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Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex and Mor Yakup (Saint Jacob) Church

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Southeastern Anatolia Region, Province of Mardin
Ref.: 5901

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This proposed nomination includes Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex and Mor Yakup Church, exceptional testimonies of coexistence of different religions for centuries in Nusaybin (ancient Nisibis) town of Mardin province (southeast Turkey). Mor Yakup Church is situated just 100 meters east side of Zeynel Abidin Mosque, and both buildings lie about 250 meters to the Syrian border.

Mor Yakup Church:

This church dedicated to Mor Yakup, a prominent Assyrian saint, who was born in Nisibis (now Nusaybin), and was brought up there. He was appointed to bishop of Nisibis with the decision of Episcopal congress, collected in Virgin Mary Church in Diyarbakır, in 309. He began to found city’s cathedral in 313 in Nisibis, the major commercial and political centre in East Roman Empire and the border of Roman and Persian Empires. He and his student Mor Afrem (Saint Ephrem), a great ascetic, teacher and hymn writer, were present at the First Council of Nicaea (modern İznik province in Turkey) in 325. After returned to Nusaybin, they started to build the Nisibis School where theology, philosophy, logic, literature, geometry, astronomy, medicine and law education was given. This school was founded on the ruins of the school dating back to the paganism and Mor Yakup contributed to the spread of Christianity in Mesopotamia through the students who were educated at there.

The present main church, one of the oldest religious structures of upper Mesopotamia, consists of two parts. The southern part of the building is divided into two separate parts with two opposing buttresses. In the east, there is a square place, which has 7 meter in width and length and northern and southern walls of it have two doorways. Furthermore, eastward wall has one apse. At the west side of the place, one arch opening to the second section of west is placed. The most striking feature of the east side of this place is wall decorations. There is a continuing frieze on the door’s mitigation arches, on the apses and on the western arch. In addition, another frieze was designed on the apse’s niche.

Buttresses, dividing the southern part, have Corinthian helmets except of sides that face to the west. There are door openings on north and south walls of the west place, and upper part of these openings was decorated with arches with excellent ornaments, which could be seen on east part of the doors. Middle buttresses end up quite close to one of the doors of the west place and give an impression that they were added later. Inside ornaments are quite remarkable as early and deep processing examples of decorations, which were used to 5th and 6th centuries in the northern Mesopotamia. In this respect, it could be dated back to 4th century. West side of buttresses could probably be constructed later period.

Eight of the door openings at the northern and southern walls have noticeable decorations. Relieving arches, resembling a horseshoe, on the door openings and pillars are covered with ornaments. Greek inscription takes place on the middle frieze of the south frontier of the church and said that “This baptistery was built with the contribution of priest Akepsyma in 571 (359/360), when Volagesus was metropolitan. Let them be remembered before God”. For this reason, this inscription is quite significant to become the first inscription mentioning word of “baptistery”.

Other constitutional elements that exist above and below the southern structure should be emphasized. A dome with an inscription, covering eastern square room, is dated to 1872. In addition, a chamber locating on the western side is known to be built in the same year. Below the eastern square chamber, capsule form crypt takes part and it has a sarcophagus, which is believed to belong to Mor Yakup.

The second part of the baptistery is a northern section which was built by using the north wall of the south section. Compared to the southern part, northern part’s length is equal to the southern part but its width is 9,5 meters, which is wider than southern section. In this section, a few structural levels can be observed. Ornaments of the apse of the eastern wall are similar to the apse of the northern structure. Northern wall of the church and western section’s door traces denoted that they were constructed in early stages. In the south direction, buttresses, resting against the north wall of the south section and closing magnificent figures of the doors, are present. Near the middle of this part, two buttresses are placed and these carry the church’s roof with buttresses of the south wall. Method of construction pointed out that these were built in 8th century. Similar buttresses are common features that can be observed in many churches in Tur Abdin, a hilly region in upper Mesopotamia. In front of the south part, there is a platform where the third nave was erected on it. Determined mosaic base on this platform was covered for protection purpose. Thus, this structure is a church converted from a baptistery.

Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex:

Complex consists of mosque, minaret, and shrines of both Zeynel Abidin and his sister Sitti Zeynep -13th generation grandchild of the Prophet Muhammad- fountains, chambers of madrasah, graveyard and new apteshane. According to an epigraph on shrines, construction date of this complex goes back to 12th century.

The Mosque Complex, having -L- plan, was constructed with rough stones and has an open yard with a garden. The minaret on the east side of the yard was built in 1956. The mosque, owning north entrance, has a square plan “harim”, covering with cross vault supported with thick pillars. “Mihrab” and “minbar” of the mosque are new parts. Building was renovated later periods and ladies worship was added on the community section. Based on the inscription in the madrasa, “masjid” was expanded and converted to the mosque. Indeed, renovation epigraph stated that expansions were made with structural adding to the madrasah in 1891.

At southwest corner of the mosque, dome covered square place has shrines of Zeynel Abidin and Sitti Zeynep. These tombs are dome type cists and blanket with green cover on which verses of the Koran exists. Epigraph on the door of the shrine indicated that this building was constructed in 1159. In addition, renovation epigraph found on the facade of the Sitti Zeynep’s shrine has a date of 1821.

Western part of the complex, which was once a madrasah, today, is available for visiting of shrines, and also part of it is used for Koran courses. While north portion of the yard is covered with garden, west side has “şadırvan” (fountain), used for performing ablution. There is rather large cemetery in the eastern and western facades of the mosque and in the eastern side, cemetery has decorated, turbaned, stone type graves, belonging sheikhs of Tayyi Tibe and dating back to 19th century late Ottoman era.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Mor Yakup Church and Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex, bearing the traces of different religions, artistic, political and cultural heritages, are two significant religious buildings that have survived to present day in a holistic manner. In fact, beside their religious functions, both of these properties have served as centres of education and science since they were built. Mor Yakup Church with a school building, known through archaeological remains and written sources, in its premises and Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex, with a madrasah situated within its boundaries, became significant centres in field of education and science in their period. At the same time, due to the tombs in these structures belonging to the important individuals in the Islam and the Christian faith, both properties are important destinations for the residents of the city and region as well as for the members of both religions from all over the world. By sharing a historical period and a common destiny, these two structures, as evidence for presence of different religions, languages and cultures, enrich human history and culture. According to Syriac sources, the money required for the construction of Zeynel Abidin Mosque was given by two Christian priests with the idea of spending money on the way to God. In addition, Ottoman period records indicated that the mosque and the church had a common foundation property.

Mor Yakup Church and its archaeological ruins have been the episcopacy centre of Nusaybin since 4th century. As an important building of Christianity, it has survived without losing too much of its original function. The ruins of the cathedral, existence of which was mentioned in ancient sources, were uncovered by archaeological excavations around the baptistery. The property has functioned as a church in the last stage. Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex has also survived without any alteration of its original function since it was built.

Criterion (iii): Surviving for hundreds of years, these two religious structures reflect the traces of different civilizations with their architecture. Zeynel Abidin and his sister Sitti Zeynep, whose tombs are located in the Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex, are 13th generation grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad and regarded as sacred in the Islamic world. Greek, Syriac and Arabic inscriptions and architectural decorations belonging to different periods of Roman architecture on the eastern and southern facades of the Mor Yakup Church have been the testimony of living and lost civilizations by documenting the existence of different eras. Correspondingly, Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex is the witness of the traditional stonework with its inscriptions and architectural style dating to different periods and also with its minaret, which was built in 1956, with region-specific adornments. The survival of the church for 1600 years, as a result of the respect shown by Muslims to Mor Yakup, is an important fact in terms of interreligious dialogue.

Criterion (iv): Mor Yakup Church, with add-ons conducted at different periods, has hosted different civilizations from the fourth century onwards. Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex, with strong traces of Ayyubid, Artuqid, Ottoman and Turkish Republic periods, is valuable and prestigious in terms of architecture.

