The Toros (Taurus) Mountains paralleling Turkey's southern border, and the Black Sea Mountains in the north meet to form a mighty range which defines the country's eastern border. The tremendous diversity of the eastern and south-eastern lands surprises travellers: the red ochre plateau of Erzurum; the forests, waterfalls, and green pastures of Kars and Agri, the permanent snow-cap on biblical Mount Agri (Ararat); and the immense Lake Van with its deep blue waters. Dwellings and ways of life also vary greatly in this large region. For example, small, earth-roofed houses, built close to the ground typify Kars. Despite a generally austere life, the people of Kars are generous and hospitable. The region's long and turbulent history has left monuments to its various civilizations: Byzantine monasteries and churches, Seljuk mausoleums and caravanserais, and elegant Ottoman mosques and hilltop citadels. To the inveterate traveller and lover of adventure, this region of Turkey fascinates, astonishes and informs.
FROM ERZINCAN TO DOGUBAYAZIT
The great trans-Anatolian axis road, is the most direct route between Ankara and the Iranian border, and passes through Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum, Agri and Dogubayazit. Erzurum, 193 km cast of Erzincan and the largest city in castern Anatolia, sprawls on a high plateau at an altitude of 1,950 meters. As you enter the city, the large Aziziye monument commemorating the Turkish Russian war will catch your eye.
Although the collection in the archaeological museum reveals much of the city's history and ancient origins, it is Erzurum's architecture which is in fact the best picture of its past. The city walls and fortress are reminiscent of the period of Byzantine rule. Of particular importance are the remaining Seljuk buildings - brilliant examples of a fascinating aesthetic. The Ulu Mosque, built in 1179,has an unusual form with seven wide naves. The Cifte Minareli Medrese, or theological college, built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in 1253, astonishes with elaborate stone carvings on its portal and its majestic double minarets. Behind the Cifte Minareli Medrese stands the Uc Kumbetler, a group of three tombs, the most notable of which is that of Emir Saltuk. The 13th-century Haruniye Turbesi, or mausoleum, was built for Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat's daughter. The beautiful portal and richly-tiled minaret of the 13th-century. Yakutiye Medrese reveal another facet of Seljuk architecture. You can also see Ottoman buildings in Erzurum. The great architect Sinan left his mark on the city in the Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque.
While wandering around the city, notice the local black stone (Erzurum Oltu Tasi) which is used in jewellery. The shops on the upper floor of the Tashan (Rustem Pasa Caravanserai) offer the best selection. A road through splendid mountain scenery leads to the winter sports resort of Palandoken,only 6 km from Erzurum. This centre has a number of hotels a well as the longest ski run ad the best snow quality in Turkey, making it a favourite haunt of expert skiers. The glassy Tortum Lake, 120 km from Erzurum in the direction of Artvin and the Black Sea, may be the most tranquil sight in all of Turkey. Be sure to see the Tortum Waterfalls at the north end of the lake, that plunge from a height of 47 meters. (After the rushing torrents of the April-to-June snow-melt clears the falls, the flow of water slows considerably)
Kars (212 km northeast of Erzurum) stands at an altitude of 1,750 meters and has played an important role in Turkish history. It was at the centre or the Turk-Russian War. The Russian legacy can still be seen in much of the town's architecture. The lower city unfolds at the foot of an impressive Seljuk fortress from the 12th century. Nearby, the Havariler Museum (the 10th-century Church of the Apostles) reveals a curious mixture of architectural influences. Bas-reliefs representing the twelve apostles in rather stiff and primitive poses, ring the exterior drum of the dome. The Archaeological Museum houses beautiful wood carvings, an excellent collection of coins found in the surrounding region, as well as many ethnographic items relating to eastern Turkey. Kars is particularly known for its distinctive kilims and carpets, and it retains a strong heritage of folk dancing. Visitors always seem to enjoy this traditional entertainment. On the mountain pastures, villagers produce excellent Kasar cheese and delicious honey.
Do not miss the spectacular Ishak Pasa Palace, only 6 km from Dogubayazit Ishak Pasa, Ottoman governor of the province, constructed the palace in the 17th century with a mixture of architectural styles. Nearby you can see a bas-relief of an Urartian king, an a rock tomb from the ninth century B.C.
Near Dogubayazit, Turkey's most scenic natural monument Mount Agri rises to a height of 5,137 meters. In see the place where it is believed that Noah's Ark came aground, you can begin your trek at Uzengili village, 25 km cast of Dogubayazit Be sure to try the local desert, asure (Noah's Pudding) believed to have first heen made by Noah's wife from the last bits of food to the ark.
The ruins of Ahlat are 44 km north of Tatvan on the western shore of Lake Van. The ruins of this once-important city of Turkish art and culture are scattered today among more recent constructions. In the 12th century this city was the capital of the Turkish state that ruled the Van Basin. Several mausoleums, notably the Ulu Kumbet, the Bayindir Kumbet, the Hasap Pasa Kumbet and the Cifte Kumbet offer a comprehensive overview of Seljuk funerary architecture and decoration. In the Seljuk cemetery are beautifully inscribed memorial tombstones from the 12th century. The Turkish Art Museum houses a collection of ceramics, ancient coins and jewellery. Modern Ahlat provides lakeside tourist accommodation, beach facilities and restaurants.
As you drive on around the lake you come to Adilcevaz where the Ulu Mosque, built of the region's dark volcanic stone, stands on the lake shore. Ten kilometres west of Adilcevaz is Kef Castle, and the nearby Urartian temple of Haldi dates from the ninth century B.C. Artifacts from this site can be seen in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. The Adilcevaz High School yard displays some of the column bases.
Van (170 km east of Bitlis), the ancient Urartian capital of Tuspa, tempts visitors with its location on the eastern shore of the lake. This remote but important city is set in a verdant oasis at the foot of a rocky peak. An imposing 9th-century B.C. citadel overlooks the new and the old parts of town. Step carved in the rock lead to the Urartian fortress. Halfway up the steps, inscriptions in cuneiform pay homage to Xerxes, Within the fortress are several Urartian royal rock tombs. In the old city, the Ulu Mosque, Husrev Pasa Mosque, Kaya Celebi Mosque and the Ikiz Kumbet reflect Seljuk and Ottoman architectural styles. Van's interesting Archaeological Museum is in the new city, inland from the uninhabited old district Still very much part of a traditional lifestyle, the women of Van produce beautiful kilims woven in blue, red and white patterns. The exotic Van cat, a protected specie, has thick white fur and one green eye.
Lake Van, The largest lake in Turkey is at an altitude of 1.720 meters, and is ringed by beautiful mountains. Mount Suphan (4.058 meters) is on the northwest side and the Ihtiyar Sahap Mountains is to the south. You can circle the lake, visiting several ancient Urartian sites as well as other places that represent the legacies of the various peoples who inhabited the area. Some of the islands in Lake Van have monasteries and churches built on them. No doubt the remote location offered seclusion to the resident religious communities. Forty-one kilometres southwest of Van. Akdamar Island (a half-hour sail from shore) is the most important of these. On the island stands the 10th-century Church of the Holy Cross, now a museum, whose stone walls are richly carved with Old Testament scenes and figures. After sightseeing, swimmers and picnickers can enjoy themselves around the Island's almond groves. If you have time, also visit Carpanak Island to enjoy its landscape and to wander around the 12th-century church, which has now been converted into a museum.
Among the interesting geographical features around Lake Van, the Muradiye Waterfalls 88 km north of Van, with a peaceful tea garden and restaurants, and Gahnispi-Beyaz Cesme Falls, 60 km south of Van, are worth visiting.