The city is well-known for its traditional Mardin houses that are part of the general texture of the city. Because of its historical architecture of these traditional houses, the old city itself has become an open air museum. All buildings- be it Madrasah, church, mosque, house, fountain, bazaar and street- everything in the city showcase an incredibly sophisticated style of Arabesque(Islamic Art) stone craving. When in Mardin, it is absolutely important to visit all the traditional houses. One will be surprised to see how each house has a rich and heavily decorated stonework.
I always wanted to visit Mardin, just by listening my grandfather's stories when he talked about how Ataturk had visited and stayed at our house, how the whole city would sleep on their roof tops, how fashion was a big thing, how he learned all his dancing skills there (cha-cha, salsa, charleston...etc) and that there were 5 or so cinemas in Mardin in the 40s...
After loosing my grandfather this past year, it became more and more clear to me that I had to see, smell and be in this place where he walked, lived and danced. We bought a one way ticket and went...I'll try to describe this weirdly surreal journey that lead us to extend our stay 3 times.
The cultural assets of Mardin are well-known, not the least of which is the local cuisine. Mardin cuisine reflects the lifestyle and climate of the region, and makes ample use of local ingredients. Like the rest of Southern and Eastern Anatolian cuisine, Mardin fare is spicy, cooked with plenty of oil, and largely meat-based. One of the things that I found interesting was that they use those big knives to make ground meat for the kebabs
These are among so many other absolutely incredible kids in Mardin. They are super cute, yes, but what makes them very interesting is that they are your local guides on foot. They know history, stories, tales, direction and follow you everywhere with their stories. Their only motivation in this is a small bit of money and they deserve it. You just need to have the patience and time for them to do their thing.
Pigeon breeding is a hobby that is very popular in various parts of Turkey. The most special species are somersaulting pigeons, which have come to symbolize Mardin. Somersaulting pigeons should not be overlooked. When the sun starts coming down and that golden hour hits Mardin, many homes start releasing their birds in to the sky. Having these talented birds is almost a status symbol in Mardin as some pairs sell as expensive as a car. Among the other things that are occupying the skies are kites. Small or large there are a bunch of kites soaring in the skies at all times.
After settling at the hotel, I didn't want to lose time and wonder around. It was getting close to sunset and I wanted to find my grand grand father's house. When my mom visited Mardin 8 years ago for the first time, she found his house but she could not locate it again that day, so we kept going up in to the hills thru narrow streets of Mardin, passing hundreds of houses along the way.
As we were walking down a street, a head pops out and says...
I said, yes, it's beautiful but we are looking for our grand father's house. He asked who that was. Rifat Emin Guven was his name. He look out to the distance and and remembered so many things. I asked him to let us up to his home to chat, he opened his door to us.
We spent over half an hour listening to this man talk about our family and his relationship with my grandfather. So sharp, so emotional. I don't know if I will ever see this man again but it was so random and so powerful that I am not sure if I can take it again.
We left and kept our journey downhill this time. Nothing happened to top this story that day, only some more beautiful views.
We took a short trip to a village 30 mins outside of Mardin toward Savur to visit Sultan. She spent her life with my grandfather's sister as her nanny, helped raise her children in Ankara for decades. She happened to be in Mardin for cherry picking on the outskirts of her home village. She greeted us with lots of smiles and cherries.
As monotone as these homes look from the outside they are uniquely decorated in vibrant colors in the inside.
From here it was time to go back to Mardin to meet with Mesut Alp.
A dear friend of mine - who is from Istanbul, living in Los Angeles, a successful lawyer and an incredible artist - became fascinated with Mardin and went back to it every year for many years and developed some close friendships with a number of locals there. Knowing my roots and growing interest in Mardin, she and I have had long conversations during the past year about Mardin, art and culture in Mardin etc.. In all of her stories a few of her friends from there kept up coming up (Mesut Alp, Döne Otyam, Hakan Irmak, Ibrahim...etc.), but most significantly it was Mesut Alp. I heard about him so much that it was a must to meet and get to know this person. It did not take too long to understand why.
Mardin Biennial aims to bring contemporary art from Turkey’s west to its east; to enliven Mardin’s already enriching geography furthermore with artists, academicians, students and diverse communities; to create a new platform of dialogue; to add new dimension to the notion of the “center” and to place Mardin in a unique position through series of exhibitions.
"This was by far the most un-real art show I have ever been to. Taking over the whole city, Mardin Biennial hosted artists from all over the world. Seeing these artists works in a city that is on its own a piece of art blew our minds away."
Curated by: Done Otyam, Mesut Alp and Hakan Irmak.
The Biennial is supported by the Turkish Republic Ministry of Development Southeastern Anatolia Project Regional Developments Administration, Governorship of Mardin, and Promotion Fund of the Prime Ministry and Mardin Municipality.