The Eastern Provinces


The vast, empty expanse of eastern Anatolia differs profoundly from the rest of the country. The landscape has a desolate beauty, with ochre red plains and fertile valleys, lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and, in the far south, dusty deserts. This again is a fascinating cultural and historic area, stuffed with Biblical and Islamic history, Kurdish and Armenian cultures, fine mosques, palaces and monuments. The region has suffered a degree of political instability and lack of security for several years and is only just reopening to tourists, who should take up-to-date advice before visiting the area. It is far less developed for tourism than western Turkey; accommodation can be very basic and is often hard to find. Eastern Turkey can be said to begin along a rough line from Samsun, on the Black Sea Coast, through the Anatolian towns of Sivas and Tokat, noted for their Selçuk architecture, to the busy industrial town of Gaziantep in the south.

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Erzurum, the largest town in the northeast, was one of the eastern bastions of Byzantium for many centuries, and has mosques and mausolea from the Selçuk and Mongol eras, Byzantine walls and two Koranic colleges characterised by minarets and finely carved portals. The frontier town of Kars, to the north of Erzurum, is dominated by a formidable 12th-century Georgian fortress. The ruins of the 10th-century Ani lie east of Kars. On the eastern border with Armenia, Agri Dagri is the biblical Mount Ararat where, according to legend, Noah’s Ark came to rest. Below it lie the imposing palace and mosque of Ishak Pasha at Dogubeyazit. The walled town of Van, on the eastern shore of the immense Lake Van, was an important Urartu fortress from 800-600 BC. The citadel dominates the ruins of Selçuk, Ottoman mosques and many rock tombs. On the island of Akdamar, in Lake Van, is the enchanting 10th-century Church of the Holy Cross.


Further south, the twin rivers Tigris and Euphrates, cradle an agriculturally rich oasis within the desert. This is Biblical Mesopotamia and, some say, the original Garden of Eden. Today, the GAP Project is creating an enormous series of interlinked lakes and canals to create hydro-electricity and irrigation, to the fury of neighbouring countries who also rely on the water, and the local Kurkish people who see their homeland slipping from their grasp forever. Its centrepiece, the Atatürk Dam, is the fourth-largest in the world.

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The southeast is filled with ancient cities, traditional cultures and compellingly beautiful, if pools of Abraham; the strange beehive houses of Harran, from where Abraham decided to move to the land of Canaan; Nemrut Dagi, the home of the colossal stone statues erected by King Antiochus I in the first century BC; Diyarbakir, built in the fourth century and surrounded by forbidding triple walls of black basalt; and the white-coloured medieval architecture and Roman citadel of Mardin.

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