Alternative Names

Midyad; Mediat

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2015
Site Type
Citadels and Cities
Midyat (Turkey)
Mardin Province (Turkey)

    General Views over Midyat

    Various Buildings & Street Views within Midyat

    Bethel Church ("Protestant Church")

    Mar Sharbil

    Cevat Paşa Cami

    The city of Midyat is found in the Mardin Province of modern Turkey, about 100 km northeast of the city of Mardin. Built on a plateau of the Tur Abdin and set amid a landscape of low hills, it lies at a crossroads where the north-south route between Nisibis (Nusaybin) and Hasankeyf meets the east-west route between Mardin and Cizre. It now serves as the regional hub of the Tur Abdin district, with its many monasteries (such as Mor Augin and Mor Gabriel). But the city itself is also of great historical and architectural interest. Probably settled by the Neo-Assyrian period, it was occupied throughout the medieval era and was particularly prosperous in the 19th century, when much of its current urban fabric was built using traditional stone-building techniques.

    As it is defined today, Midyat is spread along a roughly east-west axis with two clusters on either end. This arrangement arose from the union of traditional town of Midyat, on the east side, with the town of Estel to its west. The old city of Midyat, ringed by a road with modern high rises, is laid out in an organic style; the streets are narrow and winding, with numerous archways (abbaras). Although the settlement is much older, the standing buildings date mainly from the 19th century on. The houses are often terraced and tend to stand directly adjacent to one another, forming a dense urban fabric that merges with the natural terrain. Most buildings are made of a fine local limestone—related to the stone of nearby Mardin—and are oriented to the south, looking out toward the plain below. 

    The MMM team documented a selection of Midyat’s historical buildings during its visit in 2015. Midyat had a predominantly Christian population until recent times, hence the numerous church spires visible throughout the old city. Nearest to the center are the churches of Mor Shmuni (the city’s cathedral) and Mor Barṣawmo. Both date from the medieval era but have been rebuilt since the late 19th century, including a major renovation of the latter in the 1940s. The spire of Mar Philoxenos (Mor Akhsnoyo), towards the southeastern edge of town, is more conspicuous. This venerable church was first built in the early medieval period. In 1909, Gertrude Bell photographed the ruins of the structure;1 it has since been reconstructed.

    The remaining two churches are also set along the eastern edge of town. Yaldath Alaha/Bethel Church (“Protestant Church”) is found to the northeast of the city center. Its construction was funded by American missionaries in the early 1900s, before World War I. Mar Sharbil, between Mor Akhsnoyo and the Bethel Church, is a relatively new addition to Midyat’s community of churches: it was erected after World War II using traditional building techniques. Of the several mosques in the city, Cevat Paşa Cami is closest to the center of the old town of Midyat. It was constructed in the post–World War II era; several earlier mosques are found in the Estel district.

    Midyat is home to two buildings of the caravanserai type, set in close proximity to each other: the Hayvan Hanı and the Gelüşke Hanı, the latter built in the early 20th century as an inn. Numerous historical houses were built around the city during the 19th and early 20th centuries (prior to WWI). These buildings feature extremely fine stone masonry and decorative carvings. Exemplary here is the building that now serves as the city’s cultural center (Midyat Çevre Kültür Evi). Modern structures built of reinforced concrete ring Midyat’s historical core (see the view over the city).

    • 1. Bell and Mundell Mango 1982, pls. 169–175; see also pp. 19–20, 51, and 131.

    “Description & Iconography” general sources: Sinclair 1989, 315–317; Hollerweger et al. 1999, 94–107; Yanmaz 2001; Dalkılıç 2012.

    Midyat seems to have been settled by the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It has been identified with the place-name of Matiāte known from cuneiform inscriptions.1 An inscription of Assurnasirpal II states that during his campaigns in the region (879 BC), the city fell, and he erected here an inscribed monument (now lost).2 Beyond this, almost nothing is known about Midyat’s history during antiquity, as no archaeological excavations have been conducted at the site. Its history during the Middle Ages is almost as obscure, and it is mainly known from sporadic ecclesiastical sources stretching between Late Antiquity and the 15th century AD.3

    During the Ottoman era, Midyat grew to become the center of a sub-district (kaza) within the sanjak of Mardin. Travelers passing through Midyat in the mid-19th century describe a population of about 450 families and a settlement of small, stone-built houses.4 The city hosted a school for masons, who were active in Midyat, Mardin, and other nearby towns.5 It is clear that the later 19th century saw a flurry of building development around Midyat. By 1890—as the population had swelled to roughly 6,000 inhabitants—it had a municipal town hall and numerous mansions attesting to the wealth of many residents. 

