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Late Antique and Medieval Churches and Monasteries of Midyat and Surrounding Area (Tur ʿAbdin)

Date of Submission: 15/04/2021
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 6534

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Church of Mor Sobo

 37°28'38.46"N - 41°36'33.04"E

Yoldath Aloho (Meryem Ana)

37°28'29.67"N - 41°36'34.23"E

The Monastery of Deyrul Zafaran

37°17'56.51"N - 40°47'33.27"E

The Monastery of Mor Gabriel

37°19'18.53"N - 41°32'18.29"E

The Monastery of Mor Abai

37°33'23.70"N - 40°57'35.12"E

The Monastry of Mor Loozor

37°28'21.88"N - 41°20'13.11"E

The Monastery of Mor Yakup at Ṣālaḥ (Barıştepe)

37°28'59.71"N - 41°23'48.15"E

The Church of Mor Quryaqos at ʿUrdnus (Bağlarbaşı)

37°27'24.13"N - 41°27'30.01"E

The Church of Mor ʿAzozoʾel at Kfarze (Altıntaş)

37°26'37.31"N - 41°31'40.89"E

Midyat is located in the center of Tur ʿAbdin (meaning “the Mountain of the servants of God” in Syriac) region, a limestone plateau in south-eastern Turkey. The region is bounded by the River Tigris in the north and east, by the Mesopotamian plain in the south, and by the modern city of Mardin in the west. Stretching around 120 km. In east-west and 50 km, in north- south direction, the rural landscape covers eighty villages with approximately one hundred churches and seventy monasteries. This rural religious architecture belongs to the Syriac Orthodox community and its history goes back to the period when the region was under the Byzantine rule. Despite being within the boundaries of Muslim states since the 7th century, Tur ʿAbdin was populated mostly by Syriac Christians until the last century.

Tur ʿAbdin has been settled from the Assyrian period onwards. However, it was in the 6th century that it became a holy mountain for the Syriac Orthodox who had to live a life in exile due to Christological disputes resulting from the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. The Syriac Orthodox Church, which was miaphyiste, was considered to be heretic by the imperial church of the Byzantine Empire. As a result, the Syriac Orthodox developed a rural church hierarchy and they started to build churches and monasteries in the rural Tur ʿAbdin which was a secluded region. Depending on the position of the Emperor’s stand on the miaphysite dispute, some of these monasteries benefited from the imperial patronage, such as the benefaction of the Emperor Anastasius (d. 518) to the monastery of Mor Gabriel. With its remarkable architectural sculpture, the monastery of Deyrul Zafaran also indicates imperial patronage.

After the Arab conquest of the region in 640, the Syriac Orthodox continued to build churches and monasteries. In fact, it has been argued that they experienced a sense of freedom for some time as they were considered as heretic by the Byzantines. Especially in the first two centuries of the Arab rule, we find a flourishment in the building of churches and monasteries in the region. The most remarkable aspect of these churches and monasteries is that they present continuity. Monastic churches were continued to be built as transverse-hall type churches. The village churches took the example of Mor Sobo and built as hall-type churches. There was a tradition of classical sculpture in the region in the 6th century in the region, even if it was abandoned in Constantinople. A stylized version of this sculpture was seen in the 8th century churches. The 12th century is known as “Syriac Renaissance” in terms of literary production. In Tur ʿAbdin, John, the bishop of Mardin, is known to have built many churches and monasteries then. 12th century parts of the monastery of Mor Abai testify to this flourishment and relations between Artuqid rulers and Syriac community with its inscriptions.

In these churches and monasteries, the liturgy is practiced in ancient Syriac which is the Edessan dialect of Aramaic and is considered to be a bridge language in the translation movements from Greek to Arabic. Today, a neo-Aramaic dialect of Syriac, called Turoyo is still spoken in the region and it is enlisted as a severely endangered language in UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.

Description of the component parts:
The property is a serial nomination that consists of eight components. While the Tur ʿAbdin has a remarkable concentration of churches and monasteries, only four monasteries and five churches are selected for nomination. Dating to the 6th to 8th centuries, these churches have some common features and provide an understanding of the character of the region as a whole. Together with surrounding terraced vineyards, olive and almond trees, the monasteries and churches form a dramatic landscape.

