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The Toros (Taurus) Mountains which parallel Turkey's southern border, and the Black Sea Mountains in the north join together to form a mighty range which defines the country's eastern border.

Ahlat

The tremendous diversity of the eastern and southeastern lands surprises travelers: the red ochre plateau of Erzurum; the forests, waterfalls, and green pastures of Kars and Agri; the permanent snow-cap on biblical Mount Agri (Ararat); the immense Lake Van with its deep blue waters. Dwellings and modes of life also vary greatly in this large region. Small, earth-roofed dwellings, built close to the ground typify houses around Kars. Despite a generally austere life, the people of the area are generous and hospitable.

 


The region's long and turbulent history has left monuments to its various civilizations: Byzantine monasteries and churches, Seljuk mausoleums and caravanserais, elegant Ottoman mosques and hilltop citadels. To the inveterate traveler and lover of adventure, this region of Turkey fascinates, astonishes and informs.

FROM ERZINCAN TO DOGUBAYAZIT


Panoramic View, Kemaliye

The national highway, the great trans-Anatolian axis road, is the most direct route between Ankara and the Iranian border passing through Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum, Agri and Dogubayazit. Erzincan, the principal city of the province, lies 688 km east of Ankara on a fertile plain. The highly decorated and hand-fashioned copper vessels and wares of Erzincan reflect the long tradition of the area's fame in metalwork. Bolkar, a ski slope 40 kilometers to the west, provides facilities for winter sports enthusiasts. Many of the magnificent bronze objects in Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations were found nearby at the Urartian site of Altintepe, east of Erzincan. At Tercan, the round 12th century, mausoleum of Mama Hatun with its beautifully carved stone portal is worth a detour off the main road. Girvelik, in the same southeasterly direction, provides bucolic picnic spots where you can eat a packed lunch and relax to the sound of water tumbling over rocks. Kemaliye, situated on the banks of the Firat River is one of the most beautiful and green areas in the region. It is known for its lovely countryside and scenic views; especially popular with trekkers. Kemaliye is also known for its traditional homes with their artistic detail. Karanlik Bogaz near Kemaliye is one of the best places for photo-safaris, canoeing and rafting.

 


Detail of wood home, Kemaliye

Erzurum, 193 km east of Erzincan and the largest city in eastern Anatolia, sprawls on a high plateau at an altitude of 1,950 m. As you enter the city, the large Aziziye monument commemorating the Turkish-Russian War will catch your eye.


Girvelik Waterfalls, Erzincan

Although the collection in the archaeological museum reveals much of the city's history and ancient origins, it is Erzurum's architecture which is in fact the city's best museum. The city walls and fortress are reminiscent of the period of Byzantine rule. And particularly important are the remaining Seljuk buildings, brilliant examples of a fascinating aesthetic. The Ulu Mosque, built in 1179, has an unusual form with seven wide naves. The Qifte Minareli Medrese, or theological college, built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in 1253, astonishes with elaborate stone carvings on its portal and its majestic double minarets. Behind the Cifte Minareli Medrese stands the 09 Kumbetler, a group of three tombs, the most notable; that of Emir Saltuk. The 13th century Hatunlye Turbesi, or mausoleum, was built for Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat's daughter. The beautiful portal and richly tiled minaret of the 13th century,Yakutiye Medrese reveals another facet of Seljuk architecture. You can also see Ottoman buildings in Erzurum; the great architect Sinan left his mark on the city with the Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque.


Cifte Minareli Medrese, Erzurum

While wandering around the Erzurum, notice the local black stone (Erzurum, Oltu Tasi), which is used in jewelry. The shops on the upper floor of the Tashan (Rustem Pasa Caravanserai) offer the best selections of merchandise.

A road through splendid mountain scenery leads to the winter sports resort of Palandoken, only six kms from Erzurum. This center has hotels, the longest ski run and the best snow quality in Turkey, and is a favorite haunt of expert skiers. The glassy Tortum Lake, 120 km from Erzurum towards Artvin and the Black Sea, may be the most tranquil sight in all of Turkey. Be sure to see the Tortum Waterfalls at the north end of the lake, plunging from a height of 47 ms.


Yakutiye Medrese, Erzurum

Kars, standing at an altitude of 1,750 ms, has played an important role in Turkish history and was at the center of the Turkish-Russian War. The Russian legacy can still be seen in much of the town's architecture. The lower city unfolds at the foot of an impressive 12th century Seljuk fortress.

  
Palandoken, Erzurum
                                   Ani ruins, Kars                          

Nearby, the Havariler Museum (the 10th century Church of the Apostles) reveals a curious mixture of architectural influences. Bas-reliefs representing the 12 apostles, in rather stiff and awkward poses, ring the exterior drum of the dome. The Archaeological Museum houses beautiful wood carvings, an excellent collection of coins found in the surrounding region, as well as many ethnographic items relating to eastern Turkey.

Kars is particularly known for its distinctive kilims and carpets, and it retains a strong heritage of folk dancing. Visitors always seem to enjoy this traditional entertainment. On the mountain pastures, villagers produce excellent Kasar cheese and delicious honey.


