Day Trip from Mardin to Dara – SE Turkey

The week before it was time to come home from Turkey my daughter Leah and I took a short trip to Mardin in the Southeast of Turkey.  Our time was a combination of putting our feet up and relaxing and also exploring some nearby sites and cities that I had never visited previously.

Catherine and Leah in Mardin

One such morning we set aside some time for a trip to Dara.  Dara is a village built on the site of ruins dating back to the 6th c BC.  The name harkens back to King Darius the Persian king

who built the city 530-570 BC.   After Darius’ time the city was also reigned by Alexander the Great, the Persian, Roman, and Ottoman Empires and now is a part of the Turkish republic. There is a wonderful ‘canyon’ like area outside the village with remains of cave churches and a large central structure surrounded by graves.

Central Structure and surrounding graves

We had returned our rental car so hired a driver we had met through a Turkish friend.  The ancient ruins of Dara are just off the Syrian border.  In Mardin we were 7 km from the border crossing into Syria.  In Dara the border was just 2 km away.  The road from Mardin passes through Nusaybin and we travelled 30 km across the flat land of the Mesopotamian plain between Mardin and Dara.

Leah speaks Turkish, lives in Istanbul and partners with me in our carpet and textile business.  Leah also does day tours in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.  In Dara our driver dropped us at the water cistern which is one of the interesting intact remains of this site.  Above ground much of the old stone work has been dismantled over the centuries and is now incorporated into the local homes and walls but the cistern is intact.

Cistern Interior

Our driver indicated the entrance to the cistern to us and in a nanosecond a young girl, perhaps 12 years old or so, appeared at our sides and proceeded to guide us down the stone steps into the cistern.  ‘Keep to this side of the stairs’ she instructed leading us down the side which had withstood the ravages of time the best.  On the stairway it took several minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dimly lit flight leading down into the cistern.  The young girl’s English was very acceptable and Leah was able to talk in more detail with her in Turkish as well.  The girl, Bahar, had obviously spent time with archeologists at the site and was well versed in the structural intricacies of the cistern also showing us the intake and outlet areas.  She pointed out a keystone and explained the physics and stresses of the design.   I have had other ‘guides’ of various ages try to tell tales that are an obvious compilation of speculation and myth but Bahar had perfected her simple but accurate knowledge of this corner of her world and was working hard to meet visitors and offered a well crafted ‘tour’ of the cistern.  The cistern was amazing – the scale was enormous and the stone blocks massive.  It was very difficult to get any photos with the low light and no tripod but even the blurry ones will give you a sense of the scale.

On leaving the cistern we were trying to give her some lira for her time and help and she was refusing.  In Turkish Leah was able to tell her very plainly that they both did the same job; Bahar in Dara and Leah in Istanbul and that she must accept payment for her ‘work’.  People who work deserve to be paid and she had done the job of a competent adult.  Some lira was placed into her jean pocket as we affirmed her initiative.  Who knows what the future will hold for this bright, enterprising young girl.  Without a doubt, should an opportunity arise one can see that she has the intelligence and spunk and will to grab hold of what life offers her.

Agora in Dara

Donkey Sheltering and Storm Rolling in

While out in the ruins we walked through the former agora and the light changed as a massive thunder storm rolled across the land.  Before the storm arrived we saw a donkey standing patiently under an arch of an ancient structure.  Obviously, the beast had some inkling of what the weather had in store.  Leah and I sheltered with our driver in an open air tea garden that had a tarp strung over several tables.  The intent of the tarp was to provide some relief from the blistering sun but it served well as a place to wait out the deluge.

When the rain stopped we were able to explore the nearby area with the churches and caves.  It was very beautiful with the sides of the canyon having a distinct ‘overhang’ that gave the area a protected and special feel.

Cave Churches in Dara

If you are curious to see more of this site I really appreciated the images posted online by Aydin Cetinbostanoglu.  Check them out at  I have been disappointed when searching on the internet for some more specific details on this site.  There is very little reference to it written in English but quite a bit of content in Turkish.  I will have to get some help from my Turkish pals to learn more specifics about this off the track spot in Turkey’s south eastern corner.


9 Responses

  1. Stefano Ionescu says:

    What a joy for a mother to make such a nice trip with her daughter!

    • Catherine Mortensen says:

      It was a joy indeed Stephano. With Leah’s language skills we were able to connect with many locals along the way. As you know from your travels, most often it is the people who in fact add such depth and richness to our experiences. It was super!

  2. Janice says:

    I thought what Leah said to the girl at Dara was a wonderful way to create a bridge to the girl’s pride in herself.

    • Catherine Mortensen says:

      It is one of the delights of travelling with Leah. She has the language skills to connect and also a heart that desires to support and affirm those around her. You remember my mom, she was very much like that. She had no issue at all with reaching out and relating to others with no sense of distance based on background. It is a lovely attribute.

  3. jack mortensen says:

    I love hearing stories of what my children (Leah & Chris)have done or said that in so many ways they have learned in life beyond me. So proud of Leah and what she is doing in Turkey! Can’t wait to see her in the fall when we go on our Western Turkey tour!

  4. Velvet Eliuk says:

    I am so impressed with Leah’s capabilities and instincts. She obviously comes of good stock! Traveling with my daughter would be an amazing thing and I am certain you appreciated your daughter and the time with her.

    • Catherine Mortensen says:

      Thanks for your comments Velvet. We have been such a good match working together and it has taken us places neither one of us would have imagined. For me it is exceptional to listen to L communicate easily in another language – I am still only in possession of polite phrases and small talk in Turkish. All the best to you and yours….

  5. Natalie says:

    I love Dara and like you am disappointed with the very little amount of information on the internet.This place needs to be promoted more but friends have told me that it is no use while the turmoil continues in Syria

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