Embodying different beliefs within, the church and the mosque were built on a land belonging to the same foundation. Their common cemeteries, shrines, madrasah and school are the indicators of coexistence and a shared culture. It is also noticeable that the Syriac master who designed the mosque's minaret introduced the form, motifs and decorative notes, which reflect the characteristics of church's bell tower. Mor Yakup Church is important to survive one of the oldest baptisteries with an inscription on it. The baptistery is also unique with the burial of Mor Yakup which is located under the building. The relation of the crypt, which has two entries, with baptistery and resurrection ceremonies is remarkable. Rituals related to purification and blessing are carried on by entering from one side of the crypt and exiting from the other.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Zeynel Abidin Mosque and Mor Yakup Church are under protection by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No. 2863. The mosque and the church were registered as a cultural property by the decision of Diyarbakır Regional Conservation Council dated 11.10.1991 and numbered 899 and dated 04.03.2000 and numbered 2349 respectively.

Excavations of Mor Yakup Church were started in 2000 under Diyarbakır Museum presidency, and these excavations have been continued under the presidency of Mardin Museum since 2002. The church and the unearthed areas of its courtyard have been surveyed and their measured drawings have been completed.

Mor Yakup Church and archaeological remains constitute an important religious complex from the Early Christianity era, composed of church, baptistery, and cathedral. Archaeological excavations, carrying out within the boundaries of the current parcel of the building, which was a baptistery originally and survived to the present day as a church, unearthed that a common graveyard used for the outbuildings of the cathedral and the Episcopal centre. Meanwhile, restoration activities of Zeynel Abidin Mosque are going on and will be completed in 2015.

The basis of the unity of religions, in 2000, the “Culture and Faith Park Project” was launched in the area containing the Mor Yakup Church and the Zeynel Abidin Mosque Complex. This project comprises conservation, measured drawings, restitution, restoration and environmental design studies and was started with the cooperation of Nusaybin Municipality, Turkish Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage and Mardin Governorship, then has been continued with participation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The main purpose of it, aiming to preserve and hand down both buildings to the next generations, is to create a historic cultural park manifesting that different religions and cultures can coexist in solidarity and be enhanced more.

Comparison with other similar properties

Mor Yakup Church is actually an early converted Byzantine baptistery and due to the inscription on the southern facade of the church, there is no doubt that it was a baptistery. In this respect the Nisibis Baptistery (now Mor Yakup Church) could be associated with the baptisteries that has apse at the eastern edge in Gerasa, Sidon, and Jerusalem. Besides, the three-nave arrangement was widespread in the eastern baptisteries of the early Christianity era and in this context it is similar to baptisteries of Zenobia (Syria), Kalat Seman (Syria), Saint Menas (Egypt), Side and Ephesus (Anatolia), Gerasa (Jordan), and several other baptisteries in Cyprus in terms of plan scheme. By comparison with these examples, church of Mor Yakup is the oldest standing building designated as baptistery with an epigraph.

In the west, especially, in Ravenna two baptisteries (Aryan and Orthodox (or Neon) baptistery), has been included on UNESCO World Heritage List, have reached to present. However, baptistery of Nusaybin is almost a century older than them. Even though impressive mosaics of Ravenna baptisteries differentiate them others, original architectural decorations of Nusaybin baptistery are highly exceptional. Furthermore, archaeological excavations, going on over the last 14 years, have yielded exciting discoveries. Excavations have been clarified that a structure to be known as the church of Mor Yakup was a baptistery of Episcopal complex. Complex of the cathedral is a five-aisled basilica especially found generally in Rome, so such a monumental church in Anatolia is quite crucial in terms of archaeology.

Besides existing as a baptistery and episcopal complex, the church is rather important to coexist with Zeynel Abidin Mosque. Designed area of Mor Yakup Church and Zeynel Abidin Faith Park can be compared to Trebic, where the Jewish and Christian buildings coexist from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Nevertheless, Nusaybin has been under the auspices of Muslims since the Arab conquest of 640 and coexistence of different religions is quite old. Although Zeynel Abidin is dated to the 12th century, there was probably a mosque in the town since the 7th century, so it is possible to mention coexisting of two buildings since that date. A baptistery built during the Byzantine period was firstly adopted by the Sassanid and after the Arab conquest it was owned by the Assyrians, named it as Mor Yakup and made it sacred, which brought it a separate layer. Moreover, that was a new meaning given by a new Christian community.