It’s been a while since the last photo story! Here we take you to Mardin, one of the main stops of silk road travel, a beautiful town on the spectacular setting of a hill overlooking the plains of Mesopotamia.

Nowadays, slow travel is all the rage. Wandering the world on trains or buses, avoiding flights, staying in places for months at a time – but once upon a time, slow travel was something else. Crossing continents took years, and it was often a one-way trip, from which one many did not return. Illnesses, brigands, even the odd war here and there – these, and more, were the dangers faced by the brave travellers of the past.

boy on donkey silk road travel

Slow travel, anyone?

The Silk Road is one of the historic routes of overland travellers. The first were the merchants that crossed Asia to reach the Chinese empire, trading not only goods, but religion, technology and philosophy as well. But there were also pilgrims, wanderers, soldiers, monks and murderers, covering the same road on horseback or caravans, escaping, or searching for something.

More recently, the Silk Road has become a destination for hippies, dreamers and travellers, drawn by the ancient charm of this route, that so much contributed to the development of the world as we see it.

silk road travel landscape

Silk road landscapes

Charming Mardin, past and present

The town of Mardin in South-Eastern Turkey is one of the best places to appreciate the ageless charm of the Silk Road. It rises out of the flat, fertile plains of Mesopotamia, like a fortress on a hill overlooking the Tigris River. All around it are rocky hills and immense plains, extending as far as the eye can see – eastwards, to Iran, Afghanistan and beyond, and to the south, to Syria and the Arabian peninsula.

Close your eyes for a second, and imagine being a Silk Road traveller reaching Mardin. You’ve crossed inhospitable lands, been chased by thieves and got sick with some strange, unknown disease. Then, you set your eyes upon this place that seems to be welcoming you with the open arms of a mother, with a souk laden with goods from the four corners of the Earth, with mosques, churches, madrassas and monasteries built in saffron-coloured stone, warm hearths and soft beds.

mardin view

Mardin from afar

You would recline on a rooftop, admire the plains and mountains all around you, nibble on a soft dark dried apricot, drink some tea and smoke shisha – and the dangers, the dusty trails and uncomfortable rides will feel ages away.

Things to see in Mardin

To the modern traveller, Mardin has the same appeal. It’s a gem of a town, much more than just a place to pass through. You can still visit the same saffron-coloured buildings – like beautiful Dayro d-Mor Hananyo Monastery, official seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church until 1932, with 365 rooms and a charming bishop that will be your guide. It’s nicknamed ‘Azafran’, the saffron monastery, because of the colour of its stone.

Mor Hananyo Monastery mardin

The saffron stone of Mor Hananyo monastery

Or you can tour Kasimiye Medrese, a former Islamic school, that can be accessed through a door opened with a giant key.

You can wander the souk, chat and sip tea with one of many blue-eyed sellers, or haggle like crazy for a silver box or a Syrian keffieh. Or pace along the recently-revamped First Street, lined with shops selling homemade soap and dried fruit.

apricots silk road travel

The best apricots on the planet

If you don’t fancy the crowds, you can survey the city from a rooftop – see the world come and go through the souk, listen to the call of the muezzin calling worshippers to prayer and watch families gathering and having dinner on the rooftops all around you.

At night, you can fall asleep on that very same rooftop, if you wish, under a million stars – the same stars that guided merchants and dreamers in their Silk Road travels, for thousands of years.

Scroll down for 30 more amazing Mardin photos!

Mor Hananyo Monastery aramaic inscription

Aramaic inscriptions in Mor Hananyo

southeastern turkey mountains

The dramatic lansdcape of the region

boy in souk silk road travel

A blue eyed boy in the market

staircase turkey

A staircase leading up, for amazing views

southeastern turkey landscape

Rocky hills in the afternoon

Mor Hananyo Monastery roof

The ceiling of Mor Hananyo, built with no mortar

Mor Hananyo Monastery bishop

The bishop (and guide!) of Mor Hananyo monastery

medrese arch hills view

Looking out towards Mesopotamia

girl on stairs turkey

A little girl on her way home

azafran monastery fountain

A geometric fountain at Mor Hananyo monastery

kasimirye medrese key

The key that opens Kasimirye Medrese

fount of life kasimirye medrese

The fount of life at Kasimirye Medrese

turkish women sewing

A sewing community centre we stumbled upon

view from rooftops mardin

Views over the plains from the rooftops

girls walking turkey

Girls walking around the upper part of town

minaret clouds

One of many minarets in town

mardin mesopotamia view

In Spring, the plains are green and lush

men on rooftop mardin

Friends enjoying time together on a rooftop

mardin turkey soap shops

The soap shops around First street

mardin first street musician

Musicians on First street opening party

silk road travel child

A boy watching the parade

turkey old men sitting

And some men enjoying the show

turkey children balcony

Teenagers surveying everything from above

boy and arrow silk road travel

A boy playing with a homemade bow

mardin first street opening party performer

A performer at First street opening party

mardin first street opening parade

Stilt walkers down First street

phone concert night

The final concert

turkey rooftop sunset

Watching the sunset from a rooftop

mardin sunset rooftops

Mardin rooftops in the early evening

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10 Responses

  1. [email protected]

    Hi Margherita, I enjoyed this post a lot. I know ancient travel on the Silk Road was grueling but for me they also evoke some kind of romance and a lot beauty. It imagined that it was so exhilarating to enter beautiful Mardin after all the challenges on the road. It’s interesting to learn that what ancient travelers had seen in Mardin are pretty much the same what the modern travelers can see today. Your photos of Mardin are beautiful and they certainly speak. I felt transported.
    [email protected] recently posted…Antarctica: Kayaking, Neko Harbor & Cuverville’s IcebergsMy Profile

    Reply
  2. Artwin

    One of the best cities I’ve ever visited while traveling to Turkey! Turkey as a whole never disappointed me, but Mardin is even one level above that – simply fantastic! And thanks for this awesome post and photos!

    Reply
  3. Katherine

    What an amazing photojournal! It was so great you were able to capture the festival. We never made it to Mardin, but the Silk Road would have to be one of my favourite travel destinations. It is absolutely stunning.

    Reply
    • Margherita

      Thanks so much! Travelling the whole of the Silk Road is also one of my dreams, so I will follow your blog from now on!

      Reply

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