Seytan Castle

About 42 km east of the city on the ancient Silk Road, the medieval city of Ani (Ocakli) lies mostly in ruins. Impressive fortified walls still encircle the ruins of numerous churches, mosques and caravanserais. Sarikamis (53 km southwest of Kars) is a ski center with resort hotels set in a scenic pine forest. The Kur river divides Ardahan and separates the ancient part on one side and the new city on the other. A 16th century castle built by Sultan Selim the Grim, one of the most stately citadels in Turkey with 14 towers and a span of 745 meters, stands in the old part of the city. To the north of Ardahan via Posof lies the Turkgozu border gate which is now open for travel through the Republic of Georgia.


Ishak Pasa

Cildir takes its name from the nearby lake which lies at an altitude of 1,965 meters. The scenic area around the lake provides a habitat for a fascinating variety of birds. In the lake, the manmade Akcakale Island was reputedly constructed with the labor of thousands; a temple with Urartian inscriptions remains. Seytan (Devil's) Castle is near Cildir. The city of Igdir stands on a large, fertile plain where fruit and, unusual for this geographical region, cotton grow. The Bible relates that when the flood waters receded, Noah and his family descended from Mount Agri (Ararat) toward the fertile Igdir plain. From here, their progeny settled to the south and west along the Firat (Euphrates) and Dicle (Tigris) Rivers, establishing the second generation of mankind. From this plain, you have the best view of Mount Agri. Monuments to visit near the city include Urartian rock monuments, a 13th century Seljuk caravanserai and the Karakale (Black Castle). In Karakoyun Village, on the road between Igdir and Aralik, you should stop at the impressive 15th century cemeteries with Karakoyun (ram and ewe) monumental tombstones.


Ishak Pasa Palaca

Agri, a provincial capital on a 1,650 m high plateau, takes its name from the mountain which looms over it. The pleasant Balik (Fish) Lake to the northeast, not surprisingly, has plenty of fish restaurants serving local delicacies. Thermal springs bubble up all over the area. For those who want a hardy outdoor event, visit the Bubi Ski Center, 20 km southwest of Agri, for a few days of snow sport.


Mount Ararat (Agri)

Do not miss the spectacular site of the Ishak Pasa a Palace, only 6 km from Dogubayazit. Ishak Pasa, Ottoman governor of the province, constructed the palace in the 17th century with a mixture of architectural styles. Nearby you can see a bas-relief of an Urartian king, and a rock tomb from the ninth century B.C Near Dogubayazit, Turkey's most scenic natural monument, Mount Agri rises to a height of 5,137 m. To see the place where it is believed that Noah's Ark came aground, go to Uzengili village, 25 km east of Dogubayazit. Be sure to try the local dessert, asure (Noah's Pudding), believed to have first been made by Noah's wife from the last bits of food on the ark.

FROM MALATYA TO HAKKARI

The most direct routs to this region is the Central Anatolian Highway that passes through Kayseri, Malatya, Demo, Bingol, Mus, Van and on to Iran, via Hakkari.

  
Countryside Scene                Scenic view, Firat River

Malatya is a busy city situated on a fertile plain at the foot of the Anti-Taurus Mountains. The archaeology museum houses new finds from the Lower Firat region that date from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages. Next to the city museum, you can shop in the bazaar where an entire passageway of shops is devoted to copper wares. In Malatya, the apricot growing center of Turkey, it is possible to sample many delicious apricot confections as well as other fresh and dried fruit. The two small towns which pre-date the establishment of present day Malatya are easy expeditions. Aslantepe, 7 km away, was the capital of a Hittite state in the first millennium B.C., and Battalgazi, 9 km away, was once the ancient city of Melitene. At the latter, stand the ruins of a Byzantine enclosure, and in the center of town, the 13th century Ulu Mosque is an excellent example of Seljuk architecture.

Elazig, founded in the 19th century, lies on a plain in the shadow of a mountain crowned with the ancient city of Harput's citadel. The destruction from several earthquakes and the relatively recent construction of Elazig, has led to most of Harput's population deserting it for the modern city. Several Seljuk mosques remain, however, which are worth visiting. The Keban and Karakaya Dams on the Firat river have created huge artificial lakes, dramatically altering the surrounding environment. Twenty-five km south of Elazig, the lovely and tranquil Hazar Lake beckons.


Izzet Pasa Mosque, Elazig

High mountains encircle Tunceli, 133 km north of Elazig, on the Elazig-Erzurum road. On the way, stop off to see the fortress of Pertek, built in the Middle Ages and still in good condition today. In the Munzur Valley National Park near Ovacik, 60 km northwest of Tunceli, you can fish in rushing, trout-filled streams while enjoying the amazing scenery.

Bingol means "a thousand lakes": a name given to the town because of the many glacier lakes in the surrounding mountains. In the city stand the remains of a medieval fortress Bingol-Yolcati (Kurucadag) Ski Center is 20 km to the west.


