Turkish Lifestyle: Ancient Mardin as jewel of diversity

From the bright lights of towering skyscrapers in Istanbul to the honey-coloured alleyways meandering through the ancient city of Mardin, life in Turkey mirrors a rich diversity of cultures, traditions and history.

To take a voyage across this mesmerising country is to take a trip through time, where one can not only enjoy the rich unity of East and West, but also the convergence of the modern world with the antiquities of the past. Nowhere is this mix of cultures more visible than the southeastern city of Mardin. One of the oldest settlements in Mesopotamia, Mardin was inhabited by countless groups over the centuries, including Assyrians and Romans, and the city may soon be listed as a UNESCO world heritage site as a result. Within its narrow streets one will find ancient churches side by side with antique mosques along with other remnants of the many cultures that lived together in this city.

People from different countries have called Mardin home, a city built on a sloping mountain crested by a gigantic rock outcrop, upon which is built an imposing ancient castle. In the streets below, visitors will quickly see how the compact architecture, with one home built atop another, lended itself to constant interaction between neighbours, creating an atmosphere where ideas and cultures quickly fused together to produce what is now known as the Republic of Turkey.

All it takes is a short walk around the city centre for one to be confronted with its rich mix of cultures. The Zinciriye Medresesi, a theological college founded in 1385, is one of the best-preserved buildings in Mardin and the complex, with its domed mosque, offers one of the best panoramic views in the city. In contrast, not too far off stands the Forty Martyrs Church, a 4th century church which still holds regular Sunday services and can be visited throughout the week.

To go back even further in time, one can visit the Mardin Museum to view a collection of artifacts from the Bronze Age and Assyrian empire. Countless relics from local archeological sites are on display here, housed in a renovated 19th century traditional stone villa that will give visitors an idea of how people would have lived two centuries ago. Daily street life in Mardin may be most rewarding for those looking to observe a culture where modernity and antiquity constantly juxtapose one another.

Mardin is a city where locals can choose to buy their melons from the refrigerated isles of a grocery store or the horse-drawn cart of a local farmer. It is this blended existence, between new and old, east and west, which makes not just Mardin unique, but Turkey as a whole. One can experience the same contrasts of lifestyles and cultures in cosmopolitan cities such as Istanbul. In the same day, it is possible to visit the Fatih Bazaar, where merchants sell everything from fresh-caught fish to hand-made kitchen utensils, and then cross the Bosphorus in a state-of-the-art, underwater metro line, arriving in Kadiköy on the Asian side, where young, tattooed couples sip Italian coffee.

From the modern cities to ancient settlements, Turkey harbours a mosaic of cultures and lifestyles. Few other places can offer a glimpse at where we came from, while at the same time, plotting out a roadmap to the future, showing us where we are heading. This is the essence of life in Turkey.