Midyat: Churches and Caves in Southeastern Turkey

posted in: GUIDES 2
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We were in Mardin admiring its perfect symbiosis of architecture and nature when we saw a few photos of a place called Midyat. Eitan had to go back to Athens, but I decided to check it out. It turned out to be a fabulous city almost untouched by tourism. I might have been the only foreigner in town!

Midyat is the most important city on the Tur Abdin plateau, a mountainous region in southeastern Turkey. The area is famous around the country due to its ancient monasteries and churches. However, Midyat has something else that will take your breath away: caves beneath its houses! There are several, and you can visit all of them.

Midyat Turkey

Where to Stay in Midyat

For such a small and non-touristic city, Midyat has fantastic hotels. Though there aren’t many hotels, those few are a great value for money. The city consists of Midyat’s Old Town, the modern center, and the Estel neighborhood. Since most sites are in the Old Town, we recommend staying here. Most hotels are in the Old Town anyway.

Midyat has two historic hotels in the middle of the old town. The Kasr-i Nehroz Hotel is a 260-year-old palace that belonged to the first family that settled in Midyat. It’s one of the most authentic places I’ve ever stayed anywhere in the world. Nearby Shmayaa Hotel is another historic hotel. You can’t go wrong with any of these two.

Midyat Hotels - Kasr-i Nehroz Hotel

Where to Eat and Drink

Since Midyat is not a very touristic city, there aren’t many dining options. Most bars and restaurants are by the clock tower (at the beginning of Midyat’s Old Town). Here you’ll find a marketplace, several shops, bakeries, and kebab joints. Take note that Midyat is a sleepy town. Thus, most places close early.

In Midyat, I suggest you splurge a little. Two old houses serve food on their panoramic terraces. The Hivroj Konak Café is next to Midyat’s most visited house (Konuk Evi) and offers delicious food and the best views in town. The Beyaz Konak, a step away, also offers great views and is open until midnight!

Midyat Restaurants - Hivroj Konak Café

How to Get to Midyat

Most tourists arrive in Midyat from Mardin. Buses from Adana, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, or further away go through Mardin and end their journey at Midyat’s Bus station, south of the old town. Minibuses (dolmus) connect Midyat with Mardin every fifteen minutes or so. They stop in Estel and a small bus station between the main bus station and the old town.

If you are coming from Diyarbakir, you can either take a direct bus or a minibus to Batman and change to another one to Midyat. Though buses are more comfortable, minibuses are far more frequent and cheaper. Midyat doesn’t have an airport, and the closest ones are the ones near Mardin and Batman. Both airports are small, with direct flights from Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

Estel Bus Station Midyat

Moving around Midyat

Since most of Midyat’s attractions are in the old town, you can easily walk between them. However, you cannot visit Midyat and skip its outstanding monasteries. There are several, and you can only reach them with a private car or a taxi. Taxis are inexpensive, but no driver speaks English. Prepare some written indications and agree on the price beforehand. People are nice in Midyat and will be more than happy to help you.

If you have time, I recommend visiting Estel. It takes 45 minutes to get there on foot from the old town. There are also buses connecting the two neighborhoods, but you need a ticket (you can buy it at any shop). Again there might be a language barrier, so I suggest asking for all the details at your hotel.

Estel Clocktower

What to See in Midyat

Midyat Old Town

Midyat’s Old Town or Eski Midyat is the city’s prettiest neighborhood with ancient stone houses and churches with long spires. The old town starts east of Mardin and Batman streets and ends some 400 meters east by the fields. It’s a small area with a lot of character. The streets are curvy, with different views at every corner and plenty of beautiful architecture.

You can enter the old town from the clock tower where pedestrian Sen Street starts. Here you’ll find some of Midyat’s best wineries, including the famous Sahra Suryani Sarap Evi. The marketplace is on the left in Hal Street. The historic churches and houses are further northeast. In the evening, shepherds bring back their sheep from the fields, so you’ll see them roaming around the streets of the old town.

Midyat Old Town

Historic Churches

Midyat was once a Christian city, and many churches are a testament to those times. There are about a dozen churches, all of them in the old town. They belong to different denominations: Orthodox, Catholic, and even Protestant. Sadly, there are no more masses held in any of the churches. They are also closed to visitors.

Though some tourists mention entering Mor Barsavmo Church, it is currently closed. The original structure is 1500 years old, while the current building owes its appearance to a 1943 reconstruction. The large monastery, Mor Abrohom, is some 300 meters east of the old town. It was founded in the 5th century by two monks from Mor Gabriel. You can only enter the courtyard in front of the monastery.

