The Castle of Diyarbakır (Kela Amedê)
The Castle of Diyarbakır has, for thousands of years, acted as historical guardian of the city’s relics. It sits on a wide plane on the eastern edge of the basalt plateau that rises from the life-giving waters of Tigris. The structure is composed of the earlier Inner Fortress and the Outer Fortress.
As the city’s first site of settlement, the Inner Fortress constitutes the core of the city. The small castle found here was built between 3700-3500 B.C.E. by the Hurrians and the Mitannis.
Because the shape of the Inner Fortress is so intertwined with that of the city walls more generally, some historical context on the walls is helpful: Every civilization that ruled the city expanded the city walls in line with its security needs. The walls were rebuilt from scratch in 349 C.E. by the Roman Emperor Constantius II.
In 362, as a result of an agreement between the Sassanid and Roman Empires, the Sassanids took possession of an important Roman fortification in the nearby city of Nusaybin (Nisibis), and the people of Nusaybin, for religious reasons, migrated to Diyarbakır and settled on the plain along the fortress’ western edge. Following this migration, the western edges of the city walls were destroyed and the people of Nusaybin were brought into the city walls. This reconstruction gave the Diyarbakır Castle its current shape; the new walls expanded the city’s borders, and the Inner Fortress became the administrative center. Another major expansion of the Inner Fortress occurred between the years of 1524 and 1526, when the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent added 16 and two gates. With later repairs and additions, the Inner Fortress took its current form.
What’s more, an archaeological excavation carried out in the Amida/Virantepe Mound also uncovered ruins from an Artuqid palace from the early 13th century. The graves of an important Marwanid rule, Nasruddevle Mansur, and his wife Sittunas are also found in the Inner Fortress.
Diyarbakır has been home to many peoples, cultures and states, representing more than 33 different civilizations.
Dağkapı Tower (Bircê Deriyê Çiyê)
Also known as Harputkapı, or Harput Gate, after the historic Armenian city of Harput, outside of present-day Elazığ. On the towers to the right and left of the gate are many inscriptions from the Byzantine, Roman, Seljuk, Arab, and Ottoman periods of rule, as well as reliefs of many animal and plant symbols, grape bunches, crosses, and symbols of the sun. Today, the lower floor is used as an exhibition space and houses the Tourism Information Bureau.
Maiden’s Tower-Goat Tower (Birca Keçikê)
This curiously named tower is just outside of the district of Mardinkapı. While the exact construction date is unclear, the Goat Tower, built on the site of an ancient temple devoted to sun worship, does contain inscriptions testifying to its repair during the Marwanid Dynasty. This tower is one of the best sites in the city for a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings, with especially fine views of Hevsel Gardens, the ancient Ten-Sectioned Bridge, the Tigris River Valley, Kırklar Mountain, the Seman or Gazi Pavilion, of the spread of Suriçi. This is one of the oldest and largest towers. Of particular interest is the bird figure found on stonework on the front arch just inside the tower. There is also a section inside the tower that was once used as a dungeon. The tower was restored in 2004 by the state Directorate of Surveys and Monuments, and is used today as a reception hall and exhibition space.
There’s also a popular poem, known by many locals, about this tower:
Birca Keçikê zozan e Maiden’s Tower is a plateau
Seyrangeha qîzan e It’s a place for girls to take a stroll
Ez yara xwe nas dikim I know my beloved
Tava hiva rezan e She is the vineyards’ moonlight
Seven Brothers Tower (Birca Hosta)
An artifact of the Artuqid Period, this tower dates to 1208, and was built around the same time as the Grand Wall Tower. There are reliefs on the walls, doubled headed eagles and lions, and the inscriptions are prayers in the name of those who had the wall built.
Evli-Ulu Beden Tower (Birca Şagirt)
Built in 1208, this cylindrical tower is considered one of the most beautiful remnants of the period, with delicately carved inscriptions and reliefs of two-headed eagles and the winged lion, an image rooted in regional mythologies.
