Published: October 4th 2011September 17th 2011
Had a nice brekky at the hotel, packed up and waited for Omer. We drove on in to the old part of Midyat where Omer dropped us off for an hour or so of free time. We first wandered into the back streets of the old city, with its ancient, honey-coloured stone houses and narrow alleys, quite similar to Mardin although not as steeply hilly. We came across an old church, but couldn't see inside. A small boy attached himself to us and followed us around, occasionally trying to lead us in particular directions, which we avoided following. He was hoping we'd pay him to be our guide. Shook him off eventually. After the back alleys, we explored some of the old shopping bazaar areas then headed back to the main street and found a lovely little park where we sat and people-watched locals and Turkish tourists going about their business. Once again, not a western tourist in sight.
At the appointed time we met up with Omer and drove out of Midyat to the Morgabriel monastery. This is another still-functioning monastery dating back to AD397. It is on a remote hillside and quite an extensive complex, with gardens and orchards as well as the buildings. We were given a tour by a young man who had been a student and is still living at the monastery. There are about 70 people living here, including the archbishop, three monks, some nuns, some other staff and some families. The young people all go to school in Midyat - apparently they are not permitted to teach here. There is a beautiful church where they regularly run services. We waited around for the 12:00 service, which is conducted in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) or at least Syriac which is a dialect of Aramaic. The service involved the men and boys standing at the front and singing, which with the wonderful acoustics was absolutely beautiful. The monks and the archbishop also did some chanting and other rites. It was all over in 15-20 minutes but definitely worth staying to see. Outside the church the archbishop had parked himself on a bench and chatted for a while to four American visitors. I stood around and listened - interesting to see him chatting amiably. The tourist who did most of the talking was waxing lyrical about how beautiful the refectory was. The archbishop replied that he should see the lavatories! The funny thing was it's true. Jeff, who had disappeared, told me later how amazing the loos were - absolutely five star! Anyway, next thing the archbishop was inviting everyone to join them for tea or lunch. Unfortunately Jeff had wandered off so by the time I found him I didn't think we could go rushing back. They lock the gates before the service so the gatekeeper can attend and then have lunch, so we were stuck there for about another hour. Fortunately Omer had bought some fresh grapes so we sat in the shade and enjoyed those and chatted while we waited.
Back to Midyat for lunch. Omer has a great selection of eateries. In this restaurant I had a delicious aubergine kabob, while Jeff and Omer had some kind of lamb stew. All delicious.
Then it was back on the road and heading north to Hasankeyf. This village is set on the Tigris River in a rocky gorge. Its main attraction is some ancient rock houses. The sad thing is that, as part of the GAP Project, a dam is being built downstream and a lot of the village and its caves etc will end up underwater in a few years.
Our first job was to check out the Hasankeyf Motel and make a decision whether to stay here or go on to Diyarbakir. We had been warned that the hotel was VERY VERY basic, which was very true. It is set right beside the bridge and has a lovely view across the river, but is very run down. The rooms are spartan, as is the shared bathroom - for the women a squat toilet with a busted light (lucky I brought a torch) and the shower also basic. Nevertheless the owner is a friendly chap and the setting lovely so we decided to stay. We were glad we did!
Next we went to check out the sights of Hasankeyf, which involved walking up a narrow street full of shops selling stuff to tourists and cafes. At the end, we came to the gate to enter the tourist site. There were some young men standing around and one approached us, welcomed us and asked if we'd like him to guide us. We decided to take him up on the offer. His name was Mustafa and his English was fairly basic but we got along quite well. We bought our tickets and off we went, with Mustafa pointing out all the key things as we went along, including warning us repeatedly that some parts are too dangerous to enter. It really is quite interesting seeing what was once quite an extensive settlement, all either carved into the rocks or some things built atop the cliffs. There were shops, houses, a couple of castles, and on the cliff opposite was a staircase literally cut into the cliff face and zigzagging its way to the top. It reputedly led to the mint where they kept/made all the coins, but you can see where part of the cliff lower down has fallen away, which means it's definitely no longer in use! We climbed up as far as we could on our side of the gorge, including seeing the back of the second castle, which is fenced up and currently under excavation/restoration. I imagine it's above the future high water mark so worth looking after. In chatting with Mustafa on the way back down, he told us he's only 14 years old - we had guessed 19 or 20. With some fairly good facial hair I'm not sure whether to believe him but guess it probably is true.
We stopped at one of the cafes looking out across the river for a cold peach juice and then wandered back to the hotel. Found Omer, got our luggage out of the car, and then sat out on our balcony (after the owner has splashed a bit of water around - presumably for cooling not cleaning) to gaze at the Tigris, eat grapes and catch up on diary notes. Also had a nice cold Efes (beer). When the sun was getting lower (about 5:30) we decided to go for a walk across the bridge. We could see people fishing from it and also kids swimming in the river. So we walked across, got some good photos looking back at Hasankeyf, went down to the river and dipped our toes in, then wandered back to the hotel for a shower.
Our restaurant for dinner was down below our hotel beside the water. We sat on cushions on a carpeted platform with the river flowing by just metres away. In fact, there are some tables and chairs down in the river, sitting in a few centimeters of flowing water - would be lovely in the heat of the day. We ordered fish and lounged around enjoying the scenery. After dinner, it was back to our room, a bit more diary writing on the balcony and then bed. Being very close to the bridge did not make for the most restful night - when a large truck went by the whole building would shake! Still, it was comfy enough.