The massive Ishak Pasha Palace (Sarayi), a World Heritage site, seems to me, like Timbuktu, “at the end of the earth.” Overlooking the Silk Route near what is now the Turkey-Iran border just south of the Turkey-Armenia border, it is not close to any other tourist destination. The closest is Mount Ararat for mountain-climbers and those seeking Noah’s ark. Mount Ararat is generally cloud-covered, but parts of it were visible when I was there, looming to the northeast less than 20 kilometers away.
Begun by the Childiroglu feudal lord Colak Abdi Pasha, the bey of Beyazit province in 1685, the walled compound was completed by his grandson Ishak Pasha in 1784. It was built on the edge of a cliff, as was the Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman sultans in what is now called Istanbul. The Ishak Pasha Palace is the largest palace in Asian Turkey. Like the Topkapi Palace (on a bluff at the eastern edge of Europe overlooking where the Golden Horn and Bosphorus waters meet), it is now a museum. Unlike Topkapi, it does not include displays of anything and its many rooms are completely unfurnished.
In early April, it was very cold inside and out. Betsy, who had been there in summer said that the interior does not warm up. The stone fireplaces seemed quite inadequate to me (in theory, none had fires burning in them). But I guess castles are prototypically drafty and grand rather than cozy.
The style is eclectic with elements of (neo-)Seljuk, Ottoman, Armenian, Persian ‘” and according to John Freely “mock-Georgian,” though I would not recognize “Georgian” architecture from “mock-Georgian” — or Armenian). The stone work and carved reliefs are impressive (for more of my photos of the palace and vicinity, see here).
The main gate opens to the east, where I gather there was something of a settlement. It was, after all, the capital of a rich province. There is a mosque built in 1514 by the Ottoman sultan Selim (I) “the Grim” who defeated the Persian (Safavid) emperor Ismail at the decisive Battle of Chaldiran about 30 kilometers south of it. Kurdistan was annexed and the Indo-European (Persian) language-speaking Kurds (most of whom are Sunni, btw) and has been ruled by Turks ever since. (The official Ataturk/Turkish Republic view is that they are “Turkish” though not speaking a Turkic language or descended from the Turks who swept into Anatolia a millennium ago.)
Further up the mountain ridge are remnants of a Urartarian fortress, like the one in Van. (Since only consonants were written, Urartu is the same word as Ararat. The Uratarian language was not Semitic, not Indo-European, and certainly not Altaic (as Turkish Is). The most recent sample of it dates from 585 BC and the language was not decoded until the 20th century (AD/CE).)
The castle/palace could not have withstood artillery fire when it was built. 3 kilometers downhill (and west), at the eastern edge of the modern city of Dogubeyazit (the name of the historical city was Daroynk, then Beyazit; the current name means East Beyazit) is a very large military base with lots and lots of tanks. They could be deployed to the border with Iran, but have been used in quelling Kurdish Independence rebels — and in pulling a stuck tour bus on one of our group’s leader’s earlier forays.
I mentioned that it was cold, right? You can see snow a bit further up the hill, and the long-dormant Mount Ararat (soaring to 5137m/16,854 ft) is always snow-covered. We went through snow twice between Kars and Van. In the pass between Dogubeyazit and Lake Van, I’d say we went through a blizzard (I’m from Minnesota and know “blizzards,” OK?) There are no trees to block the wind. The Kurdish people in the area subsist from their herds of sheep and sheep products (not just wool, but milk and cheese made from it, etc.)
Freely, John. The Companion Guide to Turkey . Glasgow: William Collins, various editions.
Sagona, Antonio and Paul Zimansky.Ancient Turkey. London: Routledge, 2009.