The Eastern Anatolia Region
Toros (Taurus) Mountains paralleling Turkey's southern border,
and the Black Sea Mountains in the north meet to form a
mighty range which defines the country's eastern border.
The tremendous diversity of the eastern and southeastern
lands surprises travellers: 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);
and the immense Lake Van with its deep blue waters. Dwellings
and ways of life also vary greatly in this large region.
For example, small, earth-roofed houses, built close to
the ground typify Kars. Despite a generally austere life,
the people of Kars are generous and hospitable.
The region's long and turbulent history has left monuments
to its various civilisations: Byzantine monasteries and
churches, Seljuk mausoleums and caravanserais and elegant
Ottoman mosques and hilltop citadels. To the inveterate
traveller and lover of adventure, this region of Turkey
fascinates, astonishes and informs.
From Erzincan to Doğubayazıt
The great trans-Anatolian axis road, is the most direct
route between Ankara and the Iranian border, and passes
through Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum, Agri and Dogubayazit.
Erzincan, the principal city of its province, lies 688
km east of Ankara on a fertile plain. The highly-decorated
and hand-fashioned copperware of Erzincan maintains a long
tradition in the area's fame for metalwork. Bolkar, a ski
slope 40 km to the west, provides facilities for winter
Many of the magnificent bronze objects in the Museum of
Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara were found at the nearby
Uranian 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. The waterfalls at Girvelik, in the same southeasterly
direction, provide ideal picnic spots where you can eat
a packed lunch and relax to the sound of water tumbling
over rocks. Southwest of Erzincan is the beautiful green
town of Kemaliye on the Firat (Euphrates) River. The hospitality
of the locals and the architecture of the town are worth
a visit. The best place for rafting and canoeing is at nearby
Karanlik Bogaz. You will also want to go on a photo safari
to take in the natural beauty of the area.
Erzurum, 193 km east of Erzincan and the largest city in
eastern Anatolia, sprawls on a high plateau at an altitude
of 1,950 meters. As you enter the city, the large Aziziye
monument commemorating the Turkish-Russian war will catch
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 best picture of its past.
The city walls and fortress are reminiscent of the period
of Byzantine rule. Of particular importance 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 Çifte 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
Çifte Minareli Medrese stands the Üç
Kümbetler, a group of three tombs, the most notable
of which is that of Emir Saltuk. The 13th century Hatuniye
Türbesi, or mausoleum, was built for Sultan Alaeddin
Keykubat's daughter. The beautiful portal and richly-tiled
minaret of the 13th-century, Yakutiye Medrese reveal another
facet of Seljuk architecture. You can also see Ottoman buildings
in Erzurum. The great architect Sinan left his mark on the
city in the Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque.
wandering around the city, notice the local black stone
(Erzurum Oltu Tasi) which is used in jewellery. The shops
on the upper floor of the Tashan (Rüstem Pasa Caravanserai)
offer the best selection. A road through splendid mountain
scenery leads to the winter sports resort of Palandöken,
only 6 km from Erzurum. This center has a number of hotels
as well as the longest ski run and the best snow quality
in Turkey, making it a favourite haunt of expert skiers.
The glassy Tortum lake, 120 km from Erzurum in the direction
of 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, that plunge from a height of
47 meters. (After the rushing torrents of the April to June
snow-melt clears the falls, the flow of water slows considerably.)
(212 km northeast of Erzurum) stands at an altitude of 1,750
meters and has played an important role in Turkish history.
It was at the center of the Turko-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 Seljuk
fortress from the 12th century. Nearby, the Havariler Museum
(the 10th century Church of the Apostles) reveals a curious
mixture of architectural influences. Bas-reliefs representing
the twelve apostles in rather stiff and primitive 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 folkdancing. Visitors always seem to
enjoy this traditional entertainment. On the mountain pastures,
villagers produce excellent Kasar cheese and delicious honey.
About 42 kilometres east of the city on the ancient Silk
Road, the medieval Armenian capital of Ani (Ocakli) lies
mostly in ruins. Impressive fortified walls still encircle
the ruins of numerous churches, mosques and caravanserais.
The extent to which the large churches are still standing
after a thousand years will amaze you. Sarikamis (53 km
southwest of Kars) is a ski center with resort hotels set
in a scenic pine forest.
The Kür River divides Ardahan in the samenamed province
(83 km from Kars) and separates the ancient pan on one side
from 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 pan of the city. To the north of Ardahan via
Posof lies the Türkgözü bordergate which
is now open for travel to the republic of Georgia.
Çildir 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 Akçakale Island was
reputedly constructed with the labour of thousands; a temple
with Urartian inscriptions remains. Seytan (Devil's) Castle
is near Çildir.
city of Igdir in the samenamed province 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 Mt. Agri
(Ararat) toward the fertile plain. From here, their progeny
most likely 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 Uranian rock monuments, a 13th century Seljuk
caravanserai and the Karakale (Black Castle). In Karakoyun
Village, on the road between Igdir and Aralik, stop at the
impressive 15th century cemeteries with Karakoyun (ram and
ewe) monumental tombstones.
