Diyarbakir

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Diyarbakır is one of the world’s oldest cities, a fact immediately apparent to any traveler who arrives at this ancient maze of cobbled streets, perched on the shores of the Tigris River in the crook of the Fertile Crescent. The black basalt walls which encircle the city 5km long and reportedly visible from space—are of Roman and Byzantine construction, a relatively recent addition in a place whose archaeological record shows evidence of continuous occupation spanning 7,500 years and 26 distinct civilizations.Nowadays the crescent isn’t so fell tile, but the Tigris floodplain still yields bushels of Diyarbakir’s famous 50kg watermelons—a welcome treat in a town whose summer heat is regularly above 43°C. Two million citizens, half refugees, live submerged in a timeless cacophony of commerce, and the echo of car horns, hi recent years, a massive influx of displaced Kurds has created a second Diyarbakır, this one surrounding the old city walls. To Kurds, Diyarbakır is Amed, their proxy capital. For a people without their own state, the walls offer sanctuary within a sea of perceived repression and injustice. On the surface, Kurds and Turks embrace as brothers. Yet while Kurds cannot carve out a land for themselves, their dreams simmer like the horizon.

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TRANSPORTATION

  • Flights: THY offices (228 84 01) are on İnönü Cad.; flights serve: Ankara, Antalya, Bodrum, İstanbul, and Trabzon. International destinations include Athens, Berlin, London, Hong Kong, Tripoli, and Vienna.
  • Bus: The otogar is 4km from town, accessible by dolmuş in front of the hotels on Kilbris Cad. Mardin minibuses (1 hr., $3) leave from the intersection of Melek Ahmet and Gazi Cad. Local bus companies include Öz Diyarbakır ( 228 93 00), Diyarbakır Sur 221 08 49), and Yeni Diyarbakır Seyehat ( 228 85 30)
  • Taxis: Avoid taxis in Diyarbakır, where the meters spin like a roulette wheel.

ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION   

Diyarbakır’s walls arc pierced at the cardinal points by four gates. To the north is the Dağ Kapisi (Mountain Gate), which houses the tourist office and connects to the southern Mardin Kapisi by the north-south Gazl Cad. Running from the eastern Yeni Kapisi (New Gate) to the western Urfa Kapisi is the city’s east-west axis. The inner walls are ringed by a single road, named Kibris Cad. at the north and Tursik Cad. at the south. The only other identifiable street in town is the east west İnönü Cad., located south of Kibris Cad. The old city is a labyrinth of un map able alleys.

  • Tourist Office: In the basement of the Dağ Kapisi (221 21 73). The director, Zeki Genes, speaks some English and can offer you a brochure. Also contact the well traveled Ubeydullah Calisir, nicknamed “Japonali” (229 22 71; mobile (535) 259 34 66), who enjoys helping tourists find their way without obligation.
  • Banks: Every major bank lines Gazi Cad. from the İnönü Cad. intersection toward the center of town. Open 9am-5:30pm. ATMs available 24hr.
  • Hamam: Diyarbakir’s oldest hamam is closed indefinitely. Remaining options are Turkish baths attached to the larger hotels. Hotels Dedeman, Turistik, Demir and Kervansaray have pools that charge $8 for a dip. Men can use the city pool just outside the Dag Kapisi on the way to the Hotel Dedeman for $1.50.
  • Police: On Gazi Cad., next to Hasan Paşa Hani. Emergency 155. Open 24hr. Pharmacy: Akdeniz Eczane, 11/A Kibris Cad. (222 56 68). Open 8am-6:30pm. Part of a rotating pool of pharmacies that remain open 24hr.
  • Hospital: Devlet Hastanesi (228 5430), outside the city walls. Turn left 200m on Yusef Azizoglu Cad.
  • Internet Access: The city’s 20 cafes are wonderfully concealed, and the joy of discovery almost compensates for slow connections and daily power outages. For Number 1 Computer Internet House, cross from the hotels on Kibris Cad, traverse the dolmuş lot, then walk 200m left down Selim Amca Sofra Sal. $.75 per hr.
  • PTT: The main branch is on the corner of İnönü and Vilayet Cad. Postal services open 8:30am-noon, 1:30-5:30pm.

