The town of MİDYAT, an hour east of Mardin by road, consists of two distinct districts. The westerly portion is the modern business district of Estel, while the originally Christian portion of half-abandoned medieval mansions, known as Eski (Old) Midyat, lies 2km east. Inevitably, given Mardin’s boom, tourism is growing in Midyat. A couple of posh new boutique hotels have opened their doors, and the multitude of silver (particularly telkari or filigree) shops for which the town is famous are bustling with domestic visitors in search of bargains.
Although nearly five thousand Syrian Orthodox Christians still lived here in 1974, the men mostly engaged in gold- or silversmithing, the population shrank to just eighty families and one priest after the conflict in the 1980s and 1990s between the PKK and Turkish security forces. However, thanks to the changed political climate as well as economic growth, some Syrian Orthodox families are starting to return.
The town’s churches, dotted among the imposing mansions built in tiers along a low ridge, are easily spotted by virtue of their graceful belfries. Mor Barsaumo, close to the main road and reached by an alleyway opposite the Cihan restaurant, was built as early as the fifth century, destroyed in 1793 and rebuilt in 1910. As the most active of the churches, this is the best to visit. It holds a small schoolroom where the kids of the remaining Syrian Orthodox families come to learn Syriac, a language closely related to the Aramaic spoken by Christ.