My Last Trip in Turkey: the Southeast and Trabzon

It’s hard to believe, but my time in Turkey is very quickly coming to an end. On Monday I’ll fly up to Istanbul to spend a few days there before I head back to the US early Thursday morning. Since I’ve finished teaching for the year, I’ve had a little bit of time to travel to places that are more out of the way for me. I’d been wanting to see more of southeastern Turkey since my quick weekend trip to Hatay and Gaziantep, so I thought this would be the perfect time to go, despite the heat. 

My friend and fellow Fulbrighter Jen and I decided to do a week-long trip around the southeast, spending time in Tarsus, Mersin, Urfa, Mardin, and Midyat. Although it was very hot and quite exhausting, I’m so glad I got the chance to do it!

I’d been told that the southeast was known for being much more conservative and was pretty male-dominated, and found that to be true for the most part. Especially in Urfa and Midyat, there were so few women out in public, and if you looked down the street it was full of men. It’s not that I necessarily felt unsafe or that I got unwanted attention, it’s just that it felt much less comfortable and like I was a little out of place. But the southeast has such beautiful scenery and historical sites that it is well worth a visit, even for female travelers!

There are several important sites related to religious history in the southeast, for both Christianity and Islam. Tarsus is the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, and Urfa the birthplace of Abraham. In Urfa you can actually enter the cave where it is believed Abraham was born. You can also visit Balıklıgöl, a pool of sacred fish meant to symbolize the story of Nimrod pushing Abraham into a fire, which God then turned into water.

St. Paul's Well, Tarsus
St. Paul’s Well, Tarsus
Balıklıgöl
Balıklıgöl, Urfa

Mardin (one of the oldest settlements in the area) is known for its honey-colored old stone houses sitting up on a hill that overlooks Mesopotamia. From Old Mardin you can see Syria vaguely in the distance, about 30-40 km away. I wish I could have visited Syria, but with the ongoing civil war there it’s not really an option right now. Mardin has a history of different religious groups peacefully coexisting with one another, so the town is full of churches, mosques, madrassahs, and monasteries.

Mardin
Mardin

 

Overlooking Mesopotamia from Mardin
Overlooking Mesopotamia from Mardin
The 40 Martyrs Church
The 40 Martyrs Church

After two days in Mardin, we had a short bus ride to Midyat. The buildings of old Midyat are similar to those of Mardin. We also though took a trip out to a town called Hasankeyf, which sits right next to the Tigris River. According to our “tour guide” (I’m really not sure he was a tour guide–he was a friend of our hotel manager who was driving us around, and was a shepherd who lived in the cave homes), the cave homes right next to the river are 7,000 years old. That was actually about the only fact he gave! Hasankeyf has been ruled by many different empires over time and now has a majority Kurdish population. Unfortunately plans for the construction of a dam will ruin many of Hasankeyf’s historical sites.

Cave homes in Hasankeyf
Cave homes in Hasankeyf
The Old Tigris Bridge
The Old Tigris Bridge
Zeynelbey Tomb
Zeynelbey Tomb

After spending a week in the southeast, Jen and I split ways and I took a very exhausting 15 hour bus ride from Batman to Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast in northeastern Turkey. It was only after arriving in Trabzon that I realized how different the southeast felt to me. I finally saw more women out in public, and it wasn’t uncommon to see young women traveling alone. I also needed a break from the dry heat and dust that I had to endure for a week. In Trabzon it was cloudy and a little rainy, breezy by the sea, and so green (especially in the mountains). I actually had to wear a sweater when I was there; it was such a nice change!

In Trabzon I spent some time with a fellow Fulbrighter, Duncan, and also did an all-day tour of some of the major sites. I was most looking forward to seeing the biggest attraction, the Sümela Monastery, which was built in the 4th century and carved into a mountain. Despite a lot of graffiti all over the frescoes, there are still vibrant paintings all over the monastery that are nice to see.

Heading up to Sümela Monastery
Heading up to Sümela Monastery
Sümela Monastery
Sümela Monastery

Close-up of a fresco in the Rock Chapel
Close-up of a fresco in the Rock Chapel

 

And then finally, after being on the road for about a week and a half, I flew from Trabzon to Izmir, and then took a late bus back to Denizli two days ago. Since then I’ve been busy packing everything up (all my stuff miraculously fits into the suitcases I brought here with me!) and tying up loose ends, getting ready for one last trip to Istanbul. And now in less than one week I will finally be home again!