1- The Church of Mor Sobo, Ḥāḥ (Anıtlı): Mor Sobo at Hah which was the cathedral of the 6th century bishopric of Tur Abdion of the Byzantine Empire, is in ruins today. It went through extensive rebuilding over the centuries. It was considered as the prototype of the hall-type churches in the region. This church is much larger than the other hall-type churches in the region. It was during its restoration that the piers, built of alternating layers of stone and brick (opus vittatum) were added. They hide the fine sculpture of the capitals carrying the apse-archivolt and block parts of some of the doors and windows. The piers topped with arches carried a brick vault. The vault has collapsed, but parts of it are still visible in the nave of the church. The English archaeologist Gertrude Bell suggested that this church was originally covered with a timber roof, but when the roof was turned into a barrel-vault, piers were needed to reduce the span and carry the extra weight. The barrel-vault was covered by ceramic tiles as is visible on the northern aisle. They are probably laid on a timber frame. In the church, there is decoration also on liturgical panels, now lying loose in the ruins of the church.

2- The Church of Yoldat Āloho (Meryem Ana), Ḥāḥ (Anıtlı): The church masterfully combines the plans of hall-type village churches and transverse-hall churches of the monasteries of the region. It has a cloister dome which shows advanced building techniques for its time. Its sculpture is an excellent example of stylized version of classical decoration of the 8th century when the region was under the Arab rule. It is remarkable to illustrate the continuity of the classical tradition in the region. Its architecture shows similarities with Armenian and Georgian architecture but it also has many local features which make it unique. The church was described as the “crowning glory of Tur ʿAbdin” by Gertrude Bell in the early 20th century. While there are many local features in this church, we also find Georgian and Armenian features like a high drum, apse decorated with niches, three conch arrangement and a cramped interior.

3- The Monastery of Deyrul Zafaran: This monastery was the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch between 1293 and 1932. Its church and burial chamber date to the 6th century. In that respect, it is one of the earliest surviving and still functioning monastic churches. It has classical architectural sculpture and a square naos, which is an innovative interpretation of the transverse layout with large niches in the north and south direction. The burial chamber of the monastery is exquisite with its nice ashlar masonry and classical decoration. In the monasteries of Tur Abdin, the burial chambers are important for the spiritual foundation of the monasteries because they hold the relics of the saints and they are considered to be built before the churches.

4- The Monastery of Mor (Saint in Syriac) Gabriel: This monastery is claimed to be founded in AD 397 in textual sources but most of its buildings date to the 6th century. Its main church has opus sectile pavement and remarkable wall-mosaics with a Greek inscription executed by workmen from Antioch, probably brought to the region when Dara/Anastasiopolis was built as a Byzantine frontier city. Together with the mosaics in St. Catherine’s monastery in Mt. Sinai, the mosaics in Mor Gabriel are the only 6th century Byzantine mosaics survived to the east of Constantinople. The main church of this monastery is that largest transverse type church in the region.

5- The Monastery of Mor Abai near Qelleth (Dereiçi): This monastery is in ruins. The main church of this monastery dates to the 6th century and has the same transverse layout as did the churches of the monasteries of the region. The remarkable feature about this monastery is that it has 12th century inscriptions praising Artuqid rulers and gives ideas about the relations between the Christians and Muslim rulers in the 12th century.

6- The Monastery of Mor Loozor near Habsenas (Mercimekli): This monastery has a stylite tower at the center of its courtyard. The design of the tower is unique, with a void in the middle and a drainage system around it. The tower is from the 8th century under the Islamic rule. It is a powerful and unique example showing that extreme ascetic practices like stylitism continued in the region under the Muslim rulers.

7- The Monastery of Mor Yakup at Ṣālaḥ (Barıştepe): This monastery is an innovative version of the transverse hall-type church with a five-sided apse which is rare in the rest of the Byzantine Empire. Its opening to the apse is not a mere rectangle but like an archivolt similar to the village churches of the region. Thus it combines the features of hall (village) and transverse-hall type (monastic) churches. It was built in the 6th century and later restored in the 8th century. It has frescoes mentioning the people who donated for the reconstruction of the church in the 8th century.

8- The Churches of Mor Quryaqos at ʿUrdnus (Bağlarbaşı) and Mor ʿAzozoʾel at Kfarze (Altıntaş): These two churches are examples for hall-type churches built or rebuilt in the 8th century. Koch argued that their original structure date to the 6th century. They have large apse archivolts which is a stylized version of the 6th century classical sculpture in the region. The sculptures in these churches had an impact in the medieval mosques of the region and are included in the discussions of the revival of classical decoration in the Islamic monuments of 12th century. There are outdoor oratories (beth slutho) in the village churches of Tur ʿAbdin, which are unique to the region. Gertrude Bell considered the church of Mor Sobo which dates to the 6th century as the prototype of the later 8th century village churches of the region.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Tur ʿAbdin, a limestone plateau located roughly between Mardin, Dara, Hasan Keyf and Cizre in modern south-eastern Turkey, is a unique cultural landscape populated by around eighty villages and seventy monasteries dating to various periods. The region has a remarkable architectural heritage of Syriac Orthodox community. Some of the buildings from early Byzantine period (6th century) provide early examples of monastic architecture. The selected churches and monasteries still witness centuries old traditions and liturgies of the Syriac community performed in their ancient language.

