A Tale in Red: A small mosque near a blue lake and a lake inside a volcano crater.

Steeped in rich history and culture, Ahlat is a treasure trove of historical sites and artefacts, each with its unique tale of the past. When you embark on a journey through Ahlat, you’re not just traversing through a town; you’re stepping into a time capsule that harks back to the grandeur and the vicissitudes of the bygone eras.

Ahlat’s history can be traced back to the Urartian period, around the first millennium BC. Over the centuries, it became a significant stop on the Silk Road, a nexus of commerce and cultural exchange, where Persians, Armenians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Turks intermingled. These different civilisations left an indelible mark on Ahlat, each contributing to its unique cultural fabric.

In the 11th century, Ahlat became an important centre for the Seljuk Turks. During this time, most of the town’s significant architectural and artistic achievements took place. Ahlat became renowned for its distinctive stonemasonry, evidenced in its vast Seljuk cemetery. The tombs and mausoleums here are adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions that reveal much about the Seljuk Turks’ artistry, culture, and way of life. UNESCO has recognised this cemetery as a World Heritage Site for its artistic and historical value.

We left the Selcuk cemetery to wander around Van Lake. We stopped at a curious mosque on the side of the road with the lake as a background, and Fırat stopped to explore the mosque, which he said was named after Tuğrul Bey.

Tuğrul Bey Camii (Mosque)

Tughril Bey, also called Tuğrul Bey, was a significant figure in Middle Eastern history. Born around 990 AD, he was one of the founders of the Seljuk Empire, along with his brother Chaghri Bey. The Seljuk Empire was a medieval Turko-Persian Sunni Muslim empire controlling a vast area stretching from the Hindu Kush to eastern Anatolia and Central Asia to the Persian Gulf.

Tughril Bey was the grandson of Seljuk, the eponymous founder of the Seljuk dynasty. Seljuk was a chief of the Kinik tribe of the Oghuz Turks, and his descendants came to establish one of the most prominent empires of the Islamic world.

In 1037, Tughril Bey and his brother declared themselves sultans of Khorasan, a region currently split among Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. Their rise to power marked the beginning of Turkic dominance in the Islamic world. Under Tughril Bey’s leadership, the Seljuks defeated the Ghaznavid Empire and moved westwards, eventually taking control of much of Persia.

Tughril’s most significant achievement was his conquest of Baghdad in 1055. Baghdad was the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate, and by taking control of the city, Tughril effectively became the political and military protector of the Abbasid Caliphate. This conquest marked the end of the Buyid dynasty’s influence in the region and led to the restoration of Sunni orthodoxy in Baghdad.

Tughril Bey was known as a capable military leader and a wise ruler. He skillfully navigated the complex political landscape of the time, managing to expand his empire while maintaining relative stability within its borders. His reign laid the foundation for the high point of Seljuk power, achieved during the rule of his successor, Alp Arslan, and later his grand-nephew, Malik Shah.

Tughril Bey died in 1063 without an heir, leading to a brief period of civil war before Alp Arslan took control of the Seljuk Empire. Despite his death over a millennium ago, Tughril Bey’s legacy is still evident today, particularly in regions once part of the Seljuk Empire. His name adorns many historical monuments and places, including the Tuğrul Bey Camii in Ahlat, Turkey, as a testament to his significant impact on history.

The Tuğrul Bey Camii, one of Ahlat’s, embodies the town’s spiritual history. Built during the Seljuk era, the mosque is named after Tuğrul Bey, the founder of the Seljuk Empire, who paved the way for the Turks’ cultural and political expansion in the region. 

The mosque’s architectural style is a testament to the Seljuks’ craftsmanship and their interpretation of Islamic design principles. Its stone pillars, the mihrab’s delicate carvings, and the Kufic inscriptions whisper tales of the time when Ahlat was a significant centre of faith and learning. 

Again, the next stop on the road would be a marvel of nature: a volcano crater.

Nemrut Volcano: A Geological Odyssey

Ahlat’s fascinating history isn’t confined to human endeavours. Its natural history is equally compelling, especially regarding the Nemrut Volcano. This dormant stratovolcano is estimated to be about 40,000 years old. The most significant eruption occurred approximately 7500 years ago, leading to the formation of its crater lake.

Mount Nemrut, also known as Nemrut Dağı, is a dormant stratovolcano in the Bitlis Province, near Tatvan, in eastern Turkey. Towering at an elevation of 2,948 meters (9,672 feet), it’s one of the highest peaks in the region. 

Geologically speaking, Nemrut is a composite volcano or stratovolcano. Stratovolcanoes are characterised by their conical shape and are composed of many hardened lava, tephra, and volcanic ash layers. They are known for their periodic explosive eruptions, usually followed by effusive eruptions.

Mount Nemrut is estimated to be about 40,000 years old, and its most significant eruption is thought to have occurred approximately 7,500 years ago. This massive eruption led to the formation of a caldera — a powerful, basin-like depression caused by emptying the magma chamber beneath the volcano. Over time, this caldera filled with water, creating the stunning Nemrut Crater Lake, which has a diameter of about 8 kilometres (5 miles) and is one of the giant craters’ lakes in the world.

The lake has a maximum depth of about 155 meters, and its waters are heated by volcanic activity below the surface. This heating changes the lake’s colour throughout the year, ranging from turquoise to a deep emerald green. In the middle of the lake are two small islands, which are lava domes that formed after the giant eruption.

In terms of mineral content, Mount Nemrut is rich in andesite and basalt. The soils around the volcano are also very fertile, thanks to the volcanic ash deposited by past eruptions.

Today, the Nemrut Volcano and its surroundings are a part of the Nemrut Caldera National Park, offering tourists an excellent opportunity to experience and explore this geological wonder. It’s a popular site for hiking, camping, and picnicking, and the panoramic views from its peak are genuinely breathtaking.

It’s breathtaking, even if the road is filled with people trying to enjoy the park. Or if it is too hot that you prefer the car air conditioner. However, it was impossible not to enjoy the time that passed on the shore of the lake, observing children playing, women getting ready to prepare food and make having their çay while talking about football and politics.

After visiting cemeteries, mosques and a volcano, the road to Van were paved with memories and history of the past and hope for the future.

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