Southeastern Turkey

Southeastern Turkey is the northern extension of the Syrian plain (map), which means it’s hot and flat.

Unlike most of Eastern Turkey, the southeast is not mountainous, but rather an arid plateau at around 600 meters (2000 feet) elevation. The region is more or less bounded by those great historic rivers, the Tigris (Dicle)to the east and the Euphrates (Fırat) to the west (maps). Many of the people here are Turkish citizens of Kurdish descent.

The region was a crossroads of civilizations in Biblical times, and even earlier. The Patriarch Abraham lived for a time in Harran, south of Şanlıurfa.

To the crusaders, Şanlıurfa was the Latin County of EdessaMardin and Midyat have Syriac monasteries where services are still chanted in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The land can be fertile if irrigated, which is why the Turkish government has invested decades of work and trillions of Turkish liras in the Southeast Anatolia Project. This mammoth public-works endeavor, known by its Turkish initials as GAP, has brought dozens of dams and hundreds of kilometers of aqueducts to the region, hugely increasing its capacity for raising crops and supplying electricity. This once poor region is beginning to show the results of huge long-term investment.

The best times to visit are spring (MarchAprilMayand autumn (OctoberNovember). In JulyAugust and September the sun blazes, and there’s rarely a cloud. In winter it can be chilly. More…

Here’s what to see and do:

Diyarbakır

With its mighty black basalt walls looming over the fertile banks of the Tigris, Diyarbakır is dramatic, not to mention historic. The walled city still retains much of its medieval air, not to mention its street pattern. Many citizens are KurdishMore…

Gaziantep

Business and finance capital of the southeast, Antep is known for its pistachios and the baklava made from them. Although it’s a very old city, only a few bits of its antiquity remain. More…

Göbekli Tepe

The oldest religious site known to humans, an 11,000-year-old temple complex, was discovered near ŞanlıurfaIf you have any interest in history or archeology, you simply have to visit it. Archeologists say “It changes everything.” More…

Harran

An astounding sight: a warren of beehive-like mud houses rising from the Syrian plain. Harran looks like it has been here forever—and it has; ever since the Book of Genesis, at least. More…

Kahramanmaraş

Yet another ancient town, now grown into a modern citywith little to show for its long past. Kahramanmaraş (KAHH-rah-MAHN-mah-RAHSH, or simply Maraş), has decent hotels if you need a place to stop. It’s famous for its ice cream, so thick with binder that you can hang it on a hook for display. More…

Mardin

Perched at the edge of a plateau looking out over the Syrian plain, Mardin has several impressive oldish buildings (1300s and later), but the Assyrian monasteries around Midyat in the Tur Abdin region to the east are far older, some dating from the 5th century. More…

Nemrut Dağı

Because it’s up in the mountains rather than on the plain, Nemrut DağıAdıyamanKâhta and Malatya belong more to Eastern Turkey than to the Southeast. But Nemrut Dağı, the mountain and its colossal statues, are easily accessible from the cities of the Southeast, so you may want to combine visits to them. More…

Şanlıurfa

Urfa, as it’s commonly called, has a rock promontory at its center crowned with an ancient fortress. At its foot is a sacred pool and the reputed birthplace of the Patriarch Abraham. It’s a popular place of pilgrimage for Muslims, with a fascinating bazaar and a few fine old buildings. It’s also the best base for visits to nearbyHarran and the world’s oldest known religious site at Göbekli Tepe. More…

—by Tom Brosnahan


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