One of the most beautiful architectural and historically-preserved buildings in Mardin province is the restored property of the Mardius Tarihi Konak. Mardin is located in southeastern Turkey, overlooking the ancient plains of Mesopotamia.
Upon walking through the heavy wooden doors leading into the property, you will enter a world far away from the frenetic pace of big city life. With incredible stonework, incomparable views of the plains, and opulent furnishings, there is luxury only reserved for royalty of ages past.
An atmosphere of calm and peace, of incomparable order and beauty, pervades this special place!
This is the last in a series of four articles I have written about the Mardin region. The first was to introduce “Mardin, Turkey – The Shining City of Mesopotamia”; the second was on “Epic Tastes of Mesopotamia”; and the third on the “Treasures of Mesopotamia” (Telkari jewelry, metalwork and textiles). This article will close out this four-part series as we learn the story of this incredible architectural treasure, the heritage in Mesopotamia that is the Mardius Tarihi Konak.
The name “Mardin” comes from the Syriac word meaning “fortresses”. The province of Mardin is located near the traditional boundary of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. The city of Mardin was named after a Sassanian commander who did much to improve its condition during the Sassanid Empire. The Sassanian Dynasty is a name also applied to the Persian dynasty. It lasted from 224 to 651 AD and was the last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the rise of Islam.
Mardius is an ancient name in Mardin. I wanted to know the meaning of the name of this property and found that Tarihi means “historical” in Turkish and Konak means “mansion”. With origins that date back to the 1400’s, the Mardius Historical Mansion is thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Mardin.
For many years, the Ensari Family lived in this historic mansion. The family was thought of as a 1400-year-old “plane tree” would be thought of. For those like me who want to understand more about Turkish culture, a “plane tree” has carried a mystical importance for centuries in Turkic civilizations. Before stone monuments came to be, natural wonders were the settings for the grand storytelling of folkloric customs and beliefs. Large, ancient trees were among those natural wonders, bearing witness to human dramas from their aloof perspectives. Turkish society continues to admire the longevity and grandness of the plane tree for its natural ability to place local cultures and extended communities alike in an ecological relationship with the passage of time.
The roots of the Ensari Family reach back to Eyüp Sultan. (The picture above is their family tree.) In 622, when the Prophet Muhammad embarked on the hijra—the migration from Mecca to Medina—he lived with his close companion for seven months. That trusted friend was Ebu Eyyûb el-Ensari, one of the first to convert to Islam, and the one who fought alongside Muhammad in all of his battles.
Ebu Eyyûb served as the standard-bearer for the faith. This was a testament to how respected he was. A standard-bearer was chosen for his noble traits to carry the flag at the forefront of battles as the most pious of Muslims. He fell in battle outside the walls of Constantinople while carrying the banner of Islam during the assault and siege of the city (AD 674 to 678). His tomb, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, is Istanbul’s most important Islamic shrine.
The Mardius Tarihi Konak property has more than 600 years of history, with an exciting story to tell of renewal and revival written by the Ensari Family. Remaining true to the commitment of this family to preserve the Mardius for future generations, and to safeguard hundreds of years of cultural legacy and tradition in Mardin. The present owner of the property is Mehmet Birol Ensari. His elder brother, Günal Ensari, is the family member who currently oversees the Mardius Tarihi Konak property. Günal Bey has very kindly shared invaluable background with me for this article. This has allowed me the privilege of sharing the story of this incredible property and its rich family heritage.
The mansion was inherited from Mehmet Birol Bey and Günal Bey’s grandfather. The culture of family unity was established during the time of their grandfather. It was a patriarchal family structure where all members lived together in the mansion. Each child had their own room, and when they married, continued to live together in the mansion with their spouses, children, and other family members. In this culture of family unity, all meals – breakfast, lunch and dinners – were eaten together.
Mehmet Birol Bey’s mother was raised in a similar culture in the well-known Sahkulubey family. When she married his father, she came from the Sahkulubey mansion into the Ensari mansion. Perhaps being raised in the same culture of family unity and togetherness, the transition from her own home into the home of her husband and his family might not have been too difficult.
