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Asia's natural garden
Harput, where churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary rise next to tombs of the ancestors of Mehmed the Conqueror on the same hill, is a popular summer resort today at the summit of Eastern Anatolia's most exciting panorama.
According to legend, Mansur Baba's tomb was destroyed during the conquest of the city and the land was purchased by the Seljuk Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad. Its location forgotten in time, Mansur Baba's rediscovery is described as follows: Şahende Kadın, a woman who lived in a house adjacent to the graveyard in front of the mosque, dreamed one night of a white-bearded man with a luminous visage who reproached her in angry tones, “You keep dumping water on me; either move me, or move elsewhere yourself!” At first the woman paid no attention to the dream. But when it recurred several times she remonstrated with the old man: “I'm an old woman. How can I do all that?” When the old man replied, “Tell Beyzade,” the woman awoke in a fright. In the morning she went to Beyzade, who immediately started excavating near her house. A sarcophagus turned up, and in precisely ten days a tomb was erected on the very spot.
AND THE LEGENDS...
If you investigate a couple centuries back, you will hear the word 'Elaziz', which is derived from the name 'Mamuret-ül Aziz' (The Prosperous Lands of Aziz), which was given to the area in honor of Sultan Abdülaziz (1830-1876). 'Elaziz' of course is reminiscent of 'Elazığ', the name of the city today. Knowing that place names have a tendency to change over time, I conclude that Harput is none other than the old Elazığ, a center of settlement that held sway over a region stretching to Erzurum in the north as far as Aleppo in the south. Not only was Harput this city, and one of the first settlements in the region, at the same time it was a provincial capital; thanks to the dynamics of history it evolved into the cultural and commercial capital of an even wider region. It is known in any case that the capital was moved in the mid-1800's to Ağavat, where Elazığ stands today. In other words, Elazığ's star was already beginning to rise even as Harput's was setting.
POPULAR WITH VISITORS
Harput today is a summer resort on a lake and a popular place not only with Elazığ residents but also with nature lovers and people of religious faith who come here from all over Eastern and even Central Anatolia. Built of cut stone, Mansur Baba's tomb or 'türbe' is one only of many such octagonal structures with a conical roof that are found all over Anatolia.
THE EARLIEST SETTLERS
The area's first settlers, the Hurrians, are mentioned in a number of different sources along with the Hittites and the Assyrians, who also ruled here. The city became one of the capitals of the Urartu's, who settled in Eastern Anatolia starting in the 9th century B.C. Its location at a vital intersection between two continents made the region a place that changed hands frequently between the Medes, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arabs. Most of the structures we see as we stroll through the streets today exhibit evidence of the cultural heritage left by the Turkish hegemony that was established over the area in 1071 following the Battle of Malazgirt. Conquered by the Çubuklar branch of the Oghuz tribes in 1085, Harput today is characterized by a multicultural identity forged mainly from the Anatolian Seljuk and Ottoman traditions.
ASIA'S NATURAL GARDEN
The missionary school that opened in 1852 and the American College that started up not long afterwards show that Harput was a major center of culture and education in that period. Receiving its fair share of the misty-eyed western paeans that define the East, Harput is known to the Americans as 'the natural garden of Asia'.
AN OPEN-AIR MUSEUM
With the monuments that you'll encounter at every step, from a castle left from the Urartu's and a Syriac Christian Church to mosques, a madrasa, a bath, old houses, gravestones and tombs with conical roofs, Harput is a city that more than deserves the epithet 'open-air museum'. As you leave Elazığ Plain behind, you will see the old Harput houses at the end of the gently rising asphalt road, telling you that you are about to step into a place with roots deep in the past, and the sight of the ruins will wrench your heart. This is an old, established Anatolian town with an atmosphere steeped in history, genuinely friendly people and great plane trees, 'contemporaries of the Ottomans, my boy', as the old men languishing in their shade will tell you in their praise. You are strolling now through the streets of a town whose earliest traces date back to the Urartu's.
AN EAGLE'S EYRIE
Rising magnificently over a rocky promontory, the remote and inaccessible Harput Castle will send a shudder down your spine. This is truly an eagle's eyrie.
With its soaring ramparts, this castle left from the famed Urartu's is continuing to undergo restoration and excavation in places today. The rocky cliff that imparts to the castle its splendor, and to Harput its strategic importance, has enabled another sort of beauty to flourish on its eastern face. A holy site already in the pre-Christian era, the ancient Syriac Church of the Virgin Mary dates to 149 B.C. This monument, which underwent three great repairs, the last in 1262, was completely restored again in 1999 and is open to visitors as well as being used as a place of worship. It has the distinction of being Harput's oldest monument after the castle.
THE GREAT MOSQUE
Built shortly before the restoration of the church in 1262, the Great Mosque is named for the Artukid Sultan Fahrettin Karaaslan. An icon of the city, its leaning brick minaret is covered with decorations that exhibit traces of Anatolian Turkish Islamic architecture, while the mosque interior is built on a rectangular plan with thick stone walls and arches that support the roof. The Kurşunlu or Leaded Mosque, with its courtyard shaded by a great plane tree, dates to 1730. According to legend, the tree was planted on the day the mosque construction was completed, making both of them almost three hundred years old. The ebony pulpit, a gift of Murad IV to the Great Mosque, stands today in the Leaded Mosque. Other centuries-old landmarks on your stroll around the town are the Sarahatun Mosque, Alacalı Mosque, and the Ağa Mosque. The smaller Ahi Musa Mescid at the city center, the Cimşit Bey Bath, converted into a restaurant today, Arap Baba, and a number of restaurants with scenic views are just a few other places of note here.
Heading due east from the hills of Arguvan, you will round the Tunceli side of the lake where you can stop along the shore and savor the view while you enjoy a meal of grilled meat washed down with tea. The Ice Cave, known as Buzluk Mağarası, will offer you its 'power ice', which is reputed to have therapeutic properties. You are gazing on the blue of the Keban Dam reservoir and its lovely coves not from the castle of a Mediterranean town but from Harput, whose age is measured in millennia. And Harput flourishes still. Like a thousand-year-old plane tree...