Diyarbakir Guide

     Locals like to call their city “the Paris of the East,” and claim its massive black basalt walls as second only to the Great Wall of Chine in length, breadth and height. Both erroneous claims should be discounted the city of Diyarbakir seems given hyperbole. But no visit to Turkey is complete without a visit to this ancient, walled city on the Tigris.

Known is classical times as Amidiya, the city was annexed by Rome in A.D. 297, and became an essential part of the line of defense between the Roman and Parthian/Sassanian empires of persia. It should be noted that in the (unsuccessful) siege of A.D. 359, the Persian, Shapur I, was aided by the proto-Turk Chionites, making their debut on the Anatolian stage. Ceded to the Persians after Julian the Apostate’s ill-fated campaign down the walls were breached by the Muslim armies of Khalid Ibn Walid (the Sword of  Islam) in A.D. 639 during the first great expansion of Islam. The city takes it’s current name from the Arab clan of Baqr, which was granted the town and it’s hinterland, dubbing it the “abode of the Baqr”, or Diyarbakir.
     The walls:Stretching for some three miles (five km) around the old city, and once possessing 82 defensive towers, the great walls of diyarbakır were first built during the reign of Constantinus and restored repeatedly, most notably by Emperor Justinian, as well as by the Seljuk prince of Isfahan, Malik shah. The main entrance to the old town on the north is the Harput Gate. Once known as the Bab al Arman or Gate is in good condition, with several inscriptions in Greek and Arabic.

      Entering the gate from the new town, a road to the west leads by the walls to the Urfa Gate, and beyond that, the Ulu Beden, where one has access to the top of the walls through passages which, unhappily, double as public toilets. With courage and a few goat-like leaps, one can continue nearly as far as the Mardin Gate to the south, overlooking the vast, festering slum of Ben-u-Sen outside the city. The walls, though battered by sundry armies throughout history, are in remarkably good shape in places, replete with inscriptions, geometrical and anima designs. From the basalt walls of the city, one can view the Tigris River ( Dicle in Turkish) meander along a valley east of the city. Some of the the biggest watermelons of the Middle East are grown along the river.

     For the adventurous only:Among its other charms, Diyarbakir also boasts one of Turkey’s rawest legal whorehouse districts, and a trip from the citadel gate via phaeton or horse-drawn carriage has a certain amusement value for those who crave the bizarre and reckless.Just announce the Genelev as your destination and a 10-year-old brute will settle you into a fly-infested carriage before mercifully cracking the whip to stir the air inside the claustrophobic cabin. The wooden spokes creak, the ill-oiled axles groan and the team of scrawny geldings squeal as the coach begins to crunch and bounce over streets which have never knows repair. The ride can be likened to galloping through the ill-fit, foggy back-streets of London’s Soho district in 1840, and should not be missed.
The whorehouse district itself seems nearly sedate and well-kept after the drive through the ghetto. The talent comes in various shapes and sizes, ranging from the fallen darlings to toothless, old hags. All, however, have the deadened look in the eyes of the souls of those who know they have hit the rock-bottom. A visit here costs about $5 and lasts that long.
For those who prefer to pay more for mere titillation, Diyarbakir alson boasts a few nightclubs or gazino north of town which can be warned that the girls working the bars are paid by the drinks they manage to get a customer to buy them.
Mosques, mosques and more mosques: The most distinctive of the town’s 22 older mosques (not counting the more intimate mescit or prayer rooms) is the Ulu Cami or Grand Mosque, the oldest place of Muslim worship in Anatolia. It is about halfway down Izzet Paşa Caddesi, Diyarbakir’s main drag, between the Harput and Mardin Gates on the north-south axis. Originally, the structure was not built as a mosque at all, but as the primary Syriac cathedral named Mar Touma or St.Thomas, until Diyarbakir was conquered by the Muslims, after which the church was converted into a mosque.

Similar in design to the, admittedly, much grander Umayyad Mosque in Damascus ( acity that Diyarbakir closely resembles), the Ulu Cami is packed with the pious on Friday for prayers-a good time to visit if one is not bashful. The mosque itself is built on the courtyard plan familiar to mosque in Arabia as opposed to the covered and domed mosque of the rest of Turkey. Note the fountain in the middle of the courtyard used for ritual washing before prayers, as well as the wildly different Corinthian columns at the back of the courtyard.
Up and down Izzet Pasha, one encounters dozens ıf buildings-either mosques, medreses or caravansaries- that alternating black and white stone blocks- giving the town a decidedly checkerboard look. The first of these structures is the Peygamber Camii or Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad, so named due to the vocal calisthenics of a 16th-century muezzin ( the one who calls the faitful to prayer from atop a minaret ), whose plaintive invocation of the Prophet’s name kept the neighbors awake. It was, in fact, built by Kasap Hajji Hüseyin (“The Butcher”) in 1530. Opposite the mosque, towards the left, is one of the major east-west axis in town, on which the popular Demir Hotel is located.
     And the end of the street is the entrance to the citadel or Iç Kale, and at the entrance of which is another checkerboard mosque, known variously as the Citadel Mosque, the Nasiriye Mosque and the Mosque of St.Süleyman. It was built in 1155 by Abu al-Qassim Ali in honor of the 24 early Muslim martyrs who first breached the walls during