Rock City of Mesopotamia: Dara Ancient City


Dara Ancient City is a unique historical settlement, known as Ephesus of Mesopotamia, located in the village of Oğuz, 30 km southeast of Mardin . Founded in 505 as a military garrison city in order to protect the eastern border of the Eastern Roman Empire against the Sassanids, the city is surrounded by 4 km long and 8 meters wide walls.

The majestic city was once a border garrison where some 25,000 or even 40,000 Roman soldiers were housed. It is a city that has seen many great wars. Persians came, Alexander came, Romans came from here. It has always been an unstable city, constantly changing hands and witnessing wars.

All the artifacts that can be seen today in Dara, known in history as Anastasiopolis , are from the Roman period. Huge water cisterns were built. So much so that it was enough to meet the 1-year water needs of the soldiers in case of a possible siege.

The most important structure is the Gallery Tomb, which was built by Roman soldiers returning from exile in 591, dedicated to the Roman warriors who died in the war in 573. The tomb structure, where the bones from the battlefield were collected and brought, is unique in the world. Mardin is a place that should be on your list of places to visit.

Dara Ancient City, Mardin

In addition to its strategic location, the ancient city of Dara is an important center in terms of stonework and architecture. The ancient city, surrounded by 4 km of walls with structures carved into the rock, took its name from the I. Persian King Darius.

The Ancient City of Dara, considered one of the most important settlements of Upper Mesopotamia in history, was founded by the Eastern Roman Emperor Anastasius (491-518) between 505-507 AD. It is mentioned as a small town with plenty of water resources and cultivated land in historical sources.

The ancient city, which is also associated with the late Roman period, is surrounded by 4 km of walls with structures carved into the rock. Some historians say that after the battle of Issus (333 BC) between Alexander the Great and the Persian Emperor Darius III, Darius fled from the battlefield and took refuge in Dara, a military base, where he died.

Although the history of Dara is mostly based on the Emperor Anastasius I, the finds and remains from earlier periods in the excavations prove that the historical and cultural past of the city goes back much further.

The importance of Dara, which was constantly changing hands between the Roman and Persian states since the 1st century BC, for the Eastern Roman Empire was understood during the Sassanid siege in 573 AD.

The Sassanids, who entered the city after a six-month siege, captured Dara, which was defended by the Byzantine general Marcianus, as a result of seven-day bloody battles, and sent the surviving people of the city into exile.

The city, which soon came under Byzantine rule again, continued to serve as a Byzantine border post with the return of the exiled people. The city, which came under Sassanid rule in 606 after an 18-month siege, lost its importance after the 13th century and turned into a village. In the 15th century, it came under Ottoman rule.

Ibn Battuta , who traveled to Dara in the 1300s, talks about the city in his notes: “It is an old and big city. The view is beautiful. It has a castle overlooking it. now ruined; no one lives in it. Outside there was a prosperous village. We stayed there.”

Most of the ruins of today’s Dara Ancient City are from the early Byzantine period. The archaeological excavations of the ancient city of Dara were carried out in 1986 by Assoc. Dr. It was initiated by the Mardin Museum under the scientific leadership of Metin Ahunbay.

In Dara, only 30 percent of which has been unearthed in the excavations carried out so far, in addition to the remains of castles, bridges, water channels, water cisterns, churches, arastas, palaces, bazaars, dungeons, armory, rock tombs and civil settlement structures, Oğuz It is also possible to see cave houses dating back to the Late Roman period around the village.

City Walls

The structures that first attracted the attention of travelers visiting Dara were the strong and majestic walls from the Roman period. The magnificent wall ruins of Dara belong to the periods of Anastasius I and Justinian I. The walls, about 10 meters high, had three-storey towers with archer windows and battlements.

The 4 km long fortification walls surrounding the three big hills on which the city was built
can be clearly followed. The walls, 3 meters thick, were built with smooth cut stones inside and out. Sources mention that the city had two walls 50 feet apart. Compared to the records of the travelers, there is a serious difference between the bastions and walls that existed at that time and what remains today.

