Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Assyrian Goodies (Mardin)

Midyat to Mardin

Despite the beautiful fluffy white clouds dotting the sky all day, we woke in the night to a light rain. Chris rigged a blanket overhead so we could stay relatively dry, but the family's father appeared and beckoned us indoors. Fine by me, but a shame because I was really looking forward to waking with the sun illuminating the sand colored rooftops.

Summer platforms are perfect for camping (except when raining)

The girls woke us a few hours later, clearly too excited to wait for the day to start. One of their mothers returned from the village, with a few more children in tow, all curious as to who the strange foreigners are. We ate a quick breakfast of olives, dry herbed cheese, rosehip jam, and dense homemade bread with the parents, then hung out in the courtyard for awhile. We found ourselves at the neighbor's house, taking more photos as the girls prepared to leave for school.

Successful kını! (On left communal bread oven)

This family has goats in a little pen, and a personal bread oven (actually communal), something we have seen in many villages out east. They beckoned us to sit and eat grapes and pomegranates from their tree while the father tied up fodder for the goats.

Laughter in the compound

Hanging out with the Midyat family

When the girls took off we politely made our exit, biking out and up toward an old monastery. Instead we found a quiet mosque, locked the bikes around back, and wandered the old town streets on foot. It's difficult to really see anything from street level, except for the top half of the 2nd floor windows, ornately carved out of sandstone. There is a newly restored hotel, Kasri Nehroz Hotel, built by a family who moved west and grew incredibly wealthy, which was previously a 12th century Assyrian temple. The nice caretaker gave us a tour of the compound and some rooms- super luxurious- explaining some of the historical features.

Touring the ancient temple chambers

Behind the bar lounge is a room with Assyrian script carved into the ceiling, and behind it an alter room. We thanked him kindly and assured him when we are the type of travelers who can afford $100+ hotel rooms we would definitely stop by.

Touring the Kasri Nehroz courtyard

Leaving town was pretty easy, stopping again at yesterday's lokante, this time only for water from their machine. Standing out on the street I was suprised when an oddly shaped armored tank rolled by, too quick for me to even think of grabbing my camera.

Final look at Midyat's Assyrian architecture

We biked out to the highway, where the road literally ends, shifting instead to a long ribbon of mud. A young guy, Tarik, gave us a lift in his truck, heading to Mardin. Amongst other conversation he explained that he is Assyrian Christian, which I'm starting to gather is a basic distinction people identify with. I didn't ask him how devoutly he practices (although I assume it is Christian-Lite along the same lines as Turkey's Muslim-Lite crowd).

Welcome to Mardin

Mardin is a big city, with an Old Town up on a steep fortress-topped hill. Also a crossroads of Assyrian, Kurdish, Turkish, and Armenian cultures, the Assyrian churches and decor are the most obvious architectural hints of the town's history. According to Wiki Mardin, in 1915 all Arab, Aramaic, and Armenian Christians were massacred or driven away; that same year a pubic auction of Armenian women was held. (not so fun fact...)

We pulled the bikes several km up the inclined road, stopping at a hole in the wall lokante for some food once we reached the peak. The owner told us of an area with cheap hotels, though when we followed his map we ended up in a giant outdoor produce market. The nearby Yeni Otel (New Hotel, that's a lie!), a total dump probably crawling with cockroaches, wanted 50 TYL each ($60 ish) which we promptly turned down. We thought we saw a karavanserai sign pointing up a set of stairs, which turned out to be a terrace with nearby cafe, where a handful of old men sat playing rummie. We asked the owner if he'd let us set up a tent on the terrace; he seemed suprised but very welcoming.

Almost the most eco friendly transport (I bet they fart a lot)

For the evening we went on a walk through the upper streets, getting a feel for the place. Around 8 or 9 the shopfronts began pulling down their metal grates and the streets emptied out. While oggling some bakalava through a window the man behind the counter beckoned us inside, then presented us with a plate of some fistik (pistachio) rolls. So nice! And convenient I suppose, because they throw away the unsold tatli (sweets) to make room for a fresh daily batch. We promised to come back at noon the next day, right when they pull the hot trays out of the oven.

Dungeonlike shops among the dense streets

The next morning we woke early, packing our bags and leaving them in the corner with our bikes. Leaving to explore the city, we first stumbled upon the produce market as the shop keepers were spreading out their fruits and veggies. We stopped at a few, picking up some breakfast goods, along with olives and cheese from a dungeonlike shop along the alley. Hidden within the alleys are old Assyrian churches, most of which have been converted into mundane shops or offices, as well as some cheap hamams and mosques. We visited one (just to see), steamy and full of toweled men, where a soak runs 4 YTL and scrub 6 YTL (approx $6 for the works). Typically people pick up their own bar of olive or other herbal soap from one of many shops nearby.

Soap for sale in a dungeonlike shop near the hamam

From there Chris and I wandered in switchbacks up the hill, following random staircases that seemed to lead up to the castle. We made it as far as a service road (or something), just below the barbed wire fence. Skirting the bottom of the fortress, we ended up at a cemetary, full of ornately carved tombs. Most of them were Christians, which is funny because they look identical to the Muslim tombs around Turkey, except with Assyrian script. Its interesting to see the similarities in religious tradition from long before, and, I always wondered where the shape and style of Albania's tombs originated from-- not here per se-- but perhaps from this time period?

Ornately carved Assyrian Christian graves

Then we found ourselves atop a beautiful medressa, overlooking the inner courtyard and a panoramic view of the rooftops and lower valley. Directly ahead we could see 3 minarets: one 'pointy' in the Turkish fashion, one rounded in the eastern Assyrian fashion (may have been a church at one time), and one somewhere in between, with Kufic emblems on the sides. We sat at the top, writing and sketching until the sun began baking us and the flies appeared.

Overlooking the Zincirye Medressa from the castle

Climbing down (tricky!) we managed to find the front entrance to the Zincirye Medressa, escaping the heat and entering the cool inner chambers. The first room on the left is a typical prayer room, similar to any other mosque, except for the stone carvings and marbled mantle.

Cool hallways in the madressa

Prayer room inside Zincirye (with scarves for unprepared womenfolk)

Then the cooridor opens to one of several courtyards, this one containing a reflection pool, çesme (spring), and some tables set up for drinking tea and relaxing. The view from the tables is beautiful, perfect for contemplating spiritual thought (I presume).

Central pool at the madressa

Chris and I wandered the madressa a long while, taking in the views and peaceful calm amid such a congested city. Finally taking leave, we followed the streets, crisscrossing downhill back toward the main road. Off to the left is another neighborhood full of crumbling arabesque architecture, and teeming with children. Even without the bikes we were a target for them, and we swiftly escaped the annoyances of apparently bored little boys.

Peaceful Quran reading in the medressa's courtyard

One last baklava stop, though our friend from before wasn't working now, then we returned to the terrace to grab our bikes. Final order of business was to stop at a bank for (hopefully) our final dollar-lira change, where we learned how far the dollar has dropped in only two months. This seems to happen every time I'm abroad-- when I want foreign currency the dollar becomes worthless (Mexico 2006/7, Asia 2008), but when I want dollars they go up (Albania 2010). Such luck!

One final mosque courtyard!

1 comment:

Arlene said...

The hotel interior (thanks for the link) is gorgeous. Love the photos, too! Were there any paintings inside the churches?
I hope you had plenty of luck crossing the border today. Wendi noted that it's Mother Theresa Day. Maybe there will be a miracle!