A city in southeastern Turkey
, on the banks of the Tigris River
(which the Turks
call the Dicle
Like the rest of southeastern Turkey, Diyarbakir has a large Kurdish population, and indeed is one of the largest cities in Kurdistan. On the whole it's a very poor city, and some of it's neighborhoods in the old city are as poor as any I've seen in the country. It's a fascinating place to learn about the Kurds - when I visited I met wonderful folks who were excited to tell me about life in the city, and the region's often strained relationship with the Turkish government in Ankara.
The center of the city is surrounded by massive black basalt walls; climbing to the top of the walls provides fantastic views over the city and the surrounding countryside. To the north and west, the city has sprawled far beyond the medieval walls, but to the south there are small farms built almost up to the wall. The walls are breached by several gates (kapi in Turkish), which are key landmarks in the city; clockwise from the north, there's Harput Kapisi, Yeni Kapi, Mardin Kapisi, Urfa Kapisi, and Cifte Kapisi. The easiest place to climb to the top of the walls is in the southwest corner, near Mardin Kapisi. From there you can walk a few kilometers along the walls to Urfa Kapisi.
Aside from checking out the views from the walls, the best thing to do in town is to grab a stool in the plaza in front of the Ulu Cami (the mosque) near the center of town, and knock back a few glasses of tea. The people watching there is great, and if you hang out long enough (actually it took me less than five minutes) you're bound to meet someone willing to show you around their town.
For visitors, most hotels are around the Harput Kapisi at the north edge of the old city; there's a cluster of them so you can just wander around and find one that suits. The Okan hamam is one of the better baths I found in Turkey. It's down an alley off Gazi Caddesi about half way between Harput Kapisi and the bazaar. It's just how a Turkish bath should be - hot, friendly, clean, and cheap. I learned my first words of the Kurdish language there, but promptly forgot them.
Worthwhile places to visit outside the city include the spectacular ruins of Hasankeyf, as well as the nearby cities of Mardin and Urfa.
Diyarbakir is generally regarded as one of the oldest cities in the world; its exact origins are obscure, but it was certainly founded by the time of the Hurrian Empire, between 1500 and 1365 BC. Alexander the Great conquered the city on his way to Persia. The Romans took the city in 115 AD, and were the first to build walls around the city. The current walls date from the eleventh century, when the city was a part of the Byzantine Empire. The city's current name comes from the Arab Bakr tribe, who named it Diyar Bakr, "Place of the Bakr".
More recently, the city has been a hotbed of Kurdish separatism, but as of the late 1990s the Turkish Army had mostly defeated the separatist PKK, and there has been little open violence of late.
Details to supplement my memory are from Ayliffe, Dubin, and Gawthrop, Rough Guide to Turkey, 2000.