Colonnaded Street

Starting from the southern gate of the ancient city of Dara, the wide street extending to the north in the city along the west bank of the Dara Creek is known as the Colonnaded Street. This street, which is mentioned as the city’s bazaar in written sources, came to the fore as a market place during the Artukid period after the 10th century.

The 5.5-metre-wide street paved with large blocks of stone proves that the street is a busy place, used by both pedestrians and animal-drawn cars.

While the eastern side of the street faces the creek, the rowing of shops and workshops along the western side indicates that the street is an agora structure. It is thought that the caravans coming to the city entered the city from this street and exhibited their goods on the street, since the city is in a strategic position in cultural and political terms.

Dara Rock Tombs

One of Dara’s most impressive building groups is the rock tombs created in later periods in the quarry valleys. The tomb structure, called Gallery Grave, in the Necropolis area, which was unearthed after two years of excavations, is the most important discovery of the city.

Bones on the battlefield were collected and deposited in the Gallery Mezar, which was built by Roman soldiers returning from exile in 591, in honor of the Roman soldiers who died in the Sassanid-Byzantine War in 573. A total of 216 human skeletons from the Late Roman Period were identified, including 27 women, 73 men, 2 adolescents, 32 children, 6 infants, and 76 unknown.

Dara Ancient Water Dam

During the archaeological excavations in Dara, the remains of the world’s first water dam were found. In the north of the city, which spreads over a very large area, a magnificent water dam was built by carving the rocks going south. The passage of water into the reservoir is ensured with the grooves on the set wall. The water brought from the dam was distributed to the cisterns via the water inlet on the walls.

Tara Cisterns

The ancient city of Dara had a water cistern system that came from the high mountains and was distributed to the city. Although it is very rich in terms of natural water resources, the presence of a storage system in the city is surprised by the researchers.

The Western Cistern , also known as the ‘ dungeon ‘ among the people, has been filled with earth, rubble and cut stone blocks to be used as an animal shelter by the local people in recent times, and its ground has been raised. When the soil inside the cistern, which was filled with 18 meters of soil, was emptied, the cistern with an extraordinary view was unearthed.

The cellar of the cistern, which is 36 meters high, 18 meters long and 12 meters wide, extends on both sides of the cellar with its eight large pillars, decorated with an arched roof, and four large columns on the floor. Lighting and ventilation of the interior is provided by openings in the ceiling.

70 percent of the ancient city of Dara, which is as impressive and large as the ancient city of Ephesus, is under the ground. New discoveries are being made in the city every day during the ongoing excavations.

Where is Dara Ancient City 

The ancient city of Dara is located within the borders of Oğuz Village, 30 km southeast of Mardin city center in the Southeastern Anatolia Region. The ancient city, to the north of the Mardin-Nusaybin Highway, is located at the intersection of the Mesopotamian Plain and the Tur-Abdin Mountains.

How to get to Dara Ancient City 

The closest airport to the ancient city of Dara is in Mardin. There are direct flights to Mardin Airport from Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. The airport is 40 km from the ancient city. There is no public transportation between the airport and the ancient city.

You can reach the ancient city by taking a minibus or taxi from the airport, going to Mardin Bus Station, and getting off at Tilkitepe by using the Nusaybin minibuses.

Dara Antique City is 30 km from Mardin, 1,455 km from İzmir, 1,040 km from Ankara, 1,494 km from Istanbul and 201 km from Şanlıurfa. To reach Dara Ancient City by car from Mardin, you need to use the Nusaybin highway.

You can reach the ancient city by taking the Dara village road from Akıncı Subdistrict. On arrivals from Şanlıurfa, you can reach Dara by turning left from Tilkitepe before reaching Nusaybin.

The ancient city of Dara , known as the Ephesus of Mesoptamia, is the hidden beauty of Mardin, the Land of Stone. Dara is a fascinating beauty with its 4 km long walls, unique Gallery Tomb, cisterns and civil settlements.


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