Excursions to the Far East and Black Sea Coast: Places to Explore

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Diyarbakır

As the region's commercial, cultural, and political center, Diyarbakır and its ancient basalt walls command a bluff overlooking the Tigris River. Despite past skirmishes that led to an unsafe reputation, relative peace and economic development are finally having an effect and the city is starting to creep back onto tourist itineraries.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Diyarbakır was forced to absorb a large number of villagers fleeing the fighting in the countryside between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces. Many villages were compulsorily evacuated, and this huge influx of mostly poor villagers taxed the already poor city's infrastructure and social services and has left lasting social problems. In more recent years, though, the local municipality has embarked on several restoration and beautification projects, such as renovating historic homes in the old city and opening them up to visitors, which is helping bring the city's charm closer to the surface.

Today visitors will find a fascinating city going through a cultural revival, with its 5½-km (3-mile) stretch of massive impregnable black-basalt walls, built at the orders of Constantine the Great, twisting alleyways, old stone homes, wonderful mosques and churches, and a lively bazaar. Be warned that it can still look a bit rough around the edges, as it's still a poor city, with modern concrete houses (some might call them ugly), grubby backstreets, and pestering children. Locals are generally welcoming to visitors; you may want to stick to the main streets and hire a guide to explore the old city in depth.

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