The largest producer of apricots in the world, MALATYA, is a seldom-visited city of nearly half a million people that’s set in a broad green valley around 60km north of Nemrut Dağı. Despite a long history going back over five thousand years, during which the Assyrians, Hittites, Romans, Selçuk Turks and Ottomans all held sway, there’s little of any significant age left to see within the city. Nonetheless it makes a pleasant overnight stop before tackling Nemrut Dağı, while, very close at hand, the old town of Eski Malatya offers an interesting diversion, as does Aslantepe (Lion Hill), a millennia-old settlement mound that’s been newly interpreted for visitors.
Scratch beneath the surface in Malatya, and an at-times uneasy mix of Turkish nationalists, devout Sunni Muslims, Alevîs and Kurds soon becomes apparent. Always a political town, it’s the home of two former presidents of the Republic, General İsmet İnönü and part-Kurdish Turgut Özal, and is also the birthplace of Armenian-Turk Hrant Dink, slain by an ultra-nationalist Turkish teenager in 2007.
The old Şire Pazarı, in the centre between Atatürk Bulvarı and the ring road, is devoted to local agricultural produce, namely cherries, mulberries, apples, walnuts and, especially, apricots. There’s an apricot festival (second week in July) at Mişmiş Parkı, 5km east of the centre.Read More
Following fifty years of meticulous excavations by Italian archeologists, the 16,000-square-metre settlement mound at Aslantepe, dating back to the fourth millennium BC, has recently opened as an open-air museum. At the entrance stand newly carved copies of some of the monumental neo-Hittite statuary found here, including the god Tarhunzas and a couple of fine grinning lions – after which the site was named when the originals were discovered in the nineteenth century. There’s also the reconstruction of a typical mud-brick Bronze Age house.
A signed walkway leads visitors through the various layers of this complex but fascinating site, which has seen occupation in the Chalcolithic era (fourth millennium BC), the Bronze Age, the Hittite era, and finally the Roman and medieval periods. You can walk through the mud-brick remains of a palace dating from 3000 BC and a temple built circa 3500 BC. In the latter, archeologists found over a thousand pottery bowls – evidence of very early mass production. Everything is well explained by a series of informative display boards.
The top of the mound offers fine views, across a veritable sea of apricot trees, to the distant mountains.
Eski Malatya (Battalgazi)
Eski Malatya (Battalgazi)
The ruined Roman/Byzantine/Selçuk/Ottoman town of Eski Malatya, or “Old Malatya”, north of modern Malatya, has now been engulfed by the modern settlement of Battalgazi.
From the main square where buses arrive, which holds plenty of shady çay places as well as a few basic restaurants, a 200m walk southwest brings you to a massive seventeenth-century kervansaray, the Silahtar Mustafa Paşa. The building has been so heavily restored it looks like new, and some of the former stables are now shops selling tacky souvenirs, but the kışlık (winter room), with its fine cross-vaulted ceiling and rows of fireplaces, is impressive.
The wonderful Ulu Cami, a huge mosque complex commissioned by Selçuk sultan, Alâeddin Keykubad, is a five-minute walk south. Built around a central courtyard, it comprises both summer and winter mosques. The latter consists of plain stonework with massive pillars, and the former of a central bay with a soaring domed roof flanked by two wings.