Tatvan Harbor

Mug, a subdistrict of Korkut and a little out of the way for most tourist routes, was founded in the 6th century. Many of the city's monuments, including the remains of a citadel and the Aslanhane Caravanserai, are in poor condition. The Seljuk mosques of Alaeddin Pap and Haci Seref, however, are certainly worth a detour. Korkut is famous for its kilim weaving and Siirt blankets; it's definitely worth seeing.


Bitlis Folkloric Dancing

The lively city of Bitlis, an important center of tobacco production, occupies the middle of a green oasis. The city's architecture uses the local dark stone, and the masonry monuments include the Serefhan Medrese, the 12th century Ulu Mosque, the Seljuk Gokmeydani Mosque and the Ottoman Serefiye Mosque. Bitlis Ski Center is close to the town's center. From Tatvan on the western shore of Lake Van, you can take a passenger train and ferry across the water to Van. Nemrut Dagi (Mount Nemrut) makes a challenging climb. In its center a deep crater lake bubbles with volcanic hot springs.

The ruins of Ahlat, 44 km north of Tatvan on the western shore Lake Van, once an important city of Turkish art and culture, are scattered today among more recent constructions. In the 12th century this city was the capital of the Turkish state that ruled the Van Basin. Several mausoleums, notably the Ulu Kumbet, the Bayindir Kumbet, the Hasan Pasa Kumbet, and the Cifte Kumbets offer a comprehensive overview of Seljuk funerary architecture and decoration. In the Seljuk cemetery are beautifully inscribed monumental tombstones from the 12th century. The Turkish Art Museum houses a collection of ceramics, ancient coins and jewelry. Modern Ahlat provides lakeside tourist accomodations, beach facilities and restaurants.

      
                             Ahlat Mausoleum                               Hasan Padisah Mausoleum, Ahlat    

As you drive around the lake you come to Adilcevaz, where the Ulu Mosque, built of the region's dark volcanic stone, stands on the lake shore. Ten km west of Adilcevaz is Kef Castle, and the nearby Urartian temple of Haldi dates from the 9 th century B.C. Artifacts from this site can been seen in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. The Adilcevaz High School garden displays some of the column bases.

Van, the ancient Urartian capital of Tuspa, tempts visitors to its location on the eastern shore of the lake. This remote but important city is set in a verdant oasis at the foot of a rocky peak. An imposing 9th century B.C. citadel overlooks the new and the old parts of town. Steps carved in the rock lead to the Urartian fortress; halfway up, inscriptions in cuneiform pay homage to Xerxes. Within the fortress are several Urartian royal rock tombs. In the old city, the Ulu Mosque, Husrev Pasa Mosque, Kaya Celebi Mosque and the Ikiz Kumbets reflect Seljuk and Ottoman architectural styles. Van's interesting Archaeological Museum is in the new city, inland from the uninhabited old district. Still very much part of a traditional lifestyle, the women of Van produce beautiful kilims woven in blue, red and white patterns. The exotic white fur Van cat, a protected animal, is distinguished by one blue and one green eye.


Ancient Van

At Van Iskelesi (Van Harbor), hospitable tea gardens and restaurants invite you for a break. Edremit, a holiday resort center 14 km to the southwest, has good beaches, swimming and camping. In the same direction is Gevras, where you can visit a Seljuk cemetery with many decorated headstones and the lovely Halime Hatun Mausoleum.


Muradiye Waterfall, Van

Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey and at an altitude of 1,720 m, is ringed by beautiful mountains: Mount Suphan (4,058 m) on the northwest side and the Ihtiyar Sahap Mountains to the south. You can circle the lake, visiting several ancient Urartian sites as well as others that represent the legacy of the various peoples who have inhabited the area. Some of the islands in Lake Van have monasteries and churches built on them, no doubt the remote location offered seclusion to the resident religious communities. Forty-one km southwest of Van, Akdamar Island (a half-hour sail from shore) is the most important of these. On the island stands the 10th century Church of the Holy Cross, now a museum, whose stone outer walls are richly carved with Old Testament scenes and figures. After sightseeing, swimmers and picnickers can enjoy themselves around the island's almond groves. If you have time, visit Carpanak Island to enjoy its landscape and to wander around the 12th-century church, now a museum.


Akdamar Island

Cavustepe, 35 km from Van on the Hakkari road, is an important Urartian citadel. Excavated in 1970, today you can see temples, a palace, sacrificial altar and inscriptions. On the pastoral, winding road to Hakkari, the Zernek Dam Lake offers a resting spot on the way to Hosap, 60 km from Van, where a 17th century fairytale castle rises above a small hill. Although the inside is badly damaged, the exterior walls, crenellations and turrets are well- preserved.


Urartian cuneiform inscriptions, Van Archeology Museum

Among the interesting geographical features around Lake Van, the Muradiye Waterfalls, 88 km north of Van, with a peaceful tea garden and restaurants, and Gahnispi-Beyaz Cesme Falls, 60 km south of Van, are worth visiting.

The road to remote Hakkari, 203 km southeast of Van, takes you through some of Turkey's most magnificent scenery: the Clio-Sat Mountains and the Zap Valley. A medieval fortress dominates the city, which is at an altitude of 1,700 m.


Van kilim motifs


 

 
 

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