"Selçuk" cemetery on the lake

400 DSC01405

Old name: Khlad

Rather oddly, the best-known attraction on the north side of Lake Van is a sprawling cemetery on the outskirts of the small town of Ahlat.

Ahlat’s other big claim to fame is the volcanic stone that is quarried here and which was used to carve not only the tombstones in the cemetery but also such distant masterpieces as the Alaaddin Cami in Konya, and the Ulu Cami and Darüşşifa complex in Divriği.

Here unlike elsewhere in Turkey houses and other buildings are still being built using this natural stone, which comes in a range of colours from a dark cream through to rust-red. They make a particularly comforting sight for those whose hearts grow weary at the sight of never-ending concrete.200 DSC01453

Ahlat was probably settled originally by the metal-working Urartians whose capital was Tushpa (modern Van).

The cemetery

This cemetery is full of lavishly carved and lichen-bespattered tombstones that jut out of the ground at crazy angles, like broken teeth in a dentist’s nightmare of a mouth. These tombstones are usually said to date back to Selçuk times, and certainly the carvings on them are reminiscent of the khatchkar crosses to be seen on Armenian tombstones of that period. However, according to Sevan and Müjde Nişanyan’s guide to Eastern Turkey the oldest tombstones only date back to the 18th century.

Not that their date matters all that much to visitors who will be enthralled anyway by the beauty of their stonework and by the peacefulness of a site where the silence is broken only by the clattering sounds of mating tortoises and of rooks who’ve learned to use the tops of the tombs as nutcrackers.

Around old Ahlat

It’s worth dropping into the excellent small museum beside the site entrance where you’ll discover that there’s a lot more to old Ahlat than the tombstones.200 DSC01402

The cemetery aside, the most striking reminders of the medieval town are its many kümbets, the distinctive circular tombs that can be found all over Eastern Turkey and as far west as Kayseri. Their shape is sometimes said to be based on that of nomadic tents although it seems equally likely that it was drawn from that of older Armenian churches.

One of them, the Ulu (or Usta Şakir) Kümbet dating back to 1273, stands in splendid isolation across the road from the cemetery, but the finest, the colonnaded Emir Bayındır Kümbet dating back to 1481, is across the far side of the cemetery and attached to a small contemporary mosque.

To find the other remains of old Ahlat you need to cross the cemetery, exit from the northern side, turn left and stroll downhill towards a pretty stream. Turn right when you reach it and you will come to the graceful, newly restored Sultan Murad II Köprüsü (bridge) and then to a curious ridge of rock riddled with long-abandoned Cappadocia-like cave dwellings.

The most interesting of these boasts over its entrance the same stalactite-like maqarnas that adorn Selçuk mosques; pop your head inside and you will discover what looks like a soot-blackened rock-cut church.

200 DSC01438Many other traces of medieval Ahlat are littered about here, including the remains of a hamam complex and what must once have been a very fine Ulu Cami (mosque).

There are also remains of a fortress dating back to the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent near the shore.

Around modern Ahlat

Modern Ahlat was built on a site a little to the east of the medieval town. There’s not much to see there although the Çifte Kümbetler (Twin Kümbets) as you come into the centre are very pretty.

The otherwise uninspiring town centre also boasts a fine new Ulu Cami built right beside the lake with wonderful terraces looking over it.


Most people will want to visit Ahlat from bases in Tatvan or Van where there is a better choice of places to stay.

Transport info

Regular dolmuşeş to Ahlat leave from Tatvan high street. There are infrequent onward connections to Adilcevaz and Malazgirt; the latter leave from in front of the Ulu Cami.

200 DSC01433

Day trip destinations




Events Calendar

November 2020
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 1 2 3 4 5

Exchange Rates