The province of Mardin, in the southeast of Turkey, has a mix of religious beliefs. Although the country is officially Muslim, this region has been home to Syriac Christians and Muslims, with families also identifying as Assyrian, Turkish, Kurdish, Syrian and Arab.
I travelled through the province and, while there were a large number of mosques, there were also dozens of monasteries. Below are two monasteries that I explored.
Four kilometres east of Mardin, I visited an exquisite monastery called Deyrulzafaran. It was originally used as a sun temple by the Assyrians and then as a citadel by the Romans, and in 793 it was converted into a monastery. During the 12th century, it was the seat of the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church.
What stands today is a complex from the 18th and 19th centuries, which includes a church, receiving rooms, dormitories, altars, a school (possibly one of the first medical schools), tombs and hermitages, and some remains dating further back than the 18th century. The light-coloured stonework is typical of the province and is filled with nature motifs and intricate patterns.
Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Church
The Mor Gabriel monastery is another gorgeous example of intricate limestone carvings. Founded in 397, it’s supposedly one of the world’s oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monasteries still in use. This was an important site: by the fourth century, there were 400 monks living here, and it was the seat of the bishop from 613 to 1088.
Although this area has not always been peaceful and there is current tension around religion in this region, seeing these buildings scattered through a Muslim country also symbolized to me the potential for cooperation. Can we not find a way to coexist, regardless of our religious beliefs or cultures or societal values?