ACCOMMODATIONS    

Diyarbakır has an excellent range of accommodations, concentrated on İnönü, Kibris and İzzet Paşa Cads. Travelers in summer months may find A/C to be more necessity than luxury. Room rates are negotiable, however, and giving up breakfast can often be a crucial bargaining point.

  • Aslan Palas Kibris Cad. 21 (221 12 27). With TV, private bath, and A/C in rooms above the parrot-filled lobby, this is the top choice. Singles $5, doubles $10.
  • Hotel Kristal ( 224 25 50; fax 224 01 87), in a small alley of Kibrıs Cad., has large, clean rooms. A bit pricier, but with the added luxuries of a refrigerator, new carpeting, and a tiled bath. Singles $10, doubles $15. 
  • Hotel Kenan, (221 66 14), on İzzet Paşa Cad., past İnönü Cad., has similar accommo-dations to Aslan Palas, with A/C, private bath, and laundry facilities. $5 per person. O Otel Surkent, İzzet Paşa No. 19 (221 66 16), across the street from Kenan, offers the best of the rock-bottom budget options. $2 per person, but you get what you pay for. O Hotel Grand Kervansaray (228 96 06), a restored Ottoman kervanseray, is at least $50 per night, but its history, architecture, and watermelons in the fountains make it definitely worth a stop.

FOOD   

Traditional food reigns in Diyarbakır, where a forlorn Burger King lies exiled beyond the city walls. Speak to locals about the dishes that are heat-labile and best avoided (dairy, pre-cooked, undercooked and reheated). It is considered a crime to leave Diyarbakır without sampling the local watermelon. A cluster of tree- shaded çay gardens lie inside the north-west wall of the city and provide picturesque spots to beat the heat; nearby are the old city’s best restaurants.

  • Sarmasik Ocakbasi, 31 Kibris Cad. (224 25 97). The best in town for cheap, reliable food. Try guvec, delicious crock pot of lamb and vegetable. Full meal $3. Open 24hr. O Tüccarlar, Ticaret Merkezi Kat 1, 5th fl. (228 90 21). City views, breezes, great alter-natives to kebap (semiz otu yogurt, pepper, and juicy distance salad each $1), and live traditional music until 1am.
  • Guneydoğa Gazeteciler Cemiyeti (229 21 17), or “Journalists Club,” opposite Tüccarlar and disguised as a çay garden, happily serves tourists içli köfte {crumbed meat and vegetable ball) and kie-mumbar (intestine stuffed with minced meat and vegetable), as well as a full range of drinks. Full meal $5-7.

SIGHTS

A circuit of Diyarbakir’s walls can be made in a few hours, but the secrets hidden within its labyrinthine center can take days to discover. The walls are among the city’s chief draws: 12m high and 5m thick, covered in inscriptions from 12 distinct historical periods. The southern and western walls can be climbed easily, and one can stroll for a good distance atop the fortifications. Within the walls of the old city, several major sites can be seen in just a few hours. Start at the Selçuk Ulu Camii, then have a cup of çay in the restored camel market across the road. The bazaar, like the camel market, winds down after 6pm. Finding the Meryamana Kilisesi, a 3rd century Aramaic church and convent, requires a plunge into the tangled knot of ancient alleys. Any number of old men or young boys will be happy to guide you; the church is nearly impossible to find without help. This magnificent structure, flanked by carved lions and Aramaic inscriptions, continues to hold services in the original language of Jesus. To the south on Gazi Cad., the restored Ottoman kervansaray that has become the Grand Kervansaray Hotel is a good place for a drink stop and a dip in the beautiful pool ($8). Next is the restored home of Cahit Sıtki Taranci, Atatürk’s house, south of town, and the Ducle bridge, built in 1065.

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