Seen in this picture, the historic Sahkulubey mansion; it was restored in August of 2011.
The Ensari Family always placed great value on education. When the time arrived for the younger men in the family to receive a higher education, Mehmet Birol Bey and Günal Bey’s father and uncle left the family, migrating separately to bigger cities to attend university. The remaining members of the family continued to live together in the mansion until they decided to leave; then the mansion was sold. Those who purchased the mansion divided it into separate apartments. Over time, due to the age of the property and the lack of care and maintenance, the mansion had become derelict.
Mehmet Birol Bey’s mother came to Mardin after several years of being away and naturally wanted to visit the mansion. She had many wonderful memories from having lived there. Extremely distressed and upset after seeing the terrible state of the mansion, she told her sons the visit had made her very sad. What she saw would cause heartsickness and bring any person to tears of sadness and sorrow.
We have probably all heard such sayings as “A picture is worth a thousand words” and “Seeing is believing”. Believe me, words could never begin to describe what we will see in the following “Before” restoration photos. These pictures provide the most graphic illustration of the derelict condition of the Ensari Family mansion when Günal Bey and Mehmet Birol Bey’s mother saw her former family home.
It was truly in desperate shape. Crumbling floors. Broken windows. Piles of stone stacked up in various places. Pieces of lumber lying haphazardly on the ground. There was debris and rubble everywhere.
After learning of his mother’s heartbreaking experience, Mehmet Birol Bey, a businessman, came to Mardin to see the condition of the mansion for himself. He then made the decision to buy and restore the mansion to ease the pain of his mother, and to honor and preserve the memories of their grandparents, Tahir Ensari and Peyruze Ensari, and their family. Several people were involved in the ownership of the mansion at that point, most of them outside of Turkey. It took two years for Mehmet Birol Bey to complete the re-purchase of the Ensari Family mansion.
In February 2011, restoration of the property was undertaken under the expert guidance of Architect Neşet Güne, whose company, the Profit Interior Architecture Company, had carried out many successful restoration projects. His advice to the family was to gather their elders and live in the mansion, to keep it alive. After several discussions and meetings, the idea of a “boutique hotel” had emerged and was accepted. The restoration process was a 3-1/2 year-long project, and the two brothers worked together to complete the work.
The utmost diligence was exercised in this process, with adherence and compliance given to the directives and comments provided by the Council of Monuments. Painstaking attention to detail was exercised to preserve the original structure and the historical atmosphere of the villa. No thought was given to dividing the existing rooms to create more rooms, even though they were quite large. Chains were stretched from the corners of the walls to the lamps and on the ceiling to avoid digging through the walls to install electric cables. In fact, the required electric cables were installed inside of the chains. The goal was to return every aspect of the property to its original form, so that future guests could experience the authenticity of every wonderful detail.
Enormous care and attention to detail was taken in choosing the furnishings for the public spaces and the guestrooms. All décor, fabrics, textiles, and furniture needed to be of the quality that would reflect the original character of the mansion. The doors, beds and wardrobes (known as “Konsol” in Mardin) used in the original mansion were duplicated and used in the guestrooms. The beautiful textiles in the pillows, bed coverings, and any other places where fabrics would be used, were selected to reflect the beauty and elegance of the original mansion furnishings.
The result of the painstaking effort taken in this part of the restoration process is a masterpiece that is admirably worthy of this historic mansion. This is amply illustrated in the “After” restoration pictures.
At the Mardius Tarihi Konak, you will find pleasant and welcoming public spaces for relaxation and conversation, fabulous views of the ancient plains of Mesopotamia far below, and a cuisine of historic and regional foods that are sure to please any palate. The guestrooms are unsurpassed in their beauty, elegance and comfort. Every care has been taken to provide an unforgettable experience for the guests who will stay at this historic family mansion.
What was said at the beginning of this article bears repeating. The Mardius is a world unto itself. Behind its doors and protective walls, there is a pervading atmosphere of calm and peace, beauty and order that is a welcome respite from the cares and troubles of our everyday lives. It provides a safe place for refreshing, relaxation, and renewing of body, soul and spirit.
