1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Diarbekr

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DIARBEKR[1] (Kara Amid or Black Amid; the Roman Amida), the chief town of a vilayet of Asiatic Turkey, situated on a basaltic plateau on the right bank of the Tigris, which here flows in a deep open valley. The town is still surrounded by the masonry walls of black basalt which give it the name of Kara or Black Amid; they are well built and imposing on the west facing the open country, but almost in ruins where they overlook the river. A mass of gardens and orchards cover the slope down to the river on the S.W., but there are no suburbs outside the walls. The houses are rather crowded but only partially fill the walled area. The population numbers 38,000, nearly half being Christian, comprising Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Turkomans, Armenians, Chaldeans, Jacobites and a few Greeks. The streets are 10 ft. to 15 ft. wide, badly paved and dirty; the houses and shops are low, mostly of stone, and some of stone and mud. The bazaar is a good one, and gold and silver filigree work is made, peculiar in character and design. The cotton industry is declining, but manufacture of silk is increasing. Fruit is good and abundant as the rich volcanic soil is well watered from the town springs. The size of the melons is specially famous. To the south, the walls are some 40 ft. high, faced with large cut stone blocks of very solid construction, with towers and square bastions rising to 500 ft. There are four gates: on the north the Kharput gate, on the west the Rum, on the south the Mardin, and on the east the Yeni Kapu or new gate. A citadel enclosure stands at the N. E. corner and is now partly in ruins, but the interior space is occupied by the government konak. The summer climate in the confined space within the town is excessively hot and unhealthy. Epidemics of typhus are not unknown, as well as ophthalmia. The Diarbekr boil is like the “Aleppo button,” lasting a long time and leaving a deep scar. Winters are frequently severe but do not last long. Snow sometimes lies, and ice is stored for summer use. Scorpions noted for the virulence of their poison abound as well as horse leeches in the tanks. The town is supplied with water both by springs inside the town and by aqueducts from fountains at Ali Punar and Hamervat. The principal exports are wool, mohair and copper ore, and imports are cotton and woollen goods, indigo, coffee, sugar, petroleum, &c.

The Great Mosque, Ulu Jami, formerly a Christian church, occupies the site of a Sassanian palace and was built with materials from an older palace, probably that of Tigranes II. The remains consist of the façades of two palaces 400 ft. apart, each formed by a row of Corinthian columns surmounted by an equal number of a Byzantine type. Kufic inscriptions run across the fronts under the entablature. The court of the mosque is entered by a gateway on which lions and other animals are sculptured. The churches of greatest interest are those of SS. Cosmas and Damian (Jacobite) and the church of St James (Greek). In the 19th century Diarbekr was one of the largest and most flourishing cities of Asia, and as a commercial centre it now stands at the meeting-point of several important routes. It is at the head of the navigation of the Tigris, which is traversed down stream by keleks or rafts supported by inflated skins. There is a good road to Aleppo and Alexandretta on the Mediterranean, and to Samsun on the Black Sea by Kharput, Malatia and Sivas. There are also routes to Mosul and Bitlis.

Diarbekr became a Roman colony in a.d. 230 under the name of Amida, and received a Christian bishop in a.d. 325. It was enlarged and strengthened by Constantius II., in whose reign it was taken after a long siege by Shapur (Sapor) II., king of Persia. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who took part in the defence, gives a detailed account of it. In the later wars between the Persians and Romans it more than once changed hands. Though ceded by Jovian to the Persians it again became annexed to the Roman empire, and in the reign of Anastasius (a.d. 502) was once more taken by the Persians, when 80,000 of its inhabitants were slain. It was taken c. 638 by the Arabs, and afterwards passed into the hands of the Seljuks and Persians, from whom it was finally captured by Selim I. in 1515; and since that date it has remained under Ottoman rule. About 2 m. below the town is a masonry bridge over the Tigris; the older portion being probably Roman, and the western part, which bears a Kufic inscription, being Arab.

The vilayet of Diarbekr extends south from Palu on the Euphrates to Mardin and Nisibin on the edge of the Mesopotamian plain, and is divided into three sanjaks—Arghana, Diarbekr and Mardin. The headwaters of the main arm of the Tigris have their source in the vilayet.

Cereals, cotton, tobacco, rice and silk are produced, but most of the fertile lands have been abandoned to semi-nomads, who raise large quantities of live stock. The richest portion of the vilayet lies east of the capital in the rolling plains watered by tributaries of the Tigris. An exceptionally rich copper mine exists at Arghana Maden, but it is very imperfectly worked; galena mineral oil and silicious sand are also found.

(C. W. W.; F. R. M.)



  1. From Diar, land, and Bekr (i.e. Abu Bekr, the caliph).