Nur Tower (Birca Nûr)
Commissioned in 1089 by the Seljuk ruler Melikşah. The architect was a man named Selamioğlu Urfalı Muhammed. In terms of its Kufic inscriptions and the variety of animal figures, it is one of the city’s most opulent towers. The sophistication evident in the reliefs of a long-horned goat and a running horse are especially impressive. Also look for the dove motifs next to the inscription and, directly below the doves, the relief of a short-haired woman sitting crossed legged in the nude, holding her feet with her hands. We see that the arts have long been quite advanced in Diyarbakır.
Inner Fortress (Kela Navîn)
With the Roman construction of the city walls, the Inner Fortress (Içkale) took one a new special role, and in every subsequent period was used as a center of government and administration.
Located in the northwestern corner of the city walls, settlement in the Inner Fortress dates back to the first settled civilizations in the region, the Hurrian and Mitanni (circa 3700-3500 B.C.E.). The mound in the Inner Fortress is referred to as Amida Mound in the archaeological literature, and there are human traces around this mound as far back as 6000 B.C.E., when the city is believed to have been founded. The old Artuqid-era caravanserai inside the Inner Fortress was for a long used as a prison, and is the subject of many of the oral poems in the dengbêj tradition (see below). The other historical sites here were used until 2005 as a Gendarmerie brigade.
Who is al-Jazarī?
Considered the father of “robotic” sciences in the Golden Age of Islam, al-Jazarī was the first scientist and engineer to carry out work on cybernetics. His full name was Abū al-'Iz Ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī, and he was born in 1136 in Cizre, in the neighborhood of Tor. This early Kurdish intellectual spent some time in Diyarbakır, and died in Cizre in 1233. Aside from the early records in Western literature of the Greek mathematician Archytas who invented a prototype of a mechanical pigeon working on steam, al-Jazarī is the earliest recorded instance of robotics and mathematical mechanics. He presented his explorations in his treatise on automata, the Kitāb fī maʻarifat al-ḥiyal al handasiya, which has since become famous in the world history of science and robotics. This extraordinary book contains detailed drawings of the principles behind and potential benefits of more than 50 devices. While the whereabouts of the original is unknown, of the 15 known copies, ten are in various European museums and five are in libraries in Topkapı Palace in Istanbul and in Süleymaniye, in northern Iraq. Another famous work of his, Kitab-ül Hiyel, is a tome of no less than six volumes.
Diyarbakır’s city walls have four main gates: Dağkapı (Mountain Gate), Mardinkapı (Mardin Gate), Urfakapı (Urfa Gate), and Yenikapı (New Gate). Inside the Inner Fortress there are also four additional gates, the Saraykapı (Palace Gate), the Küpelikapı (Ringed Gate), the Fetihkapı Gate (Victory Gate), and the Oğrunkapı (Oğrun Gate). The latter two connect the Inner Fortress with outside the city walls, while the former open to the city. Fetih and Oğrun are not in use today.
Dağkapı(Deriyê Çiyê) Dağkapı opens towards the city of Harput.This gate is the site of the governor’s disastrous decision in 1932 to destroy some 200 m of the city walls (the site between Mountain Gate and Single Wall Tower) in the name of increasing air flow in the historic city center.
Yenikapı (Deriyê Nû) The eastern gate of the city has a low arch and is a one-way entrance. It links up the city with the Tigris River, and for this reason is also known as the Water Gate or the Tigris Gate.
Urfakapı(Deriyê Ruhayê) To the west of the city is Urfakapı, also known Rum Gate or Aleppo Gate. In previous times, the Urfa Gate had two entrances. The first was covered in iron and decorated with animal heads and a two-headed eagle. It was repaired by the Seljuks, and opens onto Melik Ahmet Street. The other door had a stone arch, and in the Byzantine times it was directly connected to the Church of Mother Mary and used only by priests and nuns. A third gate, meanwhile, was built only later.
Mardinkapı(Deriyê Mêrdînê) South of the old city is Mardinkapı, also known as Tel or Tepe (Hill) Gate. Recently restored, this gate is now open to use.