Criterion (iii): With remarkable examples of early Christian monastic architecture dated from the 6th to 8th centuries, Tur ʿAbdin is an exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions related to the Syriac Orthodox community. The monastery of the Deyrul Zafaran was the seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch between 1293 and 1932. The region also illustrates the rural hierarchy of Eastern Christianity in the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire and still provides utmost information about how this rural landscape was formed with the repeated patterns of relations between rock-cut monasteries and villages.

Criterion (iv): The rural church hierarchy of the Syriac Orthodox produced two types of churches; the hall-type and the transverse-hall type. With its high concentration of this specific type of the churches and monasteries, the Tur ʿAbdin constitutes a distinctive architectural vocabulary, specifically associated with the Syrian Orthodox community. While the origins of the transverse-hall type churches are thought to have been originated from the local temple architecture, the medieval period also witnessed significant artistic encounters with the Islamic traditions. For example, the church of Virgin at Hah, masterfully combines the plans of hall and transverse-hall churches and displays architectural details, which is a blend of Byzantine, Georgian and Armenian Church architecture. It is also one of the earliest surviving and still functioning monastic churches of the world. Beth slutho (outdoor oratories) and beth qadishe (burial spaces), are the two building types, that are also specific to the region.

Criterion (vi): With the separation of the Syriac Church from the imperial church after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), Tur ʿAbdin region became a refuge area for the Syriac monks. Many monasteries were founded in the region, some of which are dated to the 4th century by the textual sources and many others to the 6th century with their architectural remains. Tur ʿAbdin remained its status as a refuge under the rule of Islamic states. The late patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox church, Mor Ignatius Zakka I (d.2014) said: ‘As Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, we regard Tur ʿAbdin as a holy site, second only to Jerusalem, and look on our visits there as pilgrimages.’ The Syriac manuscripts produced in the region are in the leading museums and libraries of the world. Syriac has been a bridge language between Greek and Arabic. The language of the liturgy in these churches and monasteries of Tur ʿAbdin is still in ancient Syriac. Today, a modern version of the language, Turoyo is spoken in Tur ʿAbdin. The region is thus directly and tangibly associated with Syriac culture which has universal significance. Today the churches and monasteries are visited by not only the Syriac community living all over the world but also by other Orthodox Christians and many academics interested in the architecture, language and religion of the region and the community.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The selected components contain all the key attributes with their structural integrity and authenticity. The churches and monasteries of the region of the Tur ʿAbdin, selected to be included in the tentative list, stand at their original location up until our days. The settlement, the surroundings, architectural layout, and form of buildings have reached to today without significant change. They represent completeness and expressively the uniform character of this building type.

All the monuments are registered as immovable cultural property with the decisions of Diyarbakır Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural Property affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Except Mor Sobo, Mor Loozor and Mor Abai, all the churches and monasteries are still active and, thus they have been restored several times in the past. New buildings have been built in these building complexes to accommodate the needs of the living community and of the community coming from abroad to visit these monuments and stay in them. The buildings from the Late Antique period have been preserved to a large extent and they retain authenticity and integrity in terms of plan types, architectural decoration and building techniques.

Comparison with other similar properties

Tur ʿAbdin has been called “the Mount Athos of the East”. Both Tur ʿAbdin and Mount Athos (Greece, 1988) are considered as bastions of Christian Orthodoxy and holy mountains. They retained this character through many centuries of Islamic rule. On both mountains there is a concentration of monasteries. Yet, apart from Karyès, there are no villages on Mount Athos. In Tur ʿAbdin, there are many villages, usually located on small hills. Moreover, the 6th century monasteries of Tur ʿAbdin are four centuries older than the monasteries in Mount Athos. 

The Limestone Massif of north-western Syria (part of “Ancient Villages of Northern Syria”, Syria, 2011) has, like Tur ʿAbdin, a concentration of both villages and monasteries. Both regions have ashlar masonry and similar plans. The sculpture on the other hand is not classical in Syriac villages. In Tur ʿAbdin, there has been continuous habitation, whereas Limestone Massif villages were abandoned, probably in the 10th century. Like the ancient villages of Northern Syria, Tur ʿAbdin illustrates the development of Eastern Christianity in the rural areas.