direct sunlight and this was an important consideration because in Mardin, the weather can reach high forty degrees. The stone walls and floors also provided a cooling effect but they added to the eerie silence and ambience as we walked around.
Plans are in place to open it as a museum but exhibition stands leaning on the walls had been left out in the sun and were faded. An elephant model had been placed in front of the meshed ironwork but I failed to see the connection.
While I have heard of Ottoman soldiers being trained to use elephants in other countries that they ruled, I have never seen them mentioned in the lands that are now the republic of Turkey.
Even the old man who showed us around was not aware why the elephant model was on show.
The reason that this Medrese is also called a social complex is because of a tomb that lies in one of the side rooms. It is said to be Sultan Kasim and little information is available about his life.
Whoever he was, if that is truly his last resting place it is a shame. The tomb was pushed to the side and looked like a forgotten item. There was no importance or respect in remembrance of the dead.
The Medrese is well sign posted and can be reached in a twenty minute walk downhill. There are no cafes or restaurants in surrounding areas and I could not see any public toilets either so be prepared.
The problem is the walk back up hill because there is no public transport. It is a steep climb so I recommend using rental transport or negotiating with a taxi driver for a two-way drop off.
Question for Readers : Have you been to a Medrese before?