This past weekend, after being completed exhausted from my Istanbul trip, I decided to take it easy and relax in, and around, Malatya for a change; however, I very quickly became antsy – no matter how much Breaking Bad I was watching – and I decided to go check out the old city of Harput in Elazığ, Malatya’s neighboring province and longtime rival. I had thought I would be alone, having only made plans Friday night for Saturday, but my German neighbor Suzanne was also intrigued and volunteered to come along with me.
So, on Saturday we set out together. After a bus into the city center of Malatya, a mini-bus from Malatya to the center of Elazığ, another mini-bus to a different bus terminal, and then a final short bus ride we had arrived at Harput. Harput reminded me instantly of Battalgazı – b0th are smaller, historic cities that are quickly becoming depopulated and swallowed up by the new city built below it. Whereas Elazığ is a thoroughly modern city, Harput has apparently been the city of dwellings – and castles – since at least the 8th century BC. Pretty intense!
The original reason that I had set my eyes on visiting Harput was its historical significance. One of the first cities built by the Turks when they arrived in Anatolia, the city remained an important trade-hub and strategic location up through the fall of the Ottoman Empire; today, however, much of the city’s former greatness has been lost following a devastating earthquake a few decades ago. The city is only now truly being restored to it’s former glory. Due to this, the Harput kalesi – which I had hoped to be thoroughly impressed by – was a bit of a let down as only the stronger outer walls survived the devastation.
The views from the castle’s summit outpost continued to be fantastic, though, especially since modern Elazığ is built in the valley below. I had also been hoping to be able to explore the castle’s dungeons – which one housed Count Baldwin, a crusader king – but they were also unfortunately blocked off. By complete chance, though, Suzanne and I stumbled upon the remains of Mother Mary Church – now just the collapsing outer walls of what was once probably a beautiful structure. This, and the peaceful fall colors of the surrounding hills, made up for any disappointment the castle may have caused.
After what we wrongly presumed would be a light lunch – typically – Suzanne and I visited the other famous sight of Harput, Ulu Camii (the Grand Mosque). Although not incredibly interesting or beautiful without context – it is a simple rectangular mosque, which is technically interesting since it follows the Arab design instead of the round design the Turks would later adopt from Orthodox Christians – the mosque is renowned for two reasons: it is one of the first mosques built by the Turks in Anatolia, and it also has a famous leaning minaret which is still in use although it constantly looks ready to topple.
On the way back from the mosque we also stumbled upon the shrine, and burial sight, of Mansur Baba – a Sufi saint from the region. Apparently Harput is full of folk heroes and saint shrines, but unfortunately we did not have time to find the rest and we begin our multiple bus trips back to Malatya.
All in all, Harput may not have been the most amazing place I have seen in Turkey. I did see a beautiful sunset from the mountains there, though, and the historical context of the area certainly made it fascinating in retrospect. There is something about visiting historical sights, especially when they are still living, that truly helps to put give life some sort of, perhaps not perspective, but emphasis.
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