Explore Turkey's wonderfully unique southeastern corner, a beautiful and fascinating region steeped in history, culture, and culinary tradition. Bound by two great historic rivers, the Tigris to the east and the Euphrates to the west, the region has been a hub of human civilization since ancient times. The prophet Abraham walked the streets of Harran and Şanlıurfa. Mardin and Midyat house Syriac monasteries where services are still chanted in Aramaic. Mount Nemrut is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the oldest religious structure in the world lies partially excavated on the hill known as Göbeklitepe. Filled with natural beauty and ancient human marvels, southeastern Turkey will capture your imagination.
Hatay (Antioch, Antakya) Archaeology Museum contains one of the world's finest collections of Roman and Byzantine mosaics, covering a period from the first century CE through the fifth century. Many were recovered almost intact from Tarsus or Harbiye (Daphne in ancient times), nine kilometers to the south. Among the museum's highlights are the full-body mosaic of Oceanus and Thetis (second century) and the Buffet Mosaic (third century), with its depictions of dishes of chicken, fish, and eggs.
Partially flooded by the construction of the Biricek Dam on the Euphrates River in 2000, the ancient city of Zeugma was originally founded as a Greek settlement by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, in 300 BCE. In 64 BCE, Zeugma was conquered by the Roman Empire. With the shift to Roman rule, the city grew to become one of the main attractions in the region due to its commercially strategic location on the Euphrates.
En route to the utterly unique and must-see spot that is Mount Nemrut, three sights demand a close look, two of them closely connected with the Commagene dynasty (third century BCE through first century CE) that constructed the giant temple and tomb atop Nemrut. Karakuş Tümülüs, built in 36 BCE, is a burial monument for the Commagene royal women.
Nemrut Daǧı or Mount Nemrut—2,134 meters (7,001 feet) high and located outside the town of Kahta—is one of the oddest and most spectacular sights in southeastern Turkey and simply not to be missed. Essentially an enormous necropolis and one of the most ambitious construction projects of the Hellenistic period, the summit was created when a megalomaniacal pre-Roman local king cut two ledges in the rock, filled them with colossal statues of himself and the gods (his relatives, or so he thought), then ordered an artificial mountain peak of crushed rock fifty meters high to be piled between them. The king's tomb and those of three female relatives are reputed to lie beneath those tons of rock.
Şanlıurfa (Urfa) is an important spiritual center and place of pilgrimage. Guarded by a sprawling, ancient citadel, the winding lanes of Urfa's sixteenth-century bazaar host spice stalls, stonecutters, and meticulous carpet-weavers using antique keçecilik looms. In the jumble of streets you'll also find everything from sheepskins and pigeons to jeans and handmade shoes. According to both the Bible and the Qur’an, Urfa was the birthplace of Abraham.
The Mardin Museum houses a fantastic archeological collection, with pottery, seals, coins, lamps, figurines, teardrop bottles, and jewelry dating from the Bronze Age through the Ottoman Empire. Mardin is also home to several historically significant mosques, monasteries, churches, tombs, castles, and madrasahs, and you will be amazed at the city’s rich history and magnificence.
Full of heart, soul, and character, Diyarbakır (known as Amida in ancient times) is the largest city in southeastern Turkey and an important Kurdish center. Behind its ancient basalt walls, the old city's twisting alleyways are crammed full of historical buildings and Arab-style mosques. The city dates back many thousands of years, and has been home to Assyrians, Macedonians, Armenians, and then three kingdoms: Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Cosmopolitan to its core, many remnants of these great civilizations are fully on display.