Divriği is an iron-mining town in the mountainous northeast of Central Anatolia. In 2022 its population was 10,623 and stable, while the countryside around has become depopulated. The reason to visit is the Great Mosque and the adjoining medieval hospital (Darüşşifa), a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their superb carvings and architecture.
The town is first documented in the Hittite era of 1500 BC, when it was called Apbrike; later the Byzantines called it Tephrike. From 843 AD it was settled by the Paulicians, an Armenian Christian sect. Almost nothing is known of their beliefs and practices, but they called themselves "Good Christians" implying that others weren't, a sure way to irk your neighbours. They were tolerated or persecuted by turns in other Byzantine territories, but in 843 Empress Theodora set about them in earnest. The survivors fled here, Tephrike, and for a time enjoyed a semi-autonomous realm protected by the Emir of Malatya. But they counter-attacked the Byzantines, so around 870 Basil I crushed them and made Tephrike a Byzantine possession. Thus it remained until the Byzantine defeat in 1071 at Manzikert by the Seljuk Turks, who called the town Divrik. Meanwhile the escaping Paulicians disappeared into Armenia to become the Tondrakians, with a credo somewhere between Karl Marx and Rasputin.
From the late 11th century Anatolia was a war zone between the Byzantines, Seljuks and Crusaders. However Divrik up in the mountains was not on any major route and lacked strategic value, so it was left in peace. From 1072 to 1277 it was the seat of the Mengücek, a Turkish principality under the Seljuks of Rum. In 1229 the Mengücek ruler called on the architect Hürrem Şah to build the Great Mosque - Şah had made his reputation at Ahlat near Tatvan with his fine stonework, and once again obliged.
The ructions that threw up the Turkish mountain chain one million years ago brought iron ore to the surface, so the bare landscape is tinted red, ablaze in the sunset. The ore became valuable for steel-making in the 19th century and in the 1930s the railway arrived to serve the mines. In 1939 this became part of the mainline all the way to Kars. Mining remains important: Divriği A-Kafa mine has reserves of 100 million tonnes of ore and B-Kafa has 50 million tonnes, both yielding 55% iron. So do the maths, these two mines alone can yield 82.5 million tonnes of iron. Meanwhile the railway and better roads brought tourists to see the Great Mosque and other antiquities. Mining hasn't blighted the old town, and modern developers and cement mixers have ignored the place much as medieval warlords did, so the old centre has been preserved. In 1985 the Great Mosque and its complex became one of the first places in Turkey inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The local population follows the Alevi tradition of Islam, a Sufi-infused variant of Islam that took root in the 11th / 12th centuries. They have little in common with the Alawites of Syria, but both names pay homage to Caliph ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, effectively the successor to Muhammed the Prophet (peace be upon him). The beliefs of Alevi are loosely-defined and they are in some ways a cultural rather than a religious identity.
The nearest airport is in Sivas, 180 km or 3 hours away by road. Given its limited flights, you might prefer to fly to Ankara.
A bus runs nightly from Istanbul (16 hr) via Ankara (8 hr) and Sivas to Divriği, arriving around 08:00 and returning west at 10:30. In 2022 the fare is 600 TL from Istanbul and 400 TL from Ankara. The bus company is Divriği Nazar Turizm - Metroturizm and Flixbus don't run here.
Divriği Özlem Turizm and Divriği Birlik run dolmuş services from Sivas otogar. There's no fixed timetable, they start whenever they have enough passengers. They also ferry customers of the Tourist Doğu Express around the sights.
Doğu Express leaves Ankara daily towards 18:00 and runs overnight via Kayseri and Sivas to Divriği, arriving towards 08:00. It continues east to Erzincan for 10:30 and Erzurum for 14:30 to reach Kars at 18:30. The eastbound train leaves Kars at 08:00, reaching Erzurum at 12:00, Erzincan at 16:00, Divriği at 18:30, Sivas at 22:00, Kayseri towards 02:00 and Ankara at 08.30. There are couchettes and a buffet.
A more expensive "tourist" version of this train runs in winter. It makes long stops for sightseeing eastbound at İliç (for Kemaliye), Erzincan and Erzurum; the westbound train makes long stops at Divriği and Bostankaya (for Sivas). Total travel time Ankara-Kars is 30 hours, and you're tied to the train schedule without flexibility of stopover. The accommodation is in standard sleeping cars, which have been purloined from the conventional train, so the travel experience on those has been degraded.
Regional trains run twice a day from Sivas and from Erzincan, both taking three hours to reach Divriği. So you could have six hours to explore here between those towns.
1 Divriği railway station is 500 m north of town along the main road. Water, snacks, tea and loos but no other facilities.
Divriği is just off the D260. From Sivas (172 km), take the D850 south to join the D260 near Kangal. From Malatya (192 km), follow the D875 north and branch off on the D260 near Arapgir.
