Journey to Turkey’s New UNESCO-listed pearls: Kemaliye, Tur Abdin

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Historical The city of Kemaliye (Eğin) in the eastern province of Erzincan, the churches and monasteries of ancient Midyat and the late Middle Ages and the surrounding area (Tur Abdin) in the southeastern province of Mardin were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List last week, increasing the cultural assets of Turkey in the list up to 85 . The addition of sites to the UNESCO list, which caused a buzz in the regions of Erzincan and Mardin, is expected to increase natural, religious and cultural tourism in the regions.


Interior view of Yuldat Alohu Church (Maryam Anna), Mardin, southeastern Turkey, May 2, 2021 (AA Photo)
Interior view of Yuldat Alohu Church (Maryam Anna), Mardin, southeastern Turkey, May 2, 2021 (AA Photo)

While we are mostly confined indoors due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, let’s explore the historical backgrounds of these two sites with comprehensive evidence from the comfort of our homes. Who do you know? You will probably be inspired to visit these mesmerizing places in the post-pandemic period after reading more about them.

Nature and architecture mix

Throughout history, ancient Anatolian cities have largely settled near the Euphrates, the longest river in Southwest Asia. As one of those historical settlements, Al-Kamaliya is located in the upper Euphrates surrounded by the Al-Manzur Mountains, an extension of the central Taurus Mountains in the east and Mount Yama in the west. The tributary of the Euphrates Karasu flows through the east of the city.

Kemaliye has managed to remain so far in its original strength. Although it is not known exactly when the city was founded, it is estimated that it dates back to the 10th and 11th centuries. However, the Kemaliye site has hosted various settlements since ancient times. The city was ruled by the Persians and Byzantines during the Middle Ages, while the Seljuks took over after that. Their victory over the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Malakkid on August 26, 1071, which opened the gates of Anatolia to the Turkmen. When the city was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Mehmed I (1413-1421), it turned into a commercial center as it was on the Silk Road and the caravan routes.

According to the UNESCO website, Kemaliye has a cultural and natural landscape that attests to 600 years of Anatolian Ottoman architecture and architectural texture. Karanlık (Dark) Canyon Homes, Taş Yol (Stone Road) and Kemaliye support this assertion of the organization. Karanlık Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world and among the five deepest canyons. It is distinguished by its geological formation, it hosts both local and foreign tourists, especially adrenaline junkies. The valley offers many exciting activities such as jumping from the base, rock climbing, boating and pavilion activities.

The 7-kilometer (4.5-mile) Taş Yol with 38 tunnels also offers great sightseeing for adventure enthusiasts along the Karanlık Canyon, which consists of 400 to 500 meters (1,300-1,650 feet) of steep, rocky cliffs on either side. . The road, which was built with solid rock carving to connect Kemaliya with Central Anatolia, began in 1870. It was completed by locals using primitive methods. Although the road was large enough for pedestrians at first, it was expanded to be wide enough to accommodate vehicles over time. UNESCO rates the road building as “an exceptional example of creative human genius”.

The road is classified as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Therefore, it is mostly preferred by adventure seekers. Despite the dangerous excursion on foot or by car, the road always captivates visitors with its surrounding natural beauty.


Some wooden houses in Kamalia, Erzincan, eastern Turkey.  (Shutterstock images)
Some wooden houses in Kamalia, Erzincan, eastern Turkey. (Shutterstock images)

Kemaliye houses are also distinguished by their impressive beauty and are one of the essential elements of the authentic atmosphere of the city. Traditional house architecture differs from region to region in line with climatic and geographical factors in Turkey. For example, wooden frame houses are common in the Black Sea regionMilk houses are preferred in Central Anatolia. Solid wood is available in The natural environment of the Black Sea region, Whereas, adobe homes are suitable for rural areas where rainfall intensity is low, such as Central Anatolia.

However, the Kemaliye houses are different from those usually found in Anatolia. Most of the homes are built with stone and wood. The use of wood and stone for regional architecture may seem natural, but it actually indicates that Kemaliye combines the characteristics of regions that have boundaries in the construction of their homes. Kamalia does not feature forests in its natural habitat to supply timber. Even the closest forest to the city, Rafahi, has no direct connection to Kemalism.

