Top 5 Holiest Places in Turkey Known Only to Locals
These top 5 holiest places in Turkey are located in the southeastern part of the country, except for Agri which is on the eastern side. Generally speaking, southeastern Turkey has 13 Kurdish majority provinces called “Turkish Kurdistan” composed of Tunceli, Igdir, Mus, Bingol, Adiyaman, Siirt, Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Van, Sanliurfa, Mardin, Agri, and Hakkari. Though this region has been marred with racism against the Kurds, the massive influx of refugees from Syria and migrants from neighboring nations, as well as the diminishing Turkish population, southeastern Turkey is in fact a beautiful gem. It is witness to ancient faiths, including the three major religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) passed on to mankind.
Come with me with an open mind as we unveil the true beauty of these five holiest places that popular tours do not have in their itineraries.
Mardin is a historical capital city of Mardin Province in southeastern Turkey. It is situated on the rail and highway routes connecting Turkey to Iraq and Syria. It takes pride in its ruins of Artuqid architecture and multiple bishopric. Earliest settlement is believed to be as far back as the time of The Great Flood. Before it got officially named as Mardin by the Turks, it was formerly known as Marde by the Persians, Mardia by the Greeks, and Maridin by the Arabs.
When in Mardin you will find several monasteries and colleges for Islamic instruction referred to as madrasahs which were closed down in 1924 for the purpose of secularising education. Among Mardin’s hidden gems is Deyr’ul Zafaran Monastery – a Syriac monastery built in the 9th Century as a religious centre until 1932. The oldest part of the ruins is the “mahzen”, the secret section for worship. Fifty-two Syriac patriarchs were buried in this site. Another Syriac Orthodox monastery is Dayro d-Mor Hananyo in the Syriac cultural region of Tur Abdin, three kilometers southeast of the city of Mardin.
Among the many madrasahs that you can find in Mardin that are worth discovering are Kasimiye, Zinciriye, Sehidiye, Sah Sultan Hatun, Kasim Pasha, and Sultan Isa Medresesi which was built in 1385.
For signature Artuqid architecture, visit the 13th Century Grand Mosque, also referred to as Ulu Cami by the locals. Mardin Timarhane (Madhouse of Mardin) is also a historical landmark that is truly worth a visit and appreciation.
2. Sanliurfa / Urfa
Urfa is quite big for a population of only slightly more than 500 thousand. Formerly known as Edessa, Urfa is the capital city of Urfa Province in southeast Turkey. The most popular attraction of this city is Balikligol – a fish-filled pool.
There is more to Balikligol than just a pool filled with fish. This religious spot was cited in Judaism, Islam and Christianity for its great story of miracle. During the reign of the fierce King Nimrod, the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim in Islam) was among the many people who had suffered in his hands. The wrathful King Nimrod had a pyre built in the middle of the city for the prophet. Just as the king was about to sentence Abraham to death, the fire turned into water and the logs into fish. Up to this modern day, there are still fishes in that pool that are kept fed and well taken care of. Eating them is forbidden, anyone who does is believed to get struck blind or succumb to death.
Are you in search for the world’s first temple? Come to Urfa and find the world’s first human-built place of worship called Potbelly Hill (Gobekli Tepe). Artifacts of prehistoric worship dating back to pre-pottery neolithic age, predating Stonehenge by 6000 years, Potbelly Hill is an archaeological site of massive carved stones crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed pottery, let alone metal tools. First discovered by a German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, Potbelly Hill is believed to have been around since 9000 B.C. at an estimate, based on carbon dating.
Agri, named after Agri Dag (Mount Ararat), is witness to numerous dynasties such as Hurri, Urartu, and major civilisations of Mongols, Armenians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans. The modern city of Agri was founded by the Ottomans around 1850 under the name Karakilise.
Agri is, in fact, a major transit point for migrations from Asia to Anatolia due to it geographical location bordering Iran to the east. Its rich dynamic cuisine, culture, language and traditions have major influences from the Middle East and Arabs.
Mount Ararat (Agri Dag), the highest point in Turkey, is one of its top attractions. It began to attract more interest from all over the world when the first person to ever reach its summit in 1829 and the Russians’ conquest claimed to have found the remains of Noah’s Ark. As mentioned in the book of Genesis, it was where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the deluge.
Another magnificent symbol of Agri is the Palace of Ishak Pasha (Ishak Pasha Sarayi) located in the district of Dogubeyazit. It is a 17th Century palace complex with harems, a mosque of Seljuk, Ottoman and Persian designs, and dungeons.
Adiyaman very well may be one of the holiest places in the world that very few people know exists. It is where you can find Mount Nemrut, dubbed as “The Throne of the Gods” because of its summit where you can find large statues, temples and tombs assumed to be of a royalty from the 1st Century. Built by the Hellenistic King Antiochos of Comagene (69 – 34 B.C.), Mount Nemrut is one of the most ambitious, unique and artistic achievement of the Hellenistic Period. Antiochos I was a descendant of Darius by his father Mithridates. When you stand next to these statues, you’ll be stunned, can’t help admiring their artistic intelligence that created such ambitious architecture that survived earthquakes, extreme weather conditions and other natural phenomena for centuries.
Pordonnium suits your wanderlust for rock tombs, rock tombs, and a lot more rock tombs. Here you will find 200 plus rock tombs (you might as well make sure to visit only during the day and leave before sundown). This part of ancient Adiyaman used to be an important transit point for travelers and merchants dating back to 70 B.C. Nowadays, Adiyaman is one of the fastest growing cities in southeast Turkey.
Welcome to the heart, soul and character of Diyarbakir, symbol of Kurdish identity and resolve. Its strategic geographical location served a huge importance to keeping the territory safe and secure from Persia, though it is in fact the first Islamic land conquered in Anatolia in 639, and later fell into the hands of the Ottoman empire in 1516.
Diyar means “land” in English and bakir is “copper.” You may call it “Land of Copper” or “Copper Land”; either suits the fact that Diyarbakir is abundant in gold, silver, copper, coal and petrol. It also manufactures textiles on a massive scale.
When in Diyarbakir make sure to visit the Grand Mosque of Diyarbakir that’s considered by some as the fifth holiest site in Islam. Before it served as a mosque for the Islamic faith in 11th Century, the Grand Mosque of Diyarbakir was formerly home to Christian faith as St. Thomas Christian Church. Another less popular attraction, yet definitely worth-seeing, is Ben-u Sen Burcu which tells one of the most tragic stories of all time. Legend has it that construction of these two large towers was made an open competition. The top two rivals did such a great job that choosing the winner turned out to be a tough decision for the ruler to make. As soon as the ruler gave his verdict, the losing rival took his own life by jumping off of the tower.
Southeastern Turkey is, indeed, one of the holiest parts of world, home to many different faiths just waiting to be discovered and embraced. The human race segregates themselves by color, language, title, rank, faith, past, etc., resulting to less acceptance, negative understanding, and worst of all – war. When man takes too much pride in his faith, history, and among many other things that define him, comes the tendency to be arrogant.
Humanity doesn’t need arrogance.
Humanity doesn’t need greed.
Humanity doesn’t war.
If the human race can embrace each other’s history, faith and differences with a positive understanding paired with an open mind, we can all see beauty everywhere. Let’s all celebrate our differences.