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Visiting Syria‘s Northern and Western neighbors

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Old Oct 30, 17, 3:14 am
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Visiting Syria‘s Northern and Western neighbors

Expect a report covering the ancient cities of Mardin, Sanliurfa and Gaziantep in Southern Turkey and the land of cedars.

Regards from Beirut

Check out my previous reports:
First trip report...an early Summer getaway to the Caucasus
Slovakia...more than just Bratislava
Daytripping...exploring Belgian cities
The unknown Balkans
Discovering the capital of Moravia
48 hours in Iraqi Kurdistan
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Old Oct 30, 17, 10:10 am
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This is sure to be interesting. Looking forward to your TR!
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Old Nov 1, 17, 3:22 am
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Must be a very interesting part of the world. Did you have any issues with freedom of movement? I remember when I was near there last year, the Turkish army was actually shelling one of their Kurdish cities (Nusaybin, which is close to Mardin).

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ori...ng-cities.html
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Old Nov 1, 17, 6:21 am
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Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
Must be a very interesting part of the world. Did you have any issues with freedom of movement? I remember when I was near there last year, the Turkish army was actually shelling one of their Kurdish cities (Nusaybin, which is close to Mardin).

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ori...ng-cities.html
I was able to walk everywhere I wanted. As far as I know you‘re good once you stay away from the actual border. The airport of Mardin is less than 15km from Syria but even there it‘s all good. Around the cities there‘s a huge military and police presence but in the old cities it was all ok. If you drive through the suburbs of Mardin when heading back to the airport I noticed several of these white MAN Police trucks you often see in the news on standby. The situation is rather calm right now but could change anytime soon of course. I was quite suprised to see very little police presence in Gaziantep which is known for its occasional bombings by either Daesh or the PKK. There are plenty of Kurdish villages between the cities I‘ve been to so I decided to fly via Istanbul everytime rather than taking the bus - I have no idea how the situation is in any of them so I wanted to minimize the risks of becoming part of clashes. I think the only real no-go zones right now are the cities of Nusaybin and Cizre.
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Old Nov 1, 17, 8:35 am
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Looking forward to this one. A few months ago I visited in and around Antakya. Had no problem renting a car and driving all around there.

Have been considering going to Gaziantep and surrounding area soon when I pass through Turkey again. Mardin looks great.
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Old Jan 7, 18, 1:11 pm
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My trip to Southeastern Turkey and Lebanon started on a Friday evening after finishing work at midday. Due to the limited number of flights to Mardin and reasonable layovers at Istanbul I decided to fly there via Stuttgart and Istanbul-SAW. I arrived at SAW at around 2:30am before continuing my journey some 4 hours later. It was my first flight on Pegasus Airlines and I was pleasantly suprised by Turkey's other major airline.



#1 Dawn onboard PC2430 SAW-MQM


#2 Followed by a beautiful sunrise just minutes later


First stop: Mardin


#3 The approach included several high-angle turns to avoid Syrian airspace which is just 10km South of the airport.


The terminal and runway seems to be brand new although the traffic to Mardin is somewhat limited. It was easy to find a taxi to the hotel in the old city which is 30min by car away. I stayed inside Karim Hotel http://www.booking.com/Share-FnSeiP which costs around 30€/night incl. breakfast. Basic but clean with good wifi and located just 100m from the main street.

#4 After a quick shower I did check out the bazaar first. Soap from both Izmir-based dalan company as well as handmade one on offer.


#5 The area is also known for its excellent craftsmanship.


#6


#7 The alleys are so narrow and steep almost everything is carried by donkeys.


#8 There's lots of cotton-related industry in this area as well; see Southeastern Anatolia Project for further details.


#9 Mardin Artuklu University - not just offering education but stunning views over Mesopotamia as well.


#10 I heard some explosions in the distance but fortunately it was just the local quarry.


#11 The old city of Mardin with a Turkish Army base occupying the remains of an ancient citadel already present in the days of the Assyrian empire.


#12 Quite a walk back to the upper part of the city to capture the beautiful evening sky. The city itself as well as the unique location in Upper Mesopotamia offering mindblowing views is why tourist used to come to this place. There aren't many now since the Syrian war broke out just a few kilometers away and Kurds fighting against the Turkish state in many cities of Southeastern Anatolia. I was the only Westerner around with some Turkish tourists checking out this place.


#13 The ever present road to Syria.


#14 On my second day I decided to visit the Monastery of St. Ananias (or Daryülzafaran Manastırı in Turkish). Founded in 493AD it's located on the site of a temple dedicated to the Assyrian sun god Shamash. The monastery has 365 rooms - one for each day of the year. Since visiting the Mor Mattai Monastery just East of Mosul last year I'm totally in to these old Middle Eastern complexes.


