Mesopotamian Ruins of Dara Near the Syrian Border

The ancient ruins of Dara do not often appear in tourism brochures of Turkey despite their importance in the historical world. The city was a strong fortress for the Romans and one of the most populated areas in ancient Mesopotamia.

Dara mesopotamian Ruin

In recent times, the blame for non recognition is probably because it is near the Syrian / Turkish border.

We were staying in Mardin and locals said a drive from Dara ruins to the border was just five minutes. This made me doubt whether my goal to visit could be achieved.

We had spoken to soldiers in Urfa who said military presence in the Southeast had increased dramatically and they had been drafted in from the West coast of Turkey in case the situation with Syria worsened.

We decided to try visiting Dara anyway. The worst scenario was military stop points on the road and we would have to turn back.

The Village

Village of Oguz in southeast Turkey

The ruins of Dara are near the village of Oguz and my qualms about having to change travel plans were unfounded.

Military stop points were nonexistent and the village was peaceful with no indication of the turmoil happening a short distance away.

Children were running around the streets and women were baking bread in their stone bake ovens. Cows rested in the gardens and although the village looked neglected, I felt no concern with being there.

Stone oven baked bread

The Dara Mesopotamia Ruins

The main reason for visiting the area was to see the ruins. Very little information exists on the Internet about them and when comparing them with other Roman sites like Ephesus, foreign tourists are rare.

Locals said the ruins were becoming popular however when the problem with Syria flared up, even Turks stopped visiting. They now receive a small trickle of visitors each week.

Mesopotamian Dara

The mesopotamian ruins

Churches of Dara

In articles that I did find, there is contradiction about who built the city. Some historians say  its name came from the Persian king Darius while others insist it was the Byzantine emperor Anastasius  who laid the first foundations.

Dara ruins

Either way, its importance stems from its use as a Roman fortress in the sixth century and as the location of the famous battle of Dara

Excavations started on the ruins in 1986 and according to locals, historians did not leave until two years ago.

Dara - south east Turkey

If you look carefully at the top of the stone buildings, you can see a long line indicating the different colors in the stone. Everything below that line had spent thousands of years under the ground until excavations began. The thought of unearthing an ancient city is impressive and it is thanks to the village children that I learned this information.

Child guides

Many people say do not give money to local children as it encourages them to beg strangers for money. However, this young group acted as our guides and told us more information in half an hour than anything I had read on the Internet.

The children were not begging. They were prepared to work for small pocket change. The help of the children was also gratefully accepted because at times, I found it hard to recognize what I was looking at.

The children pointed out the necropolis, churches, houses, and agora and without their advice, we would have missed the impressive water cistern situated outside of the ruins and nearer to the village center.

Water cistern at Dara

Tips for visiting Dara

  • Do not let the close proximity of Dara to the Syrian border put you off.
  • Local transport is not frequent or an easy ride. Hire a driver or car instead.
  • Visit the village as well as the ruins for a better experience. Half a day is ample time.
  • The knowledge of an expert guide will benefit you. The children that showed us around only spoke Turkish, so you will need a translator if you do not have a guide.


Further reading on Dara ruins from Glamour Granny

Readers Question: Do historical sites interest you, no matter which country they are in?

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Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an Internet addict with a passion for history. Read my story here or leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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  1. says

    Wow — looks like a fascinating place! I’m continually amazed at how little information there is out there about some of these places and objects (the Alexander Sarcophagus, for example. Thought I’d be able to find lots of info on the internet but can find almost nothing). Thanks for sharing – Dara is definitely on my wish list now!

    (I tried to comment and it disappeared. If I posted this twice, feel free to delete one, of course!)
    Karen Barrett-Wilt wrote about..Troy I, or Bronze Age Troy: An incomplete, tantalizing picture

    • says

      I have only come across snippets of info about the Alexander Sarcophagus as well Karen, which amazes me to say he is one of the best conquerors of history. In those cases, I normally reply on guidebooks but they were also lacking in information on Dara as well
      Natalie wrote about..8 Things I Love about City Breaks in Istanbul

  2. says

    That looks really interesting! I find ruins so interesting because they really make you think about just how much history is there and how long they’ve been around. I’m glad you didn’t have any problems getting there or feel uncomfortable at all being so close to Syria.
    Ali wrote about..6 Countries for New Travelers

  3. says

    Nice breakdown of The Mesopotamian Ruins of Dara. Seriously, I am yet to visit Turkey and after hearing what the country has to offer, I think I need an entire month exploring the country. Happy New Year 2013 from Malaysia! :)
    David @ Malaysia Asia wrote about..Events in Malaysia for 2013

    • says

      Was there in November Alan! Yes, I know I am behind on my schedule. *blush* Got over 100 articles to publish about the south-east, Beypazari, black sea and my return to Cappadocia. Trying to get them all done and then will set off again
      Natalie wrote about..Sanliurfa (Urfa) : The City of Abraham

  4. says

    Fascinating, Natalie! Thanks for this post – yet another place I did not know about, when we next return to Mardin in May. My maiden name is Cord, so I’m intrigued to visit the Cordes River, at least in spirit, by seeing that enormous cistern which once held its water.

    Small correction to your post, which I’m sure you meant: Emperor Anastasius was Byzantine. Too much to keep track of in the history of this land!

  5. says

    Amazing place Natalie, I haven’t been there now very cruious; an open air museum, fascinating. I hope folks can make it there, and such places; I have friends scared to go Antioch, Antakya, again due to Syrian uprise. Chances are they all are safe, as long as you are sensible – bookmarked to go, hope soon!
    Ozlem’s Turkish Table wrote about..Mezzes, Kebabs with Pistachios in Cherry Sauce and Many More – 9th February, Saturday, Turkish Cookery Class & Wisley Gardens on the New Year’s Day

  6. says

    Kids always know the best sites – perhaps due to their inquisitive nature or lack of fear but they know where the good stuff is!

    You taught them that good work deserves pay and that’s definitely a good thing.

    Kudos for being prepared and going ahead or I’d not have seen these impressive shots. Thnx.
    Maria wrote about..Soul Tempting

  7. says

    Looks very impressive! In fact, these ruins of Dara almost remind me a bit of the underground villages in Cappadocia! A lot of similarities with the building and inside structures.

  8. phil + Di marina gateway says

    Turkey has so much to offer not booze and beaches its a shame its so close to the boarder this is a place i would love to see and i agree it dose look like Cappadocia maybe theres lots more that have not been found yet

    • Nat says

      Could have been helpful to have you on the trip then Lillie – all the ancient civilizations of Turkey can get confusing at times!

  9. says

    The ruins look gorgeous! What an interesting and off-the-beaten-path place to visit in Turkey. I’m glad you didn’t let the close proximity to Syria deter you.

  10. says

    We went to Dara maybe 2 yrs ago now and those children joined us too – they are actually Kurdish, it’s a Kurdish village. At one point, my husband said something to me in English whereupon one of the little girls said shyly: I speak 2 languages too – I can speak Turkish! BTW we gave them something as well …

    • says

      I think it the children are marvellous Claudia. Very polite and well mannered. Maybe I am getting old but i could not help but compare them to western children whose lives are filled with video games and violence.
      Natalie wrote about..Dudas Village : Introducing Rural Tourism

  11. says

    Wow – it looks really interesting. I would have been put off by the proximity to potential conflict but good on you for trying to go – and succeeding!
    Turtle wrote about..The lake swamped with tourism

    • says

      Thanks Turtle – there was absolutely no problem with the nearby conflict. If it was not for the newspapers, I would not have even known it was happening.

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