Valley of the Tigris River seen from the eastern walls of Diyarbakir
Ourfa is about three days journey from Diarbeck, which is situated on the Tigris; (..) it gives the name of the Diarbeckier to all this country: The Tigris is navigable
from Diarbeck to Mousul, said to be the antient Nineveh; from that
city to Bagdat they carry on the navigation with floats of timber tied
together on skins of sheep and goats filled with wind; the goods which
they carry are mostly hemp, soap, coarse callicoes, which they weave and
print there, and Turkey leather, especially the yellow sort, which they
make in great perfection. (..) I was informed, that the country towards Diarbeck is all mountainous or rocky, notwithstanding which it produces excellent grapes and wine, and a great number of pistachio trees, which grow wild. (..) Many Curdeens live very honestly here as well
as in Syria, and cultivate the land; in summer they remove to some place at a distance from their villages, and live under tents, generally
in a place retired from the road, that they may be free from the injuries
of the soldiery, and the people of the pasha, who often take away their
children by force for the war: We always met with a kind reception
from them, when they knew they had nothing to fear from us.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
It stands upon the high crest of the Tigris bank, a great fenced city built of basalt - "black are the dogs and black the walls and black the hearts of black Amid," says the proverb. Since the days when Ammianus Marcellinus took part in the desperate resistance to Sapor, and watched from the towers of Amida the Persian hosts "collected for the conflagration of the Roman world," the din of battle has never been far from Diyarbekr. The town passed to and fro between the Byzantine and the Sassanian. Constantius fortified it and lost it to Sapor; Anastasius recaptured it and lost it to Kobad and won it back; Justinian rebuilt the fortifications, but it fell with Mesopotamia to the Moslem invaders. The Kurdish Marwands made it their capital, and after them the Turkman Ortukids; Timur burst through the famous walls and put the inhabitants to the sword, and finally the Turk conquered it in a.d. 1515 and holds it still. But there is no peace for the lawless capital of Kurdistan.
Gertrude Lowthian Bell - Amurath to Amurath - 1911
Diyarbakir is located on the right (western) bank of the Tigris (Turk. Dicle) in Upper Mesopotamia. The river is still a relatively minor stream, but it carries enough water for the navigation of small boats and for the irrigation of a strip of land along its course. The soil is very fertile owing to its volcanic origin.
I spent a day
upon the walls, which are as fine an example of medieval
fortification as any that exists. (..) We walked to the Mardin Gate along the
chemin de ronde, a fine course, lifted high above the close air
of the city and swept by the breezes that come down from
Taurus. Near the Mardin Gate the chemin de ronde
is for some distance vaulted over and lighted only by small
loop-hole windows on the inner side. Bell
Kara in Turkish means black and karaca blackish; Karacadag (the blackish mountain) is the now extinct volcano near Diyarbakir which (while active) erupted the layer of basalt rock which was used in the construction of the city walls.
Interior of the walls: (left) steps allowing easy access to the upper part of the walls; (right) vault built with thin bricks
All the arches and domes
in the interior of the towers are of brick. Bell
The basalt stones which characterize the walls of Diyarbakir are only the outer surface of an elaborate brickwork structure which included barracks and storage rooms. The walls were initially built in the IVth century AD and they have been modified several times; the original Roman sections can be identified by the presence of layers of thin bricks (see a page on Roman construction techniques).
Towers near the river and near Urfa Kapisi
The north wall with its round
towers is perfectly preserved; even the domed chambers inside the towers, together with the stairs that gave access to
the chemin de ronde, are intact. Bell
The towers of the walls of ancient Rome (see those between Porta S. Lorenzo and Porta Maggiore) and Costantinopole (see those near Top Kapi) were usually square, round towers being generally limited to those which flanked a gate; many towers of Diyarbakir are round and this is an indication that they were built at a later period.
(left) Tower near Urfa Kapisi which was strengthened with sections of columns; (right) relief of a sphinx in its lower part
The XVth century saw the development of cannon in Europe; the Ottomans with the help of Hungarian technicians used very effective artillery in the 1453 conquest of Constantinople; the Ottomans defeated the Safavids and the Mamelukes in the early XVIth century thanks to their technological edge in gunpowder weaponry. The strengthening of some Diyarbakir towers with slices of columns was done by the Ottomans after the town became part of their empire.
The walls hang, upon the south
and south-east sides, high over the Tigris - it was from this
direction that Sapor's troops effected an entry through a
hollow passage that led down to the water's edge. Bell
The eastern walls of Diyarbakir overlooked the river; they were easily defensible, because they stood on a cliff. It was necessary however to control all the high ground near the river bank so that the enemy was always kept in a difficult position; for this reason in the XIth century a long bastion was built at the south-eastern corner of the walls. It is called the goat bastion because only goats could manage to climb the cliff upon which it was built.
Southern walls with on the left Ulu Beden (Great Wall)
south-west the walls crown a slope set thick with gardens of
mulberry and vine. Bell
Sir Keppel Archibald Cameron Creswell visited Diyarbakir in the 1920s; he was an expert in Islamic architecture and he left an account of his visit: he so described the southern section of the walls:
The wall follows the edge of a deep ravine full of orchards. In following this ravine the wall comes forward, retreats, and then comes forward again, forming as it were two horns; the tip of each horn is defended by a most magnificent tower.
Today the orchards have been replaced by a miserable slum where a foreigner ventures with some fear and comes back feeling compassion for the hardship he saw.
Between the Aleppo Gate and the Mardin
Gate stand two huge round towers, larger than any others
and later in date. Bell
The two magnificent towers are Ulu Beden and Yedi Kardes Burcu. They were built in 1208; at that time Diyarbakir was part of an emirate ruled by the Artukids, a dynasty founded by members of the Turkish tribes who invaded the region at the end of the XIth century. The Artukid territories were divided into three small states; the main one included Mardin and Diyarbakir, a second one was located farther to the east and a third one was centred in Harput.
The tower is almost encircled by a monumental inscription in Kufic script. The central part of the inscription is surrounded by reliefs: at the top there is a double-headed eagle, a symbol of power which the Artukids shared with the Seljuks (and with the Byzantine, Austrian and Russian emperors). Two sphinxes and two bulls complete the decoration. The image used as background for this page shows another relief which is placed at the very end of the inscription central line.
Yedi Kardes Burcu (Seven Brothers Tower) and next to it Nur Burcu (Light Tower)
The second large tower is located near Mardin Gate; the photo was taken from the old road which linked Diyarbakir with Mardin; this tower and Ulu Beden constituted an actual improvement of the fortifications; their size made them visible from the main road of the country so that they fulfilled also the second objective of celebrating the Artukid rulers.
Yedi Kardes Burcu: reliefs (see also those at Silvan)
The decoration of Yedi Kardes Burcu is similar to that of Ulu Beden. The two towers did not help the Artukids in retaining power; a few years after their completion waves of invaders moved into the Artukid states: first Khwarezmian warriors (see a page on Khiva, a town in Khorezm) devastated the country and after them the Mongols imposed their rule over Upper Mesopotamia.
Nur Burcu: relief
Nur Burcu is situated next to Yedi Kardes Burcu but its decoration dates from an earlier period (1089); it is interesting to note that it focuses on horses, rather than sphinxes, lions and bulls. The Turkish warriors who invaded Anatolia and Upper Mesopotamia in the late XIth century were very able horsemen and they made use of advanced saddles and stirrups which contributed to their victories.
Go to page two - the gates or to page three - Ulu Cami or to page four - other monuments or move to:
Silvan and Malabadi Koprusu