Explore Lake Van and the southeast
Lake Van’s northern shore, a sometimes austere volcanic landscape relieved intermittently by charming pastoral valleys and a lush foreshore, is well worth exploring. First up, a picturesque 42km drive from Tatvan is the shabby town of AHLAT, known chiefly for its Selçuk cemetery, with hundreds of medieval stone graves, and for its monumental tombs.
First an Urartian, then Armenian settlement, Ahlat fell to the Arabs during the seventh century, was retaken by the Byzantines two hundred years later, and passed to the Selçuks after the nearby Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Mongols arrived in 1244, succeeded by the İlhanids a century later; by the 1400s Ahlat was the main base of the Akkoyun Turcomans. Even after the local Ottoman conquest of 1548, real power in this remote region remained in the hands of the Kurdish emirs of Bitlis. Ahlat was a populous, polyglot city until World War I.
Today Ahlat’s famous kümbet tombs are scattered about some 2km southwest of the modern settlement’s centre. In a typical local kümbet (which accommodated one to four persons), the deceased was interred in an underground chamber, beneath a prayer room reached by steps from the outside. It’s thought that the traditional nomadic tent inspired the distinctive conical design, executed in deep brown basalt, often by Armenian stonemasons.
The Ulu Kümbet (Great Tomb), built for a late thirteenth-century Mongol chieftain and set in a field just south of the main road as you approach the town, is the largest in the Van region On the opposite side of the road is a small museum. It contains much useful information about, and finds from, the medieval city that once spread all around here. There are also some fine examples of Urartian bronze-work.
The Selçuk cemetery covers almost two square kilometres, crammed with tilted, lichen-encrusted headstones dating from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. Most are covered with floral, geometric and calligraphic (Persian and Arabic scripts) decoration.
Walk north across the cemetery to the Bayındır Türbesi, with its colonnaded upper storey and distinctive mescit (prayer room); built in 1492 to house the remains of the Turcoman chief Bayındır. Left and downhill from this tomb, signed Harabe Şehir (City Ruins) is an idyllic valley alive with colourful birds such as hoopoes and bee-eaters as well as the odd tortoise. Here there are rock-cut houses and the pretty fifteenth-century humpbacked bridge of Emir Bayındır. On a bluff above stands the prominent Hasan Padişah Türbesi, built in 1275. Almost twenty metres high its cylindrical body is topped by a pyramidal roof.
Closer to the modern town centre is the Çifte Kümbet (Twin Tomb), dating from 1281. One of the pair of tombs was built for a Mongol emir and his wife, the other for their son and daughter-in-law. The fortress to the northeast of town was built during the sixteenth century by sultans Süleyman the Magnificent and his son Selim. Once grand, it is now a crumbling ruin with good views of the lake.Read More