Bethil Kilisesi Protestant Church

Geluske Hani and Midyat Guest House

Midyat hosts a plethora of impressive stone houses with caves, and you can visit some of them. The most interesting is a complex of two buildings: Geluske Hani and Midyat Caves. Geluske Hani is an old inn from 1903 that used to be a farmer’s market. The house across is where the caves are. There is a small entrance fee. The nearby Aynali Konak has even more caves.

Another house popular with tourists is the Midyat Konuk Evi (Midyat Guest House) on Cumhuriyet Street. It became famous when it appeared in the Turkish soap opera Sila. Turkish tourists flock here to take photos from its scenic balcony. There is a small entrance fee, but the views are unforgettable. Hercai Konak, on the right, doesn’t charge a fee, but you need to have a drink.

Midyat Konuk Evi

Mosques

Midyat’s old town was almost exclusively Christian until the early 20th century. Thus, there are no mosques older than that. The most beautiful mosque is across the old town, by the clock Tower. The Cevat Paşa Mosque is from 1925 and bears the name of its founder. It’s a one dome building with a single minaret.

If you want to visit other mosques, I recommend going to the modern town center. The Hacı Kasım Altunkaya Cami from 2014 is the city’s largest mosque. Though pretty new, its size and decorations will surely make up for the effort of getting there. It’s the giant mosque with four minarets illuminated with green lights that you can see from the old town’s rooftops.

Cevat Pasha Mosque

Estel Old Town

Estel neighborhood is some 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) west of the old town. It starts west of Estel’s clock tower. Until the early 20th century, it was an independent town. Just like Midyat’s old town, it has narrow alleys and decorated stone mansions. Two of the most beautiful houses in the city are here.

Historically, this was a Muslim neighborhood, thus the plethora of mosques. The most important one is the 300-year-old Ulu Cami or Great Mosque. It is a courtyard-type mosque with a round minaret and a single balcony. Please note that Cevat Paşa Mosque is also called the Great Mosque.

Estel Old Town - Midyat Kultur Evi

City Museum and House of Culture

Intricately decorated houses dot Estel’s center. Coming from Midyat’s city center, the first house you’ll notice is the Kent Müzesi or City Museum. The entrance is through a large courtyard where locals play board games. Its interior shows what a typical traditional house looked like in the past. The museums’ highlights are its enormous caves in the basement!

The city’s most monumental house, Midyat Belediyesi Kültür Evi (the Municipal House of Culture), is a step away. It’s a gorgeous building with lavishly decorated rooms with framed photos of famous Turks. Once again, there is a basement with caves, albeit smaller. Don’t forget to go up to the rooftop terrace to enjoy some of the best views in Estel.

Estel and Midyat Caves - City Museum

Attractions near Midyat

The atmosphere in Midyat’s two old towns is quite special. The city’s cobbled streets and stone houses will take you back in time. Thus, all you have to do is relax and experience the city. The two historic monasteries, Mor Gabriel and Meryem Ana, are Midyat’s most important sites. Both are several kilometers away from the city.

But that’s not all. A couple of nearby villages retain a unique atmosphere with fortresses, old houses, churches, and mosques. Dogancay, Gulgoze, Baglarbasi, and Mercimekli are the best. There is also a natural area worth visiting. Beyazsu River flows through a valley surrounded by dense vegetation. You can eat at any of the restaurants that dot its shores. These offer delicious fish.

Doğançay village near Midyat

Mor Gabriel and Meryem Ana Monasteries

Mor Gabriel Monastery is the oldest and largest monastery on the Tur Abdin plateau. Samuel and Simeon, two monks from Mardin, founded it in 397. The monastery’s bishop is the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Turkey. It’s a pretty large monastery, though not all rooms are open to visitors. You are supposed to join a guided tour. But since it’s in Turkish, I suggest skipping it.

Meryem Ana Monastery is a bit closer to the city. Though smaller, its decorations are delicate. According to some sources, the first monastery of the Virgin Mary is from the 6th century. The main church that we see today dates back some 1000 years, though it owes its appearance to a 19th-century reconstruction. Be sure to check with your hotel if it’s open before making the journey there.

Mor Gabriel Mardin Province

Midyat Attractions - House of Culture

2 Responses

  1. Donnamarie
    | Reply

    I fell in love with Turkey from watching Rick Steve’s Europe. It is one of the places on my bucket list.

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      It’s an amazing country!

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