Explore The Euphrates and Tigris basin
Superbly positioned on a bluff above the coiling loops of the Tigris, the old city of DİYARBAKIR shelters behind massive medieval walls of black basalt, enclosing a maze of cobbled streets and alleys. Many of the city’s finest mosques and churches have been restored, in part thanks to EU grants, and there’s plenty of decent accommodation right in the heart of the walled city. Given these attractions Diyarbakır is starting to market itself successfully as a tourist destination and with no real industry to speak of (unemployment reaches 60 percent) this income is badly needed.
The city struggled to cope with an influx of Kurdish refugees fleeing the state–PKK war in the 1990s, many of whom now occupy old houses in the very heart of the walled city. Now the most overtly Kurdish city in Turkey, it has a definite “edge” to it. Violent street demonstrations break out from time to time, with pickpockets and the odd stone-throwing youngster other potential hazards. Indeed an old Arab saying runs “Black the walls, black the dogs and black the hearts in black Diyarbakır”. Having said this, if you keep your wits about you and avoid the backstreets around and after dusk you’ll have no problem – the vast majority of the population are justly proud of their fascinating city and very welcoming to visitors.
In the summer vacation, local students anxious to try out their English may offer you a guided tour of the town. Talking to them is a good way to learn about Diyarbakır and pick up a basic Kurdish vocabulary – try sipas (pronounced “spaas” – thank you) and rojbaş (pronounced “rojebosh” – good day). They may point out the finer points of Kurdish dress, the predominance of Kurdish music for sale and the nuances of the local dialects, Zaza and Kurmancı.
Diyarbakır’s existence dates back at least to the Hurrian period, some 5000 years ago. Subsequently subject to successive periods of Urartian, Assyrian and Persian hegemony, it fell to Alexander the Great and his successors, the Seleucids, in the late fourth century BC.
The Romans appeared on the scene in 115 AD and over the next few centuries they and their successors, the Byzantines, struggled violently over the town with the Sassanid Persians. The Romans, who knew Diyarbakır as Amida built the first substantial walls around the city in 297 – the ones visible today are the result of Byzantine and Arab rebuilds. The threatening, basalt bulwarks gave the place its popular ancient name – Amid the Black – still used in the Kurdish language. The modern name comes from the Arabs: in 638 the Bakr tribe of Arabs arrived and renamed the city Diyar Bakr or “Place of the Bakr”. With the decline of Arab influence in the region, Diyarbakır became a Selçuk, then a Turcoman, and finally an Ottoman stronghold.
The city’s position on the banks of the fertile Tigris encouraged fruit growing, particularly watermelons which continue to be grown here. In the old days they are said to have weighed 100kg and had to be transported by camel.Read More
Diyarbakır’s six-kilometre-long city wall, breached by four huge main gateways plus several smaller ones, is dotted with 72 defensive towers. Much of what can be seen today dates from the eleventh-century Artukid kingdom of Malık Salih Şah. When exploring the walls in hot weather make sure you’ve got water and a head-covering. A torch is handy for the darkened interiors of the gate-towers. Be warned that some sections lack either an external or internal parapet wall or rail and it is only a couple of metres wide in places. Especially at dusk watch out for stone-throwing youngsters.
Most visitors start at the Saray Kapısı which marks the entrance to the İç Kale, Diyarbakır’s citadel. The section from Saray Kapısı to Oğrun Kapısı is navigable, but take care while ascending the steps. The crumbling tower just south of Oğrum Kapısı gives fine views over the Tigris valley and the alluvial plain on which Diyarbakır’s famous melons grow in special holes dug in the sandy riverbanks.
The citadel, until recently a military zone, is now open and under restoration. Inside is the substantial Church of St George, probably dating back to the early Byzantine period. It once had twin domes, but later structural changes suggest it was subsequently used as a palace by Muslim rulers of the city. The black stone Hazreti Süleyman Camii boasting a huge square minaret, built in 1160 by the Artukids, comes alive on a Thursday, when hundreds of female pilgrims arrive to pray for their wishes to be granted. Diyarbakır’s archeological museum, which lay outside Dağ Kapası, is closed, though there are plans to re-open it in one of the empty buildings here within the next two years.
The best stretch of wall to walk is that between Mardin Kapısı and Urfa Kapısı. From Mardin Kapısı, turn right and follow the inside of the wall for four hundred metres, at which point some steps lead up to the battlement walkway. Turn left and head back to Mardin Kapısı, threading through a vaulted passageway en route to an excellent viewpoint, then retrace your steps west along the ramparts. First up is the Yedi Kardeş Burcu (Seven Brothers Tower), a huge circular bastion decorated with Selçuk lions and a double-headed eagle. Beyond this is the Melikşah Burcu (also known as the Ulu Badan), also decorated with Selçuk motifs.
The views from the walls and towers over the Tigris are superb. Allow around thirty minutes to reach Urfa Kapısı. Follow the steps down into the gate-tower (hold your nose as there is a pungent stench of human excrement) and take care as finding the next set of steps down to street level is not easy in the semi-darkness.