Mardin City Museum : Mardin is a poem
Mardin City Museum
The sound of adhan mixes with those of the bells; pigeons flap on the roofs of stone houses. We have closed our eyes and listen to Mardin, the fabulous city, where the time, so to say, stops on its streets.
No one can describe a city better than a person who was born and who grew there. Those who lived there know its morning frost, evening winds, side streets and hills best. For instance, Murathan Mungan, the poet and author who was born in Mardin, describes the city as follows: Cities have a different meaning for everyone. The city where one lives shapes one. For example, the architecture in Mardin trained my eyes. I conveyed the shadow of the light inside myself. Maybe, you do not see that light and shadow while reading my poem, but the light and shadow that brought that poem into existence had drained from Mardin. As Mungan has brilliantly expressed, perhaps, Mardin is a poem.
Indeed, Mardin is Southeastern Anatolia’s one of the poetic cities, which gives the impression that the time has stopped, with its archi-tectural, ethnographic, archaeological, historical and visual assets. Mosques, tombs, churches, monasteries and caravanserais are located at the centers of daily life. Thus, people see many historical buildings at any time, live in their shadow, and witness historical and cultural values everywhere and at any time.
This is a multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural city. This is the main source of its wealth. It has been inhabited since 4500 BC. It hosted Subarians, Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Mitannians, Assyrians, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Artuqids and Ottomans. Therefore, there is a very rich cultural heritage in the city.
The most important ones are the ‘Nomadic Gravestones’. The grave-stones found in the Cizre region are very important in terms of repre-senting the influences of the Central Asian Moorland culture, a pastoral culture strongly connected with the natural and rural life. There are many animal pictures on the gravestones. The stones belong to the 11th-14th centuries.
Statues of the cult of the dead are situated near Kızıltepe. These statues, which provide important information on the Mesopotamian culture and faith, supposedly were placed into burial chambers and at the entrances of palaces. These are considered protectors of the under-world, and they represent the Assyrians’ ancestors who accept offerings during religious rituals.
The first known title deed as well had been found in the territory of Mar-din. This document, which is a contract of sale and title deed belonging to the Assyrian Period (7th century) unearthed during excavations at the Girnavaz Mound, Nusaybin, indicates the power of the Assyrian central authority and the development level of the socio-economic structure of the region.
Kırklar (Mor Behnam) Church, Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana) Church, Ulu (Grand) Mosque, Revaklı Bazaar, Kasimiye Medrese, the Old Post Of-fice Building and the ancient city of Dara as well are among the places that must be seen.
However, the most important ones are Mardin’s labyrinth-like streets full of stone houses. The houses, which overlook the Mesopotamian plain from a hill, are nested and form rows. The windows, doors and doorknockers are decorated. Even the roofs are uproarious. The people sleep on the roofs during hot nights with plenty of stars, and dry their foodstuff on the roofs. The streets are very nar-row. Two people cannot walk side by side, let alone a car. Thus, Mardin’s streets are like hidden passages with great surprises. Here, everyone walks slowly and silently, without hurrying or raising one’s voice. The best thing to do is to get lost in Mardin’s streets. Lean against the stones, which are ice-cold in summer and warm in winter, and listen to the sounds of the city.
Mardin is an open-air museum on its own, but one must visit the Mardin Museum and the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum to understand the historical and cultural importance of the city.
The building that houses the Mardin Museum is in fact a monastery building. Accord-ing to the inscription in the covered portal of the Virgin Mary Church, which is adjacent to the eastern side of the building, facing the museum, the building was built as the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate, by Antakya Patriarch Ignatios Behnam Banni, in 1895.
Since 1995, it serves as a museum. Ceramics, seals and cylinder seals, coins, candles, figurines, unguentaria, ornaments and vases belonging to the Early Bronze, Intermediary Bronze, Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages and to the Assyrian, Urartian, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, Artuqid and Ottoman Periods are exhibited at the Mardin Museum.
While visiting this museum, you can recognize the high development level of silversmithing, one of the most important cultural heritages in Mardin. Not only distinguished examples of silversmithing, peculiar to the Midyat District in particular, such as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, frontlets and hair accessories, but also old dresses, swords, cof-fee (mırra) sets, bath accessories, prayer beads, heating equipments and copperware are exhibited. This museum preserves the traditional values of Mardin, and presents them to the next generations. Additionally, there is a laboratory inside the museum, where artifacts made of gold, silver and ceramic materials are restored. All scientific analyses are conducted here, and the artifacts are repaired in situ.
One of the most remarkable components of the museum collection is the Sürekli Hoard unearthed during rescue excavations at the Sürekli Village, Kızıltepe. The hoard includes gold and silver artifacts dating from the 9th-14th centuries and belonging to many civilizations such as those of the Ayyubids, Byzantines, Zengids, Ilkhanids and Jalayirs.
The Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum reflects the modern aspects of Mardin. The building of the museum had been used as Cavalry Bar-racks at first and as the Tax Office Building later. The two-storey build-ing, the ownership of which was transferred to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and which is under protection, has been restored by the Sabancı Foundation and converted into a museum and art gallery.
After the completion of the restoration of the historical building located in the city center, the museum that was to be housed on the upper floor was named “Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum”, in accordance with Sakıp Sabancı’s will. The gallery established on the lower floor was named “Dilek Sabancı Art Gallery”, for, Dilek Sabancı provided financial support as well as Sakıp Sabancı, and it was inaugurated on October 1, 2009.
The museum aims at contributing to the promotion of the historical culture of Mardin accumulated in the course of centuries. The narrow and long space arranged as a city museum consists of display units allowing a lengthwise walk. The main principle of design is reflecting original as-pects of the identity of the city. Therefore, the niches in the building have been designed as units containing ‘handicraft’ products.
The city has a Biennial now
The 2nd Mardin Biennial, supported by the GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Project) Administration, Mardin Governorship and the Promotion Fund of the Prime Ministry, directed by Döne Otyam, and advised by Ayşegül Sönmez, was held be-tween September 21 and 23. This year’s biennial was curated by Paolo Colombo, curator of the 6th İstanbul Biennial, and by Lora Sarıaslan, and the works of artists such as Fikret Atay, Sami Baydar, Edy Ferguson, Mona Hatoum, Hrair Sarkissian, Murat Şahinler, Shahzia Sikander and Pae White were featured.
The biennial chose various places used by the inhabitants of Mardin during their daily lives, including historical buildings, barber shops, cof-fee houses and the outdoor cinema, which would not be visited and experienced by any traveler under normal conditions, and presented them as exhibition areas to the 30 artists.
This is not a museum that only ‘displays’ some things to its visitors. It fits the liveliness and cultural activeness of Mardin. The Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum considers the participation of the people very important, and therefore, it organizes workshops, encourages the res-toration of the neighboring buildings, and presents the contemporary to the people by bringing the works of modern artists to the museum. Mardin reportedly has become an active city of culture and arts, since the opening of the museum. Local people say that a vivid lifestyle developed around the museum, and that the nightlife was continuing until late hours. NGOs as well kept pace with the change, and imple-mented projects such as the local Mardin soap workshop, the telkari (filigree) workshop and the Mardin cuisine workshop supported by the EU.
The governorship and the municipality do their best for the inclusion of Mardin, which is on the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, on the permanent list. 700 buildings will be broken down to make Mardin appear as it was 500 years before, and after the comple-tion of the project, the city will be proposed for addition to the World Heritage Sites list with its appearance of a Medieval city.