#15


#16


#17

#18


#19


#20


#21 Inside Kasimiye Madrasha just Southwest of the old city. A Madrasha can be compared to a monastery, such place usually offers religious studies as well as a place to pray.


#22


#23


#24


#25 Back in the old city climbing right next to the fence of the army base to get this shot. Overlooking Zinciriye Medresesi and the Mesopotamia plains behind.


#26 Syria somewhere in the distance.


#27 Carpets drying in the warm afternoon sun.


#28


#29 This butcher had his shop tiled so had to move his offers elsewhere...


#30 It was time to find a spot for the sunset - took me literally two hours to find this one on the roof of a hotel.


#31


48 hours in Mardin done, time to head to Sanliurfa onboard Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. Quite a detour for a short 200km drive but didn't want to risk anything outside the cities.


#32 Overflying the city of Kiziltepe shortly after takeoff.


#33 Scenery just before landing in Sanliurfa


Urfa, officially known as Sanliurfa is a multiethnic city with a Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab population. It was officially renamed Şanlıurfa (Urfa the Glorious) by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1984. Former Edessa, named after the ancient capital of Macedonia. For the Armenians, Urfa is considered a holy place since it is believed that the Armenian alphabet was invented there.

I took the Havas bus to the main bus station which lies right next to the hotel I stayed in. Havas operates several airports in Turkey and also offers a modern and clean bus shuttle between some airports and city centres. I stayed inside the Nevali Hotel which is likely to the best one in town. 50€/night incl. excellent breakfast Nevali Hotel |Ana Sayfa.

#34 Taken from the roof - the very same spot you can enjoy your breakfast from.


#35


Balıklıgöl is part of huge complex that includes several holy sites and attracts pilgrims from all over the world. I've seen quite a few Muslims from Indonesia/Malaysia sipping chai in the local teahouses.

#36 Mevlid-i Halil Mosque


#37


#38 Balıklıgöl & Halil-ur Rahman Mosque, built by the Ayyubids (Sunni Muslim dynasty of Kurdish origin) in 1211. According to tradition, Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. The pool of sacred fish remains to this day - Balıklıgöl, therefore Urfa is believed to be the hometown of Abraham.

#39 Wandering around the old bazaar which is located right next to holy sites.


#40


#41 These shots are the reason editing takes so long...removing dust spots...


#42 Doves


#43 Sandstorm


#44 Overlooking the city from the top of Urfa castle, built by the Abbasids (the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Islamic prophet Muhammad) in 814. The castle itself is located on a neolithic settlement dating back to 9500BC. As you can see this city has been ruled and designed by dozens of empires and dynasties all of which left their traces.


#45 Overlooking the holy sites with the old city behind


#46


#47 Urfa Castle


#48 Selahaddin Eyyubi Mosque these days but built in 1849 as an Assyrian Church, it was used until 1924 when Assyrians left for Aleppo.


#49




#50 GNY-SAW onboard Pegasus Airlines once again. Domestic flights in Turkey are super cheap so skipping the bus was an easy choice.


I wanted to visit Gaziantep for quite some time now and luckily it did work. Antep is less than 100km North of Aleppo and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. In 1921 the Turkish parliament honored the city as Gazi or "Antep the war hero" to commemorate its resistance against the French siege of the city during the Franco-Turkish War. Informally it's still known as Antep.


#51 I stayed inside the rather famous Sirehan Hotel right inside the old city. One of the most important stops of Silk Route travels, the city of Gaziantep, hosts Sirehan; a caravanserai, which re-opened its doors as a Boutique Hotel. I paid about 45€/night incl. breakfast. Sirehan Otel Gaziantep, Gaziantep Sirehan Otel, Sirehan Gaziantep Otel


#52 I arrived at around midnight on a brand new A320 NEO the day before so I had a bit of a sleep-in before exploring the lobby for the first time.


#53 1700year-old Gaziantep castle, still being renovated and therefore remained closed during my stay.


#54 Later that day I headed over to one of the special sights of Antep - the Kurtulus Mosque or Liberation Mosque. Built in 1892 as an Armenian Apostolic Church but stood empty since 1915 when almost all Armenians were deported to the Syrian desert. Check out this interesting article written by Robert Fisk: A beautiful mosque and the dark period of the Armenian genocide | The Independent


#55


#56


#57 Gaziantep is mainly known for two things: pistachio cultivation and...


#58 ...copperware

#59 I liked the bazaar for its original tastes and smells but the shops were too modern for my taste - they lack of their original flair.


