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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are curious to see more of this site I really appreciated the images posted online by Aydin Cetinbostanoglu. Check them out at http://www.cetinbostanoglu.com/dara/city.htm 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.