Midyat Old City : Churches and Culture in the Mardin Region

It was an hour’s drive from Mardin to the town of Midyat. The small bus drove past the bustling streets of New Midyat and dropped us off on the outskirts of the old city. Perfect because that is what I had traveled to see.

Midyat old city

I had wanted to stay the night in the old town but hubby did not. He insisted there was nothing to do there, having driven through it three years earlier. He compared it with Mardin where Arabic architecture and narrow streets are the norm.

Old city houses in Midyat

He also called me a nosy bitch when I explained to him that my planned visit was more about the people that lived there. You see, a few days before, I had learned about another ethnic group in Turkey.

In the past, the population of Midyat was mainly Assyrians who are practising Christians with roots that started in early Mesopotamia. Another term for them is Syriac (not to be confused with people from Syria).

Only a small amount of them now live in Midyat and the neighboring Turabdin region, which is considered the heartland of the Assyrians. However, they still have nine churches in the old city and a monastery as well.

According to research, languages spoken in Old Midyat include Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, and Assyrian.

Doorway

Mor Abrahom Hobel Monastery

On a winding road leading out of the old town, stands the Mor Abrahom Hobel Monastery. It’s future caused concern for leaders of the Syriac orthodox religion after it was revealed that the empty monastery was being vandalized.

Mor Abrahom Hobel Monastery

In complete amazement to me, it transpired they had decided to do something about it because when I arrived at the gate, I was greeted with a closure notice due to renovations.

Locals had also told me that some churches in the old town were in full use, but the church I had wanted to look inside was closed because the preacher had died and was yet to be replaced.

Just at that moment, the sound of church bells rang out over the town however I felt deflated because my quest to learn more about the Syriac people of Turkey, had suffered a setback.

Church in Midyat

The Children of Midyat

Before leaving for the south east, I had read many articles that said children in this area often follow tourists and beg them for money. The articles asked visitors to discourage children from begging by not giving them money.

Turkish children

So when a child came running up to us, I was all prepared to say no but the child shocked me. Had we been European and only spoke English, he probably would have asked us for money however he knew my hubby was Turkish and he started talking about the history of the town.

As we walked along the streets, he told us about various buildings and turned out to be a good guide but the skeptic in me just kept thinking of the scene in “Slumdog millionaire”.

The child guide in that film was showing American tourists the Taj Mahal and had made up complete lies about its history and I wondered if the same had happened to us.

The child assured us that he was telling the truth. With friends, they learned everything about Midyat from school and the Internet because when Turks visit in the summer time, they can make pocket money for themselves.

Exactly the same thing had happened in another village so we went against the advice of various publications and gave this child two Turkish lira. He did not beg us for money and instead was prepared to work for it.

Local people

The Culture House of Midyat

Thanks to our young and enthusiastic guide, we learned about the culture house. Many Turkish soap operas are filmed here and it was the nearest I would probably ever get to looking inside one of the houses.

Culture house in Midyat

The house had been restored and a few rooms were traditionally furnished as well.

Inside of the culture house

From the roof of the Culture house, I looked out over Old Midyat. I spotted two mosque minarets but the Christian cross and church bells dominated the skyline.

I looked down on rooftops of neighboring buildings and saw blue, metal frames called Tahts.

In the summer time, families take their mattress up to the blue frames and sleep there. How wonderful to spend the night under the stars. If not in use as a bed, it can also become a seating area.

Rooftops

I left Midyat later that day. While I had fully explored the town, I am still intrigued by the Assyrian people.

I continue to research and learn about them from the Internet.

Windows

I have always said Turkey is diverse but learning about yet, another minority ethnic group makes me realize that I never really understood the extent of diversity in this large country.

Doorway to old house

Readers Question : Does Midyat look like the type of place that you would visit?

Midyat houses

Further Reading

The People of Midyat – see readers submissions at the bottom

Academic Research on the traditional houses of Midyat

All about Turabdin – The homeland of Assyrian People

More about Assyrian people

Grave

Arabic houses

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Contact me..

Natalie

Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an eccentric,Internet addict with a passion for history.

I really shouldn't travel because I can not read maps and always lose my way! But hey, that never stops me and it is part of the fun! Leave a comment below to join the discussions.
Contact me..

Comments

  1. raky villaflores says

    i only wish i can do what you’ew doing now,,, and everytime i read your blogs, it makes me feel like travelling with you…

    keep on…and thanks for your blogs.

  2. sharyn minehan says

    Nat,i have tears in my eyes..if i cant fly ever again,i have all these magnificent photos and history to look on,i am a history nut…can f.b. or anyone clear them off the screen???i want them forever..bye the way,tell his lordship u are not a female dog,,,or was he joking??,i suppose there are worse names..hope u can see all u want to…cheers…Sharyn.

    xxx

  3. says

    You do gad about! It’s really sad that the Syriac culture is quickly dying out but what a wonderful place.
    Jack Scott wrote about..My Pride Life

  4. says

    This is very interesting, Turkey is sure a cluster of cultures and ethnic groups. Recently I found a new study that highlights how my ancestors in Sardinia were actually native from Lydia, in ancient Anatolia. Which made me realize that was probably why everybody in Turkey thought I was my friends’ local guide!
    Angela wrote about..Exploring beautiful, medieval, shady Viterbo

    • says

      Wow – the information that came out when you researched your family history must have been a nice shock. Daren’t research mine. Think my ancestors were sheep stealers!!
      Natalie wrote about..The Shoe Shine Scam of Istanbul

  5. Manya says

    Thanks for the pictures, Natalie. This entire area is the focus of my next trip to Turkey – Midyat’s Culture House appears to be a locale for filming Bir Bulut Olsam, my current obsession right now. Whenever I visit Turkey, I always seem to run into a film crew, so I am delighted to see that Turkish film culture is thriving. Turkish soap operas are the best! as are the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Thanks again for sharing the less-traveled parts of Turkey; I especially enjoyed your piece on the Ayder Plateau, another destination of mine. Happy New Year!

  6. gabriella says

    Amazed at the fact that people like you know a little town called Midyat where my grandparents live!! :) so proud to be aramean and proud that theres people like you interested in our culture!! thanks! xoxo

  7. muhammed says

    Hello Natalie!
    As a person living in Midyat, I am sad that tourists especially the ones from abroad can’t get a map of our city to guide them and also there are no professional guides to guide them around. I’ll tell the local authority about this and try to solve this problem because I have read and heard about this problems many times.Best wishes and hope to see you and many others here in Midyat again. Muhammed from Midyat.

    • says

      Even just a map in English would be good Muhammad because I would have liked to have known more about the churches and where they were. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. azis says

    hey natalie can you tell me about your Mardin experiences if you don’t mind and also what you have learned about Mardin stone houses ? Also you are doing something great maybe one day i might have chance to do it as well.

  9. Serbia says

    Is this town out of this world???Haven’t seen something so beautiful in a while…

  10. Janan says

    I came across your site because I was searching about the history of Christians in Midyat. My grandparents were from Midyat, they immigrated to Iraq and lived there for many years. From the early 1900 to the 1980s most Christians in Iraq came from Turkey, and now they have spread all over the world and settled in different countries. I think that those churches should be preserved, it is the only proof remaining of the community that once thrived there.

    • Nat says

      Definitely agree Janan – the history of that history is not widely broadcasted. It should be and preservation is one way to do it

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