#60 Took me some time to convince him to be photographed


#61 Backyard


#62 This gentleman was already posing for a photo once I opened my camera bag


#63 Fresh pistachios, not salted and undried at this stage


#64 A few companies moved to Gaziantep from Syria to keep alive the production of original Aleppo soap.


#65 Boyaci Mosque


Nightflight to stormy Beirut onboard Pegasus Airlines once again.


#66 Don't be confused...the following photo is a couple of months old. Germania's direct service Hamburg-Beirut. I added a few older ones from Lebanon to have some more storys and photos included.


I stayed inside the WH Hotel close to the Hamra district - still pretty cheap at 60€/night incl. breakfast.

I've been to Beirut before so I didn't take too many photos from the city itself. I absolutely love this city for its flair so most of the day I just walk around, having coffee next to the Zaitunay Bay, watching people and cars around Beirut Souks, exploring the historic part of Aschrafiyya and finishing off the day with a Shisha.

#67


#68


#69 This city is called home by Sunnis, Shi'as, 'Alawis, Druzes as well as Christians.


#70 Skyline around Zaitunay Bay


#71 Beirut Terraces vs. the bombed out Holiday Inn


#72 Pigeons' Rock


#73 During my last trip I took the chance to visit Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley. It was Winter time so the highway to Zahle was closed in the morning due to fresh snow (happens quite often) - fortunately they cleared it within a few hours and I was good to go.


#74 No other tourists around and blue skies - lucky day I guess.


#75 Baalbek once was as important as Palmyra and other ancient cities so there's a lot to read about... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baalbek


#76 Further South, about 60km East of Beirut and 3km West of the Syrian border lies Anjar, a predominantly Armenian (most of them originally from Antakya in Turkey) village and home to a former palace of caliph al-Walid who also built the world-famous Umayyad Mosque of Damascus.


#77 Beirut in all its glory, love this city!


#78 Another daytrip to the East of Lebanon, usually starts with a quick stop in Zahlé - capital of the Beqaa Governorate


#79 I wanted to visit the city of Arsal - just recently liberated from terrorists. I had all permissions with me but there were ongoing operations so unfortunately the local militia denied my entry. Instead I decided to visit the Hermel Pyramid in the very North of Lebanon just about 10km South of the Syrian border along the highway to Homs. I was quite disappointed to see this beautiful site in such desolate condition - lots of trash around and its walls sprayed with graffiti. Time to head back to Beirut...


#80 To finish off this report in a better mood, another old one for you - Beirut as seen from Byblos last year.


#81 Heading back home via Istanbul - absolutely worth the wake-up call at 1:45am.





I hope you enjoyed this report. Happy New Year and safe travels in 2018!

It's the first time I've used the new photo editor. Please let me know if the quality is worse than usual or how it looks on different screens!
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Last edited by MA330; Jan 8, 18 at 12:32 pm
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Old Jan 8, 18, 11:52 am
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I can't say I can compare picture quality now and then.

Just wanted to say that this was a very interesting report from a part of the World I don't see myself travelling to anytime soon.
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Old Jan 8, 18, 12:34 pm
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Originally Posted by Fredrik74 View Post
I can't say I can compare picture quality now and then.

Just wanted to say that this was a very interesting report from a part of the World I don't see myself travelling to anytime soon.
Thanks! I'm always a bit worried of compression of these built-in editors, that's why I'm asking.
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Old Jan 13, 18, 4:37 am
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I forgot to mention that Bakir Izetbegović, a high ranking Bosnian politician, visited Sanliurfa the same day I did. He also stayed inside the Nevali Hotel with dozens of soldiers around his entourage. One morning I saw one of soldiers having breakfast with his assault rifle on his lap - bit of an uncommon site here...

His armored Maybach


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Old Jan 14, 18, 1:15 am
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Great TR! Thank you.
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Old Jan 16, 18, 6:03 pm
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Great trip report and photos!

I'd love to know how you approach folks to take the portraits. I always want to take portraits of people I see, but don't want to upset anyone.
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Old Jan 17, 18, 1:11 pm
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Originally Posted by Hartmann View Post
Great trip report and photos!

I'd love to know how you approach folks to take the portraits. I always want to take portraits of people I see, but don't want to upset anyone.
Thanks. Usually it's a simple As-salamu alaykum and then asking for a ṣūra/photo.
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Old Jan 17, 18, 1:11 pm
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Originally Posted by gaobest View Post
Great TR! Thank you.
Thanks
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Old Jan 20, 18, 10:47 pm
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Amazing pictures. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jan 21, 18, 5:11 am
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Originally Posted by fivevsone View Post
Amazing pictures. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks a lot.
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