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Ahlat-Emir Bayindir Mausoleum


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Referred to as the 'sea' by local people, Lake Van spans the province of Bitlis to the west and Van to the east. Ahlat lies on its western shore between the towering mountain of Nemrut to the southwest and Süphan to the northeast. Behind the town stretches the plain of Ahlat. Mount Nemrut is the last of Turkey's volcanos ever to erupt, and it was one of its ancient eruptions which created Lake Van. The flowing lava petrified to form a natural dam, behind which the waters collected to form Turkey's largest lake. In the crater of Mount Nemrut itself is Lake Nemrut, also a record holder as Turkey's deepest lake. Ahlat is famed for its Seljuk period mausoleums, whose magnificent architecture and stone carving have led historians to describe it as the land of the Seljuk renaissance. These tombs number among the greatest monuments of early Turkish civilisation in Anatolia. The history of this region can be traced back to the 15th century BC. It was ruled in turn by the Assyrians, Urartians, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Seleucids, Parthians and Alatosians, to be followed by the Byzantines, Abbasids and diverse principalities. Ahlat, anciently Hilat, changed hands frequently, and was the scene of countless uprisings and invasions. The Seljuk Turks took Ahlat in 1093, and ruled here until 1230. This was followed by more centuries of upheaval, which lasted until Ahlat became part of the Ottoman Empire after the Battle of Çaldıran in 1514. So Ahlat is a town which has seen many peoples come and go, and survived periods of prosperity and adversity.

The renowned mausoleums, known as kümbet, stand by the road, or at the edge of fields, others in peoples' gardens or on hilltops. These centuries old buildings are among the finest examples of Seljuk architecture, and the final resting places of many eminent figures of the period. Most of the kümbets have a square base above which is a polygonal drum supporting a cylindrical body, covered by a conical roof with an interior cupola. A few, such as that of Şeyh Necmeddin, are square. One of the most distinctive kümbets is that of Emir Bayındır, encircled by short columns linked by arches. Among those most renowned for their ornate carving are Usta Şagirt Kümbet (Ulu Kümbet) dated 1273, the Hasan Padişah Kümbet and Double Kümbets dating from around the same time, the Hüseyin Timur Kümbet (1279) and Bugatay Aka Kümbet (1281). As we went from one to the other, we felt as if we had travelled back in time. Most had richly decorated portals, carved in relief with dragons, geometric and floriate motifs, and inscriptions. The Seljuk graveyard at Ahlat is another extraordinary sight. Here the graves are marked not by kümbets, but by great stones 2 metres in height, known locally as akıt. Like the kümbets, the stone carving on these tombstones is remarkable, turning the cemetery into an openair museum.

Ahlat is a town with a population of over ten thousand which sprawls along its 5 kilometre long main street, Sanayi Caddesi. Seated on small stools outside the coffee houses and shops along here we got to know the town's modern inhabitants over our glasses of strong tea. Behind the main street are the charming one and two storey houses built of local Ahlat stone, and almost buried in green foliage. Each house has a large garden planted with mainly apricot, cherry, walnut and plum trees, and surrounded by a wall of the same stone. The economy of Ahlat is based on farming and animal husbandry, but it is also famous still for its stone and stone masons. As well as the Ahlat stone, pumice is quarried in the region.


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