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People in the ancient city of Harran live much as they did 5,000 years ago, in beehive-shaped houses made of mud.

People in the ancient city of Harran live much as they did 5,000 years ago, in beehive-shaped houses made of mud. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

People in the ancient city of Harran live much as they did 5,000 years ago, in beehive-shaped houses made of mud.

People in the ancient city of Harran live much as they did 5,000 years ago, in beehive-shaped houses made of mud. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

With few changes in the past 2,000 years, the oldest quarters in Sanliurfa, Turkey, look like a set out of “Arabian Nights.”

With few changes in the past 2,000 years, the oldest quarters in Sanliurfa, Turkey, look like a set out of “Arabian Nights.” (Terry Boyd / S&S)

This view from the Abdurrahman mosque at the Pool of Abraham in Sanliurfa shows its ornate architecture and lush setting.

This view from the Abdurrahman mosque at the Pool of Abraham in Sanliurfa shows its ornate architecture and lush setting. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

Southeastern Turkey is one of the last bastions of Syrian Orthodox Christianity. These boys at a church in Mardin display a text in Suriani, or Aramaic, which is the language Jesus probably spoke.

Southeastern Turkey is one of the last bastions of Syrian Orthodox Christianity. These boys at a church in Mardin display a text in Suriani, or Aramaic, which is the language Jesus probably spoke. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

A woman carries hay in the ancient town of Harran, where people still live in primitive mud huts.

A woman carries hay in the ancient town of Harran, where people still live in primitive mud huts. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

This place is different.

Even to veteran Turkey hands, the southeast is terra incognito. If you’ve been to Istanbul and Kusadasi, you’ll find Mardin and Sanliurfa are another galaxy. You can see the difference in people’s faces and feel it in the fatigue of the distances through the mostly empty plains of Mesopotamia.

Unlike Europeanized western Turkey, these cities are Oriental in the broadest sense: chaotic, colorful and inscrutable. Which is not the most comfortable combination for the average traveler. So I thought I’d find only the most adventurous spirits in southeastern Turkey. And I did.

But I also found lavish hotels in cities unknown to even the most sophisticated American travelers — hotels full of Turkish, European and Canadian tourists.

Eastern Turkey is about as adventurous as one can get on the doorstep of Europe. But it’s a safe, welcoming place for families or single soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Join us for a trek through southeastern Turkey’s exotic sands.

The lineup:¶ Tips for southeast Turkey travel¶ Don't miss these side trips¶ Sanliurfa, Turkey: Land of the prophets¶ Remote Mardin, Turkey: Dozing in the ancient sun¶ Sleep like the sultans

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