Beautiful, Relaxing Public Spaces
A wonderful side note regarding the restoration of the guestrooms again reflects the manner in which the legacy and tradition of the Ensari Family continues to be remembered and honored. Of course, each of the guestrooms has a room number. But more importantly, each guestroom has been named for the members of the Tahir and Peyruze Family who once lived in them.
For example, the guestroom in the first picture below is Room 201, named for Tahir Bey and Peyruze Hanim (the grandparents of Mehmet Birol Bey and Günal Bey). The second guestroom pictured is Room 301, named for Basit Bey and Halise Hanim (one of their father’s sisters). Each guestroom having a different family member’s name assigned to it raised a curiosity in me to know who they were as people. What were they like in their temperament? What did they like to talk about? What were they passionate about? What were their favorite foods? On the rooms with only a single name instead of that of a couple, was that person a life-long bachelor or had they lost a spouse? Ah, questions that will never be answered I know, but still my curiosity was certainly raised.
Elegantly Appointed Guestrooms and Bathrooms
Throughout the restoration process of the mansion, Günal Bey said he became more aware of its place in history. “Mardin is an incredible place with its history and atmosphere. I realized how valuable this place is when I saw the contractors hug and talk to the stones. Seeing how they reacted to the atmosphere caused me to love the mansion even more. I became aware of the need for telling people about the historical buildings and the value they have. To tell people about what kind of a place Mardin is, its hospitality, and how people live like brothers and sisters here.”
When the restoration process was within nine months of its completion, the personnel selected to staff the property began their training. They came to the mansion every day and were able to experience the final part of the restoration. More importantly, they were being trained to provide the best service possible, so that future guests of the mansion would feel like a part of the Ensari Family itself.
Another important step prior to opening the Mardius Tarihi Konak for guests was the selection of the foods and menu items that would be served in the restaurant.
Two-1/2 months prior to the completion of the restoration, a list was made of the foods that their grandmother used to cook. They wanted to offer foods to their guests that would have the same flavor as she used to serve in the mansion. Recipes were gathered from Günal Bey’s mother, his wife, his sister, and their relatives. These foods were cooked every day – and over again the next day. It took almost two months for them to finally cook the same foods with the same taste.
Today the Mardius Tarihi Konak mansion prides itself on providing VIP service to their guests with regional breakfasts and mansion-specific foods. The menu that was created pays full tribute to the cooking that existed in the mansion when the Ensari Family were living there. The result is a unique and culturally rich and historic cuisine which one can only experience from the gastronomic kitchens which serve the Kam’or Restoran at the Mardius.
To me, one of the most interesting stories about designing the menu has to do with soup. Yes, soup! Günal Bey’s grandmother, Peyruze Hanim, made a special soup when she lived in the mansion.The family wanted to give that soup a name. His grandfather used to call her “Peyranim” (“my Peyran”) to show his love for her. The family named the soup “Peyran” and applied to the Turkey Patent Institute for the rights to that name, but they encountered some difficulties.
There is a soup indigenous to Gaziantep called “Beyran”, although its ingredients are completely different. Because the name of this soup and babaanne Peyruze’s soup were so close in sound, the Turkey Patent Institute announced they could not grant rights to the name of “Peyran”. However, the family objected, informing the Institute of the story of the soup and its ingredients. After an appeal process that took six months, the family was told their application would be reconsidered. And after a year, they were able to register the name of their soup as “Peyran”. The world of gastronomy gained a new soup that is still on the menu today at the Mardius Tarihi Konak. Having read its description on the hotel website, Peyran Soup sounds wonderful and delicious!
When the restoration was complete, and before the opening in 2014, the Ensari Family relatives met together and were hosted at the mansion. Any items that were lacking or needed attention were dealt with. The Mardius Tarihi Konak opened and welcomed its first guests on April 15, 2014.
Words are used here like “mansion” and not hotel, and “guest” instead of customer. It is the goal of the Mardius that those who stay here feel at home and experience the fullness of its culture and atmosphere.
