Bitlis Tourist Attractions
Eastern AnatoliaSituation and ImportanceSandwiched between two massifs, the Musgüney Daglari (2,607m/8,556ft) to the west and the Kavussahap Daglari (3,103m/10,184ft) to the east, Bitlis, capital of its province, hugs the sides of the deep Basor Deresi in the valley of the Bitlis Çayi, a tributary of the Tigris.
The population of the surrounding villages is mainly Kurdish, the principal occupation being livestock rearing (sheep and goats) and cultivation of cereals, vegetables and fruit on little irrigated plots of land. The townsfolk are very traditionally minded and show little enthusiasm for modernization. In addition to its attractive setting Bitlis also boasts an Old Town with numerous charmingly decorated basalt houses, a variety of interesting sights, and a busy bazaar, making it altogether a place worth visiting. There are sulfurous thermal springs below the town on the east bank of the river.HistoryAlthough the area was certainly settled in the seventh century B.C. Bitlis itself is said to have been founded in the late fourth century B.C. by one of Alexander the Great's generals, who named it Balaleson. When or whether it ever belonged to Rome is questionable. The Arabs under the Caliph Omar occupied the town in 641, followed by the Seljuks in the 11th century and the Mongols in the 13th. Finally, in the 16th century, Selim I claimed the town for the Ottoman Empire. Even so, the local Kurdish princes (of the Rushekid dynasty in the 14th century for example) always enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy in the region. From the 16th century onwards Bitlis was the capital of a Kurdish beylik.
The Alaman Külliyesi in Bitlis, consisting of a hostel (han), medrese, mosque and bath house, was constructed in 1502. As regards the history of Bitlis Kalesi, the massive citadel with its polygonal towers and solid walls, dominating the town, not much is known. Its nucleus appears to be Byzantine. It was enlarged by the Ottomans and at one time contained 300 houses. Part of it was demolished in 1911 to provide stone for building.
The Serefiye Külliyesi on the market square below the fort in Bitlis was built in 1528/29 under Süleiman the Magnificent. An elaborately carved wooden pulpit graces the mosque. The complex also includes a kitchen for the poor, a Koranic school and the patron's türbe.
The Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) in the town center of Bitlis was endowed by an Artuk emir in 1126, and according to an inscription was renovated in 1150. Built of rough-hewn basalt it has fifteen bays separated by pointed arches. Be sure to visit the domed minaret next to the prayer house.
The town of Hizan is situated high up in a side valley of the Büyük Dere 50km/30mi or so east of Bitlis. By hiring a local guide it is possible to visit the medieval - and later Kurdish - fortress at Eski Hizan (10km/6mi away) and the several ruined 10th and 11th century monasteries which lie widely scattered in the surrounding area. These include the Monastery of Our Lady of Hzar, a four-hour walk from Nizar Köprüsü (Pira Nizar), the Monastery of the Holy Cross of Hizan (Chinitzor) near Bereket Köyü, and the Monastery of Our Lady of Baritzor with its interesting Göçimen Kilisesi.
There are a number of caravanserais in the vicinity of Bitlis. Among them are the Alaman Hani (east side of the Tatvan road), Bashan (in the village of that name) and Papsin Hani (in the upper Bitlis Çayi valley).
About 32km/21mi east of Tatvan, at Resadiye, there is a small promontory with a little beach, a delightful place to bathe.
Siirt (provincial capital) nestles off the beaten track about 100km/60mi southwest of Bitlis, in the comparatively green countryside between the Botan Çayi and Kezer Çayi on the southeastern slopes of the Taurus. It has a typically continental climate with cold winters and high snowfall. The main occupation is raising angora goats, from whose wool the famous Siirt blankets are made.The population of Siirt is almost entirely Arab, whereas most of the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside are Kurds. The town's ancient history remains largely shrouded in uncertainty, though in Roman times it stood on the frontier between Rome and Persia. The Arabs captured the town in the seventh century and under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad (763-1258) it became an important trade and cultural center.Siirt's oldest building, the Hudurul Ahdar Camii (now Cumhuriyet Camii), was probably erected in the eighth century during the Abbasid period. The Seljuk Kavvam Bath dates from the 11th century Also of interest are two former Koranic schools, Zinciriye and Mesudiye.The Great Mosque in Siirt was built with an endowment in 1129 by the Seljuk Sultan Mugizeddin Mahmut. It was restored in the 13th century The mosque's superb walnut staircase pulpit is in the safekeeping of the Ethnographic Museum in Ankara.
About 6km/4mi northeast of Siirt lies the little mountain town of Aydinlar ("The Enlightened"; formerly Tillo). In the 18th century it was the home of the astronomer and sage Ibrahim Hakki whose mausoleum (the Ibrahim Hakki Türbesi) adorns the town. The scholar came from a village east of Erzurum, having been brought to Tillo by his father as a child to study under a Fakir Ullah. Teacher and pupil endured years of privation before, with the aid of only home-made instruments, Ibrahim Hakki succeeded in measuring the precise distance between the Earth and the Moon. His "astrolabium" and other instruments can be seen in a local museum.
The small village of Ziyaret is situated on a tributary of the Bitlis Çayi about 30km/20mi northwest of Siirt, at the junction of the main Diyarbakir road. It is a place of pilgrimage for local people attracted not just to its simple domed mosque, but to the square, domed, flat-porched mausoleum of a much revered holy man, Veysel Karani. He is said to have participated in the controversy over the rightful succession to the Prophet, at Siffin during the fourth caliphate (of the Caliph Ali; mid seventh century). Another account is that, as an old man, he sought out Mohammed in the hope of receiving instruction, but died in the process.