Okay, so where are we up to? We showed you the map of our route from Patnos to Tatvan on our little mini road trip. Our first stop was Adilcevaz with the centuries old mosque and beautiful views across Van Gölü, and then it was time to press on towards Ahlat. And Ahlat is the subject of this post.
If you remember, we’d just got back from a longer East Turkey road trip the day before and we were all mildly fatigued – so this little jaunt along the lake shore was all about chilling out and enjoying some scenery along the way. There’s much more to Ahlat than you’re going to see in this post. According to some write-ups we’ve seen, Ahlat is worth a whole day of your time, so perhaps we did it an injustice by only sticking around one site for an hour or so…but then that’s what happens when you haven’t got the luxury of time to play with, and what we saw was definitely memorable enough, anyway…
Because Ahlat is well known for its graveyard. This isn’t any ordinary graveyard, however. The headstones in this cemetery are said to date back to the 13th century. They’re set over a sprawling, grassy landscape (springtime wildflowers are peeping through when we’re there) and surrounded by distant hills to one side, overlooked by beautiful Süphan Dağı (Turkey’s second highest mountain) to another side, and the ripples of Van Gölü lap the shoreline opposite the entrance. No, this is not a bad setting…
The tombstones are all decorated to a certain extent – but some more than others. These taller, more intricately carved stones obviously belong to more prominent people. According to the information board, these are the tombs of the Muslim judges. Rumi patterns and Arabic calligraphy provide the information and aesthetics. And – rightly so, you have to think – the craftsmen who carved these tombstones were also respected for their work. They got to ‘sign’ the tombstones. These were designed by ‘Üvey’s son, Ali.’
But do you know what? I’m a history lover, I read, I visit historic sites, I have a minor armchair obsession with archaeology…but east Turkey just blew our minds. While we’re at this cemetery in Ahlat, none of us are really concentrating on the historical detail of what we’re witnessing.
For so long, we’ve read about the springtime wildflowers around Van Gölü – and now, here we are on the shores of the lake, in spring, and we’re in a vast area – snow-covered Süphan Dağı watching over us – and these stone pillars springing forth from the meadowland at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles. Yet, apart from the odd crow sitting atop a tombstone, we’re the only three people here. Everything about east Turkey is just so overwhelming that the history is something to read at leisure another time, if that’s your bag. No, we just want to try to take all in and appreciate where we are.
And just as we’re feeling like three tiny beings in a huge, beautiful empty world, two moving dots appear on the horizon. Eventually, as the dots get closer, we realise they’re on pushbikes. They’re kids on pushbikes and they’re heading our way…fast! Ohhh, joy. Peace over with as they abandon their bikes on the ground next to our distant car and come hurtling towards us. They spot our friend is Turkish and set about impressing their knowledge upon her whilst also providing credentials.
“Abla, abla, we can tell you all about these graves. And we know everything. We won a gold medal at school for being able to remember everything about them. We’ll tell you all about them, abla.”
And they do indeed set about telling ‘abla’ all about the history of the tombs…with gusto! The smaller of the two kids keeps trying to butt in – but there’s no way the taller one’s gonna let that happen. Oh no, he’s on a mission. We’re all automatically heading back towards the car, slowly, as our friend’s history lesson continues. She relays bits back to us.
“They’re saying the tombs which are lying down belonged to the women and the men’s ones are standing.”
“And do they sound convincing,” we ask. “Do they know their stuff?”
“No idea if it’s all true but it’s a brilliant spiel,” she replies.
And me and Barry are quietly chuckling, and the two kids, one on each side of our friend (who is a teacher in these parts) continue their story. They must have binoculars somewhere because we’ve got no idea where they popped up from. We reach the car, get in and our friend passes them 5 TL through the window. They look a bit miffed by this – obviously they think their knowledge doesn’t come cheap. Wonder if the taller, more forthright kid shared the 5 TL with his sidekick…? Not our concern. I put the car in reverse, pull out of the car park and we’re now continuing along the road to Tatvan.
Ahlat Cemetery, East Turkey: Useful Information
- As we said above, there is more to Ahlat than we’ve shown here.
- At the car park entrance, there is a small museum which is closed on Mondays – the day we were there.
- Entrance to the site is free (May 2013). It has been being excavated by Professor Recai Karahan of Yuzuncu Yıl University in conjunction with the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry since 2011.