No cost was spared in restoring the mansion, with this reason given by Mehmet Birol Ensari: “Let’s build something which will be a social responsibility project and also will be an instance for those who want to renew their mansions.” The Ensari Family commitment continues today to be that of representing the city of Mardin and their family mansion in the best way possible.
After the opening, many accolades followed, which is to be expected for such a prestigious property restored to its original level of historic beauty and significance. In the first year of its opening in 2014, the Mardius Tarihi Konak received the “Best Gastronomy Mansion” Award. In its second year, the Mardius was named number one of “Turkey’s Finest 10 Boutique Hotels”, thanks to Hurriyet Newspaper’s jury of ten professionals in history, culture, gastronomy, and other specialties. The Mardius also won the prize of “The Most Valuable Investment”, chosen by a jury comprised of Mardin’s Governorship, Artuklu University, Mardin’s Chamber of Commerce, and numerous other official foundations.
Closing this article brings me to the most heartwarming part of the story of the Ensari Family mansion. Mehmet Birol Bey wanted to bring comfort to his 89-year-old mother, and relieve her distress and sadness by telling her he was going to buy back the mansion. He did not tell her of the huge restoration project because he wanted it to be a surprise for her. Wanting to see her happy again while she was still alive, he had been unable to bring her back to the property until almost two years after the restoration was complete. Each time the family tried to bring her back, she would say things like, “Hopefully, I will come when I feel strong enough.”
In April 2016, two years after its restoration, Mehmet Birol Bey and Günal Bey were finally able to bring their mother and their siblings to the mansion. Their mother was totally shocked when they brought her through the doors and she entered the mansion again. Of course, the last time she had seen her beloved property, it was in a very bad state. But here it was, before her eyes, just as in the old days that she remembered. She could not hold back her tears, and was so overcome with astonishment that she could not walk. A chair was brought for her to sit down, and she stayed for quite a while, just looking around her at the marvelous sight of her previous home in the full splendor of its restoration.
She stayed in the mansion for ten days, occasionally talking about everything she had experienced. With gracious hospitality, she welcomed the guests who had heard she was there. And when her family encouraged her to rest, she would say things like, “I am fine, son. I have returned to my old days”.
What a precious time for their mother to be back in the mansion where she had lived in her adulthood. Seeing it restored to its former elegance and beauty must have been a soothing balm to her soul and spirit, and a great joy to her sons who had given her such a wonderful gift. Günal Bey commented: “I cannot describe the feeling we had when me, my mother and my sister visited this place. My mother’s teardrops of happiness made us very happy.”
An acute awareness of its place in history pervades the atmosphere of the Mardius Tarihi Konak, an irreplaceable heritage property in Mesopotamia. This authentically-restored mansion is a beautiful tribute to the Ensari Family’s commitment to honor and preserve their family history and legacy. The Mardius Tarihi Konak is an invaluable contribution to the rich architectural heritage and tradition of Mardin, Turkey which has existed for thousands of years in Mesopotamia.
An important footnote for the reader: Extensive research was conducted by the Author to provide historical context. However, the rich history of the Ensari Family and the incredible story of the Mardius Tarihi Konak could not have been told without the cooperation and invaluable background provided by family member, Günal Ensari.
Teşekkür ederim, Günal Bey!
Editor’s Note: We have discovered that Gunal Ensari is the former PE teacher of Akin Akinozu, the lead actor in the popular new series, Hercai when he was a student in Ankara. Here is a picture of Gunal Bey with the charismatic actor at the Mardius!
Mary Bloyd is a retired corporate manager, living in Centerville, Ohio, USA with her husband, Jon. A mother of one daughter and grandmother to four beautiful children, Mary loves cooking for family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all manner of foods and cuisine. After discovering the wonderful storytelling of Turkish dizis and films, Mary became interested in and has written many articles about Turkish cuisine, traditions, and culture. Mary loves to travel, is a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and is currently working on her first book, a personal memoir.
Copyright by North America TEN and Mary Bloyd