The main floors of the two-, three- or four-story Kemaliye homes were built with stone, while the remaining floors were constructed of durable timber, which means that wood is the most important component of local architecture in the city. According to the research, house timber was transported from Al Rafahiyah forests across the Euphrates River. While the log houses add historical texture to the look of Kemaliye, the development of this architecture despite the difficulty of transportation created a more authentic atmosphere.

On the course of Syriac architecture

Tur Abdin means “the mountain of servants of God” in the Syriac language, and it is a mountainous region in southeastern Turkey. The Tur Abdin plateau includes the limestone area of ​​Midyat in the eastern part of Mardin Governorate And it is bounded on the west by the Tigris River. The area has been famous since ancient times for its Christian churches and monasteries. According to UNESCO, the rural landscape of the region covers 80 villages with nearly 100 churches and 70 monasteries.

The churches and monasteries of Tur Abdin belong to the Syriac Orthodox community That has been living here since the seventh century. Since the Imperial Church of the Byzantine Empire considered the Syriac Orthodox Church heretical, the Syriac Orthodox population began building their religious temples in the rural areas. The isolated Tur Abdin area was very suitable for them to develop a religious hierarchy. When control of the region passed to the Arabs after the Islamic conquests in the seventh century, the Syriacs began to live in a more tolerant environment divided into the earlier period.

The religious architecture of the area is, in fact, the main reason for its inclusion on the UNESCO Tentative List. Although the area includes countless churches and monasteries, only four convents and five churches were selected for the nomination. The reason for choosing them is their common features that provide an understanding of the region as a whole. Let’s learn more about these religious structures.

  • Church of the Allohoo (Mary Anna): This church is one of the hall churches in the area, but it combines this type with transverse hall churches. The church features classic decorations dating back to the 8th century, which indicates the continuity of the classical tradition in the region.
  • Deyrul Zafaran Monastery: The three-story monastery was built on a complex that was used as a temple of the sun before the common era and then as a fortress by the Romans. After the Romans, the bones of some saints were brought in and the structure turned into a monastery. This is why the burial chamber is so important to the spiritual foundation of the monastery. This monastery, which was the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch between 1293 and 1932, acquired its present form in the eighteenth century with additions made at various times starting in the fifth century.
  • Monastery of Saint Gabriel: Mor means Saint in Syriac, and Monastery of Mor Gabriel is one of the most famous and largest buildings of the Syriac community. It is claimed that this monastery was founded in 397 AD in textual sources, but most of its buildings date from the sixth century, according to UNESCO. It was used as the center of metropolitan bishops between 615 and 1049. The main church of the monastery is the largest transept in the area.
  • Mor Sobo Church: More Sopo Cathedral has been used as the center of the Metropolitan Bishops for nine centuries. The church is the prototype of hall churches in the area and larger than other hall churches here. It has gone through a massive rebuilding process over the centuries.
  • Moore Abbey Monastery: The Transverse Temple is in ruins today. Remarkably, it contains inscriptions from the 12th century praising Artuqid rulers. Through these inscriptions, we can get an idea of ​​the relations between Christians and Muslim rulers in that century.
  • Abbey of Mor-Luzur: Although the exact date and founder of the Abbey of Mor-Luzur is not known precisely, it is believed that some parts of it date back to the 5th and 6th centuries. Since the structure has not been restored, it remains damaged. The thing that stands out most about the monastery is that it has a unique tower. Since it is from the eighth century under Islamic rule, it can be understood that Christina’s austerity practices continued in the region under the Muslim rulers.
  • Monastery of Mor Ya`qub: This church is dedicated to the Syriac Jacob from Nusaybin, or Nusaybin in the modern era. The monastery inscriptions indicate that the temple was built as a cathedral’s baptistery in the same place. It was converted into a monastery after the cathedral was destroyed. It is an innovative version of the hall type transverse church. The monastery was restored in the 8th century, and features characteristics of late Roman and Byzantine architecture.
  • More Corriacos churches: These are among the hall-like churches in the area. It is said that the decoration and carvings of these churches influenced the region’s mosques, indicating the revival of classical decoration in Islamic monuments in the twelfth century.

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