The shabby town of AHLAT, which lies a picturesque drive 42km northeast of Tatvan along the north shore of Lake Van, is known chiefly for its medieval Muslim cemetery, holding hundreds of beautifully carved gravestones, and for its monumental tombs, known as türbe in Turkish.

The cemetery and tombs are by far the most substantial remains of a settlement that can boast a very long history. The Urartians are known to have been here in the first millennium BC, and were followed in turn by the Armenians. Ahlat fell to the Arabs during the seventh century, was retaken by the Byzantines two hundred years later, and subsequently passed to the victorious Selçuks after the nearby Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Mongols, who arrived in 1244, were succeeded by the İlhanids a century later; by the fifteenth century Ahlat had become the main base of the Akkoyunlu 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 continued to be a populous, polyglot city until World War I.

Old Ahlat is a sprawling site, centred on a small museum, with the most visited of the monumental tombs, the Ulu Kümbet, some 300m south. The Meydan cemetery, peppered with intricately carved tombstones, is immediately north of the museum, while the Bayındır tomb lies 600m north of the museum across the cemetery. The city ruins nestle in a valley around 400m west of the Bayındır tomb.

 

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