Renovators dream – Roman cistern found!

Just imagine that your family had lived in the same modest house for generations. One day your father starts some renovation work – when he starts digging he finds what appears to be the remains of a staircase.

Imagine living in this modest house …

Soon it is apparent that there is something significant down there and he digs down further. Archeologists became involved and it is discovered that there is a 6th century Roman water cistern underneath what used to be your barn!

Then one day your father by chance finds a Roman cistern!

This is what happened to Mehmet- our guide at Dara, an important Roman fortress city in what was once northern Mesopotamia and which now sits close to Turkey’s border with Syria.

Mehmet, our guide at Dara (left)

The remains of Dara lie close to Mardin where we stayed for two nights on the start of our tour of the culturally rich and fascinating South-East Turkey.

A moody sky on our way to Dara
Remains of Dara, a Roman fortress city, as seen from the road

Mehmet led us through a small gateway, right next to his house and led us down deep underground into the cistern. Apparently the 18 metres deep and fifteen metres wide cistern was used to supply water to travellers such as merchants who during the turbulent 6th Century wouldn’t have been allowed inside the fortress.

Mehmet led us deep underground

It was fascinating to hear Mehmet talk about the discovery and the family’s amazement and excitement when it happened.

It was fascinating to hear Mehmet talk about the discovery (ably translated by
Baran, our tour guide
Mehmet took excellent photos too!
The cistern as seen from the entrance

Close by to Memhet’s home is a massive gallery grave where hundreds of people were buried together. The massive burial site in which the gallery sits dates back more than 1,500 years and was only unearthed in 2010.

The massive burial ground in the Roman fortress city of Dara
There were masses of tombs
On our way to the gallery grave

Mehmet told us that he used to play soccer here blissfully unaware of what lay below.

Mehmet remembers playing football where the burial site is located before it was excavated
The entrance to the mass gallery grave
The mass gallery grave dates to the early Christian Era
Thanks Mehmet for this photo of some of us
One of the hundreds of bodies buried in the mass grave which was unearthed in 2010

From Dara we drove to Dayro d-Mor Hananyo – an important Syriac Orthodox Monastery usually better known by its nickname, the “Saffron Monastery” because of the beautiful honeyed stone from which it is constructed.

Entering the “Saffron Monastery”
The monastery was completed in 493 AD
Room with a view

It is said to have been built on the site of the temple to the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash, and we were able to go down to the basement room to view what is believed to be the site of the temple.

Going down to the basement room to what is believed to be the site of the temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian Sun God
The site believed to be the location of the temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian Sun God

Dayro d-Mor Hananyo became a monastery in 493 AD and was the residence of the Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch from 1166 to 1923.

An ancient Christian symbol

We were very fortunate to be invited to observe the monks at midday prayer which was quite different from any Church service we had ever been part of.

Inside the chapel

The service was conducted in a form of Aramaic – close to the language that Jesus would have spoken.

The service was sung in a form of Aramaic

It was quite an experience to listen to the ethereal sound of the sung prayers and to observe the ritualistic movements of the bearded monks in their black habits and their unique embroidered hoods.

It was an amazing experience to observe the monks at prayer

After the service we wandered around the courtyards and tried to identify the many species of trees that had been planted there.

There were many species in the courtyard

A friendly volunteer helped us and I took a photo of him – he had such a gentle demeanour and had striking Syriac features. Later that day, I was intrigued to see an image of Christ in the Mardin Museum with the same strong features – so reminiscent of the monks we had met at the “Saffron Monastery “.

This volunteer had striking Syriac features
It was interesting to observe the similarity between today’s inhabitants of the monastery to this 12th Century wood cut of
the image of Jesus

Our next stop was the 15th Century Kasımiye Medresesi, originally an Islamic university until 1924 when Medresesis throughout Turkey were closed down in an attempt to secularise the country.

The 15th Century Kasımiye Medresesi
The entrance to the Medresesi

Our tour guide Baran explained the significance of the conduit and pool in the courtyard.

Baran explains the significance of the conduit and pool in the courtyard

The source of the water is a funnel in the wall that represents birth. The water from the pool drains along a channel (representing different stages of life) and ultimately travels through a narrow slit that represents death and sirat (the narrow bridge which leads to paradise).

The water source at the wall represents birth.
The narrow slit at the end of the conduit represents death and the path to paradise

Back in Mardin some of us had a wander round the small but well curated museum located in what used to be the grand headquarters of the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate, before gathering for a glass of wine before dinner.

View from the museum
I loved this photo of Mardin locals from bygone days
The museum was small but well curated

It had been a wonderfully varied and fascinating day, full of interesting experiences that left us looking forward to the rest of our tour of South-East Turkey over the coming days.

Met this hardworking little donkey on the streets of Mardin
Visiting a local wine seller before “sundowners”
The view over Mardin and the Mesopotamian plains from our hotel room
Mardin left a lasting impression

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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