Most sites and amenities are within walking distance of the town centre. The only outlier is Kız Köprüsü ("Maiden's Bridge") 4 km north: look out west as the train from Sivas slows to come into town, you'll see enough of it.
- 1 Divriği Great Mosque and Hospital (Divriği Ulu Cami ve Darüşşifası). The UNESCO-listed primary attraction of the town is an outstanding example of Seljuk-era architecture. The magnificent portals, in a style often dubbed "early Turkish Baroque", are a real masterpiece of stonework; the chief architect Hürrem Şah invited master artisans from as far away as Delhi for their creation. An incredible fact is the ornaments – thousands of unique individual figures – were chipped on-site out of the stone blocks constituting the walls, as would be done for a huge and extremely detailed sculpture. As of October 2023, you cannot visit the building because of restoration works which might finish in May 2024, but check before travelling. You can still view the main gates from the outside.
- Kamareddin Türbesi 100 m west of Great Mosque was built in 1196 and is the tomb of Kamar ad-Din.
- Nurettin Salih Türbesi or Kemankeş Türbesi 150 m southwest of Great Mosque is well preserved but fairly plain. It was built in 1241.
- 2 Sitte Melik Türbesi is another well-preserved mausoleum. It was built in 1195 for Mengücek ruler Shahshahan, but is named for the 14th century woman who endowed the Great Mosque.
- 3 Yukarı Kilise ("Upper Church") is the scrappy shell of a 19th century Armenian church north side of town. There are several more in the surrounding countryside, but even worse ruined and in remote spots. So take a good look at this one before deciding on any excursions to find them.
- Traditional mansions dot the historic core. These include A’yan Ağa Konağı (1838), Hafislioğlu Ebubekir (1850s) and Tevrüzlü Evleri (early 20th century).
- 4 Citadel (Divriği Kalesi). The citadel might have its origins in the Urartians, an Iron Age civilization founded a state around the 9th century BCE in Van to the east, but the present layout is Seljuk-era. It's on the top of an outcrop where you have a great view on the city. As of 2022, the citadel is being restored and rebuilt, but you can still go in.
- 5 Kesdoğan is the other citadel across the river. It's 17th century and well-ruined, you mostly come for the view. There was probably an earlier castle here and local tradition credits the Paulicians, the Armenian Christian sect: kastaghon is Armenian for "little fort".
- City walls and fortifications survive here and there around the perimeter.
- 6 Seyir Terası ("view terrace") is on a ridge overlooking the town, with a glass-floor balcony hanging over the canyon of the Çaltı River, entrance 5 TL. A plankway follows the clifftop to an observation tower on an even higher ground.
- 7 Kız Köprüsü ("maiden's bridge") 4 km north of the old town is a 13th-century Mengücek stone bridge with three arches. The railway bridge alongside is also photogenic.
- 8 Şeytan Kayalıkları means "Satan's rocks", a group of hoodoos along a valley 18 km north above Maltepe village. The name is supposedly because of the eerie sounds of the night winds here; the moon shadows at full moon are just as creepy. The road to Maltepe is suitable for 2WD.
- Akdağ is the mountain of 2200 m east of Maltepe. The summit has been a place of pilgrimage. There are old iron ore mines around its foot.
- 9 Tuğut (nowadays officially Çiğdemli) is a village 27 km southeast with many old stone multistorey buildings, decrepit in a photogenic way.
- Turkish baths: the hammam in town centre dates from the 17th century.
- Lots of little stores in town centre but no big supermarket.
- Hüma Hatun Sokağı 200 m west of Great Mosque is the main strip for souvenirs and other local produce.
- The filling station on D260 at the south edge of town is open 24 hours.
- Over a dozen budget eating places line the bazaar.
- Some cafes serve beer.
- 1 Divriği Belediyesi Oteli, Istasyon Cd 99, ☏ . Hotel run by the town council, cleaning erratic.
- Otel Ninni in town centre is a very basic hostel.
- 2 Ekin Otel Divriği, Ceditpaşa, ☏ . Clean comfy hotel near the railway station.
- 3 Güllüoğlu Otel, Esentepe Cd, ☏ . This is 3 km north beyond the sports stadium. Usually clean, limited facilities.
- Divriği Otel is next to the Güllüoğlu, similar quality.
As of Nov 2022, Divriği has a very patchy 4G signal from Türk Telekom and Vodafone, but nothing from Turkcell, and there's nothing on the approach highways.
- Kemaliye (known locally as Eğin) is a attractive traditional village to the east. The scenic route there is Taş Yol, "Stone Road", through tight tunnels above the gorge of the Euphrates River.
- The daily train takes you east to Erzincan, Erzurum and Kars, or west to Sivas and Ankara.
|Routes through Divriği
|Ankara ← Sivas ←
|→ Elazığ → END
|Ankara ← Sivas ←
|→ Erzincan → Kars