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HARPUT

Old Elazığ                             Population:

harput1Old names: Carcathicerta (?)Kharpert (Armenian)

At first glance, the half-abandoned settlement of Harput is strikingly reminiscent of Van in eastern Turkey. In particular there's the same castle straddling a plug of rock and the same cluster of ruins on the far side commemorating the days when thousands of people, mainly Armenians, lived in what was a flourishing town.

In her Amurath to Amurath travelogue Gertrude Bell has left a description of Harput as it was in 1909 when it reminded her of a densely-packed Italiam hill city. 

 

Following a sequence of earthquakes the locals eventually decided to relocate south to the modern town of Elazığ. 

There is easily enough to look at in Harput to while away best part of a day, and there are more atmospheric places to eat here than in Elazığ too.

Around town

The best place to start your exploration is the Çınar Park Et Lokantası where a set of old photographs show Harput as it was before the walls came tumbling down. Keep that picture in your mind's eye as you gaze down from the castle -- it will help you make sense of what you see. 

Balakgazi was an Artuk ruler of Harput who captured first Joscelin, the Crusader king of Edessa (Urfa), in 1122 and then King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. who arrived to try and rescue him in 1123. Both were imprisoned in Harput Castle. Balakgazi died in 1124 and was buried in Aleppo. There's a statue of him behind the Lunapark. 

The site is dominated by Harput Kalesi (Harput Castle) which dates back to the eighth century B.C. and the time of the Urartians, an ancient people about whom not much is known but who were also responsible for Van Kalesi (Van Castle).

Its history is the usual central Anatolian saga of revolving-door capture and recapture. First came the Romans and the Byzantines, then the Turcoman leader Çubuk Bey, who captured the castle in 1087. In 1112 it was the turn of the Artukid chief, Bebek Gazi, to grab the site. In a brief and rather unlikely interlude, King Baudouin of Jerusalem was imprisoned here for a month in 1193, returning to seize the castle for himself as soon as he was freed. In 1234 the Selçuk leader Alaeddin Keykubad swept through, followed by the Mongols in 1244. Finally, in 1516 the army of Sultan Selim I rode into town and secured it for the Ottomans. 

Just a few years ago, the castle was one of those ancient structures that manage to wallow in total anonymity in the remoter parts of Turkey. Recent restoration has given it a new lease of life, although many visitors will regret the crudity of the repairs, the installation of obtrusive security cameras and the litter problem that the growing number of sightseers has created. The most prominent remains inside the walls are of the old Artukid palace, but ongoing excavations have also uncovered the remains of a medieval mosque and several Ottoman workshops. harput7Dwarf canteloupe melons on sale in Harput

The beauty of the castle's setting is diminished not just by the quality of the restoration work but also by the Harput Hünkar Konağı, a huge restaurant constructed on an adjacent plug of rock.

From the summit of Harput Castle, it's possible to look down on the shattered remains of the Kale Hamamı (bathhouse). You can also gaze out towards the lake created by the Keban Dam, a sight which would certainly not have greeted the castle's earlier occupants.

A concrete roof turns out to cover what was once the 2nd-century Syrian Orthodox Church of Meryemana (St. Mary), which is built right into the rock face. For the time being, its entrance is sealed, preventing anyone from seeing inside despite the fine words in the tourism brochure about people being able to visit and pray in it. 

For the best views of the castle, you need to walk right round its base, following the signs towards the shrine of Fatih Ahmet Baba. A simple tea garden along the way offers panoramic views back over the ramparts, permitting you to see how the castle was built on an easily defensible site overlooking a ravine with the church tucked up neatly beneath it. 

200 DSC00709Signs also direct visitors to the Ulu Camii which was built for the Artukid leader, Fahreddin Karaarslan, in 1156. A low-slung stone building with a solitary, leaning-tower minaret, it's filled with stone columns and used to be open to the skies until the courtyard was covered over to reduce heating bills. Strangely, it lacks a mimber.

Next door to the mosque stands Harput's newest and most delightful attraction, the Şefik Gül Kültür Evi (closed Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays), a traditional wood and stone house with a wonderful walled garden. The house was built in the mid-19th century for Saraylı Muharrem A!a and formed the centrepiece of what was then the Keşoğlu Meydanı; a photograph in the brochure shows the neighborhood as it was at that time, with houses tightly packed together around the mosque.

Over the next 150 years the house changed hands with alarming frequency until eventually it was bought by the Ankara-based Gülsan Şirketler Grubu, which restored it to serve as an example of what was possible. 200 DSC00714

A quick tour of the house offers a snapshot reminder of Harput's easterly location. Here are wonderful bench seats carved in the workshops of Mardin, there lovely metal door knockers hand-beaten in the workshops of Kemaliye. In the upstairs sitting room, a "kürsü mangal" (raised brazier) draped with a quilt recalls how, in the icy winters of central Anatolia, families would sleep around their primary source of heating with a communal quilt draped over them. A wooden cumba (bay window) looks out over the garden where a çeşme (fountain) provided water for household needs. 

If you explore the backstreets of Harput you will probably stumble upon the completely plain octagonal tomb of Mansar Baba, which dates back to the 12th or 13th century. Of the nearby Esadiye Camii, little now survives except a ruinous mescit (small mosque) and tomb.

Far more conspicuous is the Sara Hatun Camii in the main square which was built in 1463 for Sara Hatun, the mother of Uzun Hasan, an Akkoyunlu ruler whose name crops up in the history of Hasankeyf. It was extensively renovated in the 17th century. The interior boasts a finely-painted dome supported on four stone columns.

Very close to it is the small Arap Baba Cami, built in 1280, with a fine navy-and-turquoise-tiled mihrab and a stumpy minaret still with worn bands of Selçuk carving on it. In a room at the back accessed via a very low arch Arap Baba is entombed amid the scent of rosewater.

harput2

harput4Right back where you started is the big Kurşunlu Cami, completed in 1739. Its overarching dome covers a largely empty space, although the wooden mimber is worth looking at for its fine carvings. The courtyard in front is shaded by a çınar (plane tree) planted c.1700.

A few more old mosques and tombs are scattered around the popular Lunapark to which Elazığlıs flock on weekends. 

Eating

Right beside the Sarahatun Cami, the Cimsit Hamamı has been turned into the inviting Ensar Mangal Vadisi restaurant where in winter diners eat at tables set up in the old undressing room surrounded by all sorts of ethnographic bric-a-brac, including some extraordinary bulbous pots, like giant stove-pipes, in which the Harputlus used to store their grain. Their patlıcan soyurtma aubergine starter is delightful.harput3

Sleeping

Harput has one boutique hotel which is sometimes full. If so, Elazığ offers a range of hotels mainly aimed at business travelers. 

Harput Butik Hotel

Transport info

There are regular flights from Ankara to Elazığ, plus a couple of flights a week from !stanbul.

Frequent dolmuşes to Harput leave from the small city-centre dolmuş terminal on Harput Caddesi.

Day trip destinations

Bingöl

Diyarbakir

Elazığ

Malatya

Palu

Tunceli

Read more about Harput: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-147989-harput-new-life-for-an-old-town.html 

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-333265-elazig-to-tunceli-the-road-least-traveled.html

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