How I love pleasant surprises. When thinking about Southeast Turkey civilizations like Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Byzantine and Ottomans spring to mind but not necessarily Romans. How wrong a person can be. Thanks to my driver who took me to Mardin and surroundings, I discovered Dara, located approx. 60 miles to the south in northern Mesopotamia.
The drive alone was a great experience for me because it allowed me for the first time to literally set foot on the soil of the great biblical plain of Mesopotamia, images of thousands of years of history and culture floating around in my fertile mind. Sometimes, in very ancient places, I get these moments when time becomes totally meaningless and I could stand or sit in the same spot for hours, just dreaming.
But Yussuf, the driver, had other ideas and though he was happy to stop where I wanted and to snap some pictures with an ‘Inka in Mesopotamia’ theme, we were after all, headed for Dara. And, as I was paying him by the hour, it could have become a very costly dream.
Dara was an East Roman fortress city located in an extremely important strategic place in the conflict between to Romans and the Persians in the 6th century. Hence the city was reinforced several times with one wall after another and it’s here that the famous battle of Dara was fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Persians in 530. The Romans won against all odds, but their victory was rather short-lived.
Commander Belisarius let too many Persians escape and the victory was reversed in another battle of Dara in 604, when the Persians won and destroyed the city. Backwards and forwards it went, until Dara was captured by the Arabs in 639 after which it lost its importance.
The Byzantine emperor Justinian who ruled from 527 to 565 was responsible for the fortifications of the city and a good part of the ancient city walls can still be seen today.
(Picture from wikipedia)
However, what makes Dara special and such a worthwhile place to visit are two things: a massive and vast necropolis for the kings and their families, a Roam necropolis being a totally unexpected sight in Turkey.
The second is an incredible feat of the engineers of Justinian: they diverted the river Cordes and constructed an underground cistern of huge proportions. I had so far only admired the Basilica cistern in Istanbul but this one impressed me even more.
As I have mentioned in my previous posts about Southeast Turkey, this is a part of the country rarely visited by tourists. So, I had the necropolis and the cistern all to myself, there is just one cozy café where you can sit on cushions on the floor Middle Eastern style and enjoy coffee or tea, buy a few books and other trinkets and that’s about all which caters to the trickle of visitors who find their way here.