Agri, a provincial capital on a 1,650-meter-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 hardy outdoor events, a visit the Bubi Dagi Ski Center,
20 km southwest of Agri, will provide a few days of snow
not miss the spectacular Ishak Pasa 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
Near Dogubayazit, Turkey's most scenic natural monument,
Mt. Agri rises to a height of 5,137 meters. To see the place
where it is believed that Noah's Ark came aground, you can
begin your trek at Üzengili 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 in the ark.
From Malatya to Hakkari
The most direct route to this region is the Central Anatolian
Highway that passes through Kayseri, Malatya, Elazig, Bingöl,
Mus, Van and on to Iran, via Hakkari.
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 at the bazaar where an entire passageway
of shops is devoted to copperware. 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
Elazig, founded in the 19th century, lies on a plain in
the shadow of a mountain crowned with the ancient citadel
of Harput. Destruction wrought by several earthquakes and
the relatively recent construction of Elazig has led to
most of the population of Harput 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 kilometres south
of Elazig, the lovely and tranquil Hazar Lake invites relaxation.
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
The name of Bingöl means "a thousand lakes",
a name given to it because of the many glacier lakes in
the surrounding mountains. In the city stand the remains
of a medieval fortress. Bingöl-Yolçati (Kurucadag)
Ski Center is 20 km to the west.
Mus, a little out of the way for most tourist expeditions,
was founded in the sixth 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 Pasa
and Haci Seref, however, are certainly worth a detour. Korkuteli
is famous for its kilim weaving and Siirt blankets; it is
definitely worth seeing.
The lively city of Bitlis, an important center of tobacco
production, stands in the middle of a green oasis. The city's
architecture uses the local dark stone, and the stone monuments
include the Serefhan Medrese, the 12th-century Ulu Mosque,
the Seljuk Gökmeydani Mosque and the Ottoman Serefiye
Mosque. Bitlis Sapgõr Ski Center is close to the
town's center. From Tatvan on the western shore of Lake
Van, you can take a passenger and train ferry across the
water to Van. Nemrut Dagi (Mt. Nemrut, not to be confused
with Nemrut Dagi National Park in the province of Adiyaman)
makes a challenging climb. In its center a deep crater lake
bubbles with volcanic hot springs.
The ruins of Ahlat are 44 km north of Tatvan on the western
shore of Lake Van. The ruins of this once-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 Kümbet, the Bayindir
Kümbet, the Hasan Pasa Kümbet and the Çifte
Kümbet offer a comprehensive overview of Seljuk funerary
architecture and decoration. In the Seljuk cemetry are beautifully
inscribed memorial tombstones from the 12th century. The
Turkish Art Museum houses a collection of ceramics, ancient
coins and jewellery. Modern Ahlat provides lakeside tourist
accommodation, beach facilities and restaurants.
As you drive on 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 kilometres west of
Adilcevaz is Kef Castle, and the nearby Urartian temple
of Haldi dates from the ninth century B.C. Artifacts from
this site can be seen in the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations
in Ankara. The Adilcevaz High School yard displays some
of the column bases.
Van (170 km east of Bitlis), the ancient Urartian capital
of Tuspa, tempts visitors with 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 the steps, inscriptions in cuneiform pay homage
to Xerxes. Within the fortress are several Urartian royal
rock tombs. In the old city, the Ulu Mosque, Hüsrev
Pasa Mosque, Kaya Çelebi Mosque and the Ikiz Kümbet
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 Van cat, a protected
specie, has thick white fur and one blue and one green eye.
At Van Iskelesi (Van Harbour), friendly 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 Gevas, where you can
visit a Seljuk cemetery with numerous decorated headstones,
and the lovely Halime Hatun Mausoleum.
Van, the largest lake in Turkey is at an altitude of 1,720
meters, and is ringed by beautiful mountains. Mt. Süphan
(4,058 meters) is on the northwest side and the Ihtiyar
Sahap Mountains is to the south. You can circle the lake,
visiting several ancient Uranian sites as well as other
places that represent the legacies of the various peoples
who 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 kilometres 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 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, also visit Çarpanak
Island to enjoy its landscape and to wander around the 12th-century
church, which has now been converted into a museum.
Çavustepe, 35 km from Van on the Hakkari road, is
an important Uranian citadel. Excavated in 1970, today you
can see temples, a palace, a sacrificial altar and inscriptions.
On the pastoral, winding road to Hakkari, the Zernek Dam
Lake offers itself as 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 interior is badly damaged,
the exterior walls, crenellations and turrets are well-preserved.
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
Çesme 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
Cilo-Sat Mountains and the Zap Valley. A medieval fortress
dominates the city, which is at an altitude of 1,748 meters.