    For most of its history, Midyat’s population was mainly Christian; the majority were of the Jacobite denomination, but other groups were active here has well. It was named as a diocese by the 14th century. Throughout the Ottoman period, the Muslim community tended to live in nearby Estel. Midyat suffered greatly during the conflicts that roiled the area during the World War I years, as a great number of inhabitants lost their lives and historical buildings were destroyed. Reconstruction began in the 1930s. Many edifices were rebuilt in traditional methods, though modern constructions began to appear as well. Shortly after World War II, Midyat and Estel were merged into a single municipality. The city’s Christian population gradually decreased through the 20th century, with emigration accelerating from the late 1970s; however, Midyat remains the seat of the Tur Abdin’s Jacobite bishopric, a role it shares with nearby Mor Gabriel. The city, home to approximately 50,000 residents, serves as the region’s administrative center (ilçe). 

    • 1. More specifically, this name is found in royal inscriptions of Assurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III; see Radner 2006, 291.
    • 2. The campaign is related in the “Annals” inscribed on the walls and floors of the Ninurta temple at Nimrud, on two free-standing stelae, the “Nimrud Monolith” erected at the entrance of the same temple, as well as on the “Kurkh Monolith” discovered at Kurkh/Üçtepe on the Upper Tigris (Radner 2006, 287).
    • 3. See esp. Takahashi 2011.
    • 4. Badger 1852 (1), 54–56.
    • 5. See Tomas Çerme, “Taşçılık zanaatı ve mimarisiyle Mardin şehri,” Tarih ve Toplum 200 (2000): 15–18.

    “History” general sources: Cuinet 1891, 514–516; Anschütz 1975, 181–182; Hollerweger et al. 1999, 94–107; Radner 2006.

    Midyat was not as often on the itinerary of early travelers as was nearby Mardin. George Percy Badger left the most detailed record of his impressions, having stayed for one day in Midyat in the 1840s.1 In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, studies of the Tur Abdin district began to include more detailed information on Midyat’s topography and monuments; notably, Gertrude Bell visited in 1909 and captured photographs of the city’s historical churches (including the medieval ruins of Mar Philoxenos, now heavily restored).2 

    • 1. Badger (1), 54–56.
    • 2. Bell and Mundell Mango 1982, 19–20, 51, and 131, pls. 169–175; see also Socin 1881, 256–258.

    Anschütz, Helga. 1975. “Einige Ortschaften des Tur ‘Abdin im sudösten der Türkei als Beispiele gegenwärtiger und historischer Bedeutung.” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Suppl. 3 (1): 179–193.

    Badger, George Percy. 1852. The Nestorians and Their Rituals. 2 vols. London: J. Masters.

    Bell, Gertrude, and Marlia Mundell Mango. 1982. The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur ‘Abdin. London: Pindar. Reprint, with new preface, notes, and catalogues, of Gertrude Bell’s The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur ‘Abdin (1910) and Churches and Monasteries the Tur ‘Abdin and Neighboring Districts (1913).

    Dalkılıç, Neslihan. 2012. “The Architectural Analysis of Traditional Houses of Midyat-Mardin, Turkey.” International Journal of Academic Research 4 (2): 10–31.

    Hollerweger, Hans, et. al. 1999. Turabdin: Living Cultural Heritage. Linz: Freunde des Tur Abdin.

    Radner, Karen. 2006. “How to Reach the Upper Tigris: The Route through the Tūr ‘Abdīn.” State Archives of Assyria Bulletin 25: 273–305.

    Sinclair, Thomas A. 1989. Eastern Turkey: An Architectural and Archaeological Survey. Vol. 3. London.

    Socin, Albert. 1881. “Zur Geographie des Tur ‘Abdīn.” Zeitschrift für Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft 35: 237–269.

    Takahashi, Hidemi. 2011. “Midyat.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Midyat.

    Yanmaz, Sezin. 2001. “Bir tasarım objesi olarak geleneksel Midyat evi.” Ph.D. Diss., Istanbul Technical University [in Turkish].

    Content Manager
    Matthew Peebles (2020)