“To portray a city of Mesopotamia is to portray the world” wrote Gerald Maclean in his work The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720.
Traces of human history are evident in every single city of Mesopotamia. From the domestication of animals to the first crops of wheat, from the amelioration of plant types to the first houses. The region is defined by castles, invasions, peace, powerful states, city administrations, religions, prophets, and civilizations…
Siirt is the secret city of Upper Mesopotamia, which has protected the remains to which it is home for centuries. Siirt is like a pretty bride who makes the rocky shroud of Cizira Botan a veil for herself. The very name of Siirt comes from a love story…
Once upon a time a scoutmaster had a beautiful daughter. She was obliged to marry someone with whom she was not in love... But, in reality, she was in love with a shepherd named Ali who was out in the meadows with his flocks. As the bride-to-be travelled from one nomad group to another to be introduced everyone could hear the plaintive music of a simple reed flute echoing across the entire plateau.. The sound was coming from the flute of Shepherd Ali. The girl lifted her veil and shouted out towards the place from where the music emanated:
Seğirt Ali! Seğirt! Come running Ali! Get me out of here! After this touching invocation, a storm blew up, and the wedding ceremony plans fell into ruins. Shepherd Ali came quickly on his prairie horse and rode off with his loved one. They disappeared into the endless plateau, to their boundless happiness... A nomad group was established on the place where the wedding ceremony dispersed, and it was called "Seğirt" which means "koş" (run) in Turkish. This name in time transformsed Siirt.
Other etymological possibilities for the origin of the name of Siirt include that it comes from Keert (Kaa'rat) which means "city" in the Chaldean language, and that the name has variously been spelt as Esart, Sairt, Siird, and İstahri in Islamic sources and Se-erd in Assyrian sources.
The history of Siirt dates back to 12,000 years ago according to the most recent research. The city has a long settled history as a small but significant settlement nestling in between the purple mountains and green valleys.
Excavations conducted in Siirt and its environs have revealed remains from various civilisations including those of the cultures of the Halaf, Obeyd, Ancient Assyria, Hurri-Mitanni and Meds. The city together with Kyros was conquered by the Persians, then opened its gates to Alexander the Great. It was one of the most important settlements of the Hellenistic Period in the region. Then, the city paved the way for an important fight between the Part and Sasanians against Rome.
The city was a Patriarchate after the acceptance of Christianity by Assyrians, then it was conquered by Islamic armies in 640. The city has stamps of the Umayyad, Abbasids, Hamdanis, Mervanis, Artuqids, Zengis and the Ayyubid, and lived its brightest era during the Botan (Cizre) period. Siirt was an important settlement during the highest period of Mirs, when its scientists made advances in the fields of science, astrology and literature: It is located between the cities of Diyarbakır, Bitlis, Van, Mardin and historical Cizre.
Siirt came under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire in 1540. It is also known as "Land of Saints", which is because a high number of revered figures came from here. The city was celebrated for its piety.
Siirt is situated at an important crossroads. It stands at the point where the Trans Caucasia and Lower Mesopotamia routes meet. Furthermore it is located on the road that starts from the capital city Sus of Elam, and leads to Sardes, Ephesus and Miletus on the Aegean Coat. This was the famous King Road that was repaired by the Persian King Darius in 5th century BCE.
Because of its unique position it has witnessed many great battles.
Güzir Höyük in Botan Valley has been a settlement since 9,000 BCE, Türbe Höyük has been a settlement since 8,000 BCE, nearby Başur Höyük contains splendid bronze grave gifts. Çattepe (Tell Fafan) has been an important river port since the Late Roman Period, established at the confluence of the Botan River and the Tigris River.
Gerre Han (Inn) and its bridge are typical of their time. Along with Kormas, Derzin and Şirvan (Küfe) Castles and Nasreddin Bridge, they tell the history of thousands of years and give clues about the mysterious of past times.
In Siirt different religions, cultures, moral laws and customs co-exist harmoniously.
Siirt has lots of unique treasures. "Cas" houses are built with a special mortar and make a strong impression due to their workmanship and stone carving. The entrances to these houses are called as "sabat" and are reminiscent to those to be found in Mardin.
The Grand Mosque is a magnificent symbol of the city with its fine tile workmanship. Tombs are frequently encountered in the city and remind you that this place is known called as the “City of Saints”. The modern City Mosque' is fin example of contemporary architecture. Also notable is the attractive Museum of İbrahim Hakkı.
Siirt also hosts Botan Valley which nature has endowed with great natural beauty. Botan Valley brings life to the purple mountains of Siirt.
Some of the local products that make good souvenirs include: Pure Pervari honey, famous Siirt blankets, bıttım soap that is produced from the wild pistachio tree and is said to have curative properties, delicious büryan kebab, perde rice, zivzik pomegranate and tayti grapes.
Siirt boasts many beautiful districts. Kurtalan, the previous name of which was Garzan, is fairly remote although the Kurtalan Express train carries its passengers silently to the station there.
Some other places that are worth a visit.
The former name of Aydınlar was Tillo which means "high souls" in the Syriac language. It is famous as the place where important scholars and governors were born. Baykan is overlooked by Derzin Castle that still protects the valley below with its watchtowers. Eruh is famous for its Kiver Castle which dates from the Urartu period. Pervari was home to Persians and Macedonians. Şirvan is famous for its pomegranates and has been a settlement since the Roman Period.
Siirt is the secret city of Upper Mesopotamia, which has protected the remains to which it is home for centuries. Siirt is like a pretty bride who makes the rocky shroud of Cizira Botan a veil for herself.
It is a green country at the centre of civilizations and lying in between mountains that rise higher and higher all the way towards Bitlis and Van, and a white city with interesting history on every corner.
This historical city is at the heart of the land of tribes; from Assyrians to Ottomans, from Gordione to Selahaddin.