Bitlis carries traces of not only Urartian, Assyrian and Median but also of the Seljuk Mongol and Ottoman cultures.
We visited Bitlis at the invitation of Bitlis Governor Veysel Yurdakul to cover the 4th annual Van-Bitlis WaterSports Festival, but we discovered many places that are worth seeing. Governor Yurdakul, who was appointed to the position 10 months ago, aims to make Bitlis a tourism center in the region.
Media members who wanted to escape the crowds in İstanbul for three days started to talk about the yachts and sailboats on Lake Van and the cutthroat competition of the previous years' athletes. They are curious about the show put on by the water acrobatics team the Stars of Florida.
Although there are several myths, it is said that the name of the city is derived from one of the generals of Alexander the Great named "Bedlis" who built Bitlis Castle. Since most of the historical structures are located in the valley of the Bitlis River, the city is called the beautiful city in the valley.
Old settlement areas in Bitlis such as the districts of Adilcevaz, Ahlat, Güroymak, Hizan, Mutki and Tatvan are like huge open-air museums where previous civilizations blend with each other. The Bitlis municipality has been working frantically in order to finish renovation work in Seyir Tepesi, which overlooks Bitlis. Bitlis Mayor Fehmi Alaydın notes that they wanted to finish the project before Ramadan.
Although historic structures in the city have been damaged because of unplanned urbanization, Alaydın stressed that they are determined to demolish buildings that do not suit the historical structure of the city.
The Ulu Mosque, Taş Mosque, Alemdar Mosque, Meydan Mosque and Kureyş Mosque, Dört Sandık Masjid Bitlis Castle, Saidiye Tomb, Üç Bacılar Madrasah and Yusufiye Madrasah are must-see sites for those who visit Bitlis. Bitlis is the only city in the region that has both forest and seashore. Volcano Nemrut, the biggest volcano in Turkey, and Lake Nemrut, the biggest crater lake in the country, are located within the provincial borders of Bitlis. The ski center in Bitlis is very popular among local tourists.
You should try meatball, pickled cabbage, ciğer taplaması made with liver and bulgur wheat and lamb in way similar to döner kebab (roasted meat cooked on a vertical spit). And this is one of the best places in Eastern Turkey to sample büryan kebab, a form of pit-baked lamb. Büryan kebab is served with onion, hot pepper and ayran (a drink made with yogurt, water and salt). After enjoying these delicious foods, you may drink tea in a teahouse.
Treasure hunters plunder the Seljuk cemetery in Ahlat. Bitlis Provincial Director of Culture and Tourism Hüsnü Işıkgör took us to Ahlat where archeological excavations are still under way. The Seljuk cemetery in Ahlat is built over an area of 200 decares. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has so far been ineffective in protecting these historic sites from grave robbers, resulting in many priceless gravestones being greatly damaged by treasure hunters. This cemetery is known as the biggest historical cemetery in the Islamic world. There are many unique tombstones that have witnessed the passage of time, including the Ayyubids, Ilhanians and Ottoman periods. Many mosques, Turkish baths, tombs and other historical buildings and structures have been renovated in Bitlis, thanks to the personal efforts of Işıkgör.
Tomb of Feyzullah el-Ensari
Very few people know that Feyzullah el-Ensari, brother of Eyyüp el-Ensari, whose tomb is located in İstanbul's Eyyüp district, was buried in Bitlis.
Feyzullah el-Ensari, who was a close companion of Muhammad, joined in the siege of Bitlis as banner holder of İyad b. Ganem in 639. After being martyred in the battle, he was buried in Bitlis.
(Tomb of Feyzullah el-Ensari)
(Participants sail during a Bitlis-Van water sports festival)
(Coffee and şerbet)