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View of Divriği

Divriği is a town of about 11,000 people (2020) in the northeastern part of Central Anatolia — you are leaving the rolling steppes behind and are encroaching on the mountainous realm of Eastern Anatolia here. On a map, it is a tiny speck in the middle of nowhere you wouldn't think twice about lingering for long, but the Great Mosque of Divriği and the adjoining medieval hospital (Darüşşifa), on UNESCO's World Heritage List because of their exquisite carvings and architecture, alone are a good reason for a visit.

Understand[edit]

Citadel

Tephrike was founded at the Byzantine borderlands in the 9th century by Karbeas, previously a mid-level Byzantine army officer, as a fortified refuge for the flock he was militarily leading, the Paulicians. (Some legends associate Karbeas with Digenes Akritas, likely a personification of the Byzantine frontier guards at a time of perpetual warfare with the Islamic army and the theme of the only surviving Byzantine epic poem.) Little is known about the Paulicians beyond they were a medieval Christian sect originally from Armenia, and were despised by the Byzantines as heretics, frequently suffering persecution in consequence. Under the protection of the Islamic Caliphate, which installed an emir in nearby Melitene (Malatya) by the time and had plans for further expansion over Byzantine Anatolia, the Paulicians flourished in their stronghold, declared their state, and undertook incursions into the Byzantine territory. However, it didn't take until the end of the century Basil I crushed the Paulician state, and made Tephrike a Byzantine possession. The Byzantines held it until the defeat at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert against the Seljuk Turks, who called the town Divrik.

From the late 11th century, Anatolia was a constant war zone stuck amidst the multi-sided conflicts between the Byzantines, Seljuks, and Crusaders. However, in its mountainous fastness, Divrik was safely remote from it all, and proved fertile ground for development. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the town was the seat of the Mengücek, a Turkish principality subordinated to the Seljuks of Rum, but nevertheless maintaining a degree of autonomy. In 1229, the Mengücek ruler Ahmet Şah Süleyman called on the architect Hürrem Şah of Ahlat, which has had a reputation for its fine stonework combining styles of different origins, for his ambitious mosque project to commence.

In the following centuries, the town's name further morphed to Divriği ("deev-REE-ee"), and it was little more than a mountainous backwater, albeit one with a very unexpectedly-sited gem of medieval architecture. The town secured a railway link in the 1930s, in large part due to the need for transporting the iron ore mined at the surrounding mountains — some of the richest sources in Turkey — to processing plants elsewhere. In 1985, the Great Mosque and its complex became one of the earliest sites in Turkey to be inscribed into the World Heritage list. Divriği is said to be one of a kind in the country that it not only has Seljuk-era monuments, but also has preserved its urban layout from that time.

In an unintentional analogy to the town's heterodox origins, most of the local population follows the Alevi tradition of Islam.

The surrounding landscape is generally barren, but has a reddish tint due to the oxides of the iron deposits in the soil.

Get in[edit]

By air[edit]

The nearest airport is located in Sivas, about 180 km or 3 hours away by road.

By bus[edit]

By train[edit]

The 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.

There's also a more expensive "tourist" version of this train, running daily year-round. 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 that has been degraded.

Additionally, two daily regional trains run from each of Sivas and Erzincan, taking about three hours from either to arrive at Divriği.

  • 1 Divriği railway station (500 m north of town along the main road). Divriği station (Q43398840) on Wikidata Divriği railway station on Wikipedia

By car[edit]

Divriği is just off D260. From Sivas (172 km), take D850 south to join D260 near Kangal. From Malatya (192 km), follow D875 north and branch off to D260 near Arapgir.

Get around[edit]

Map of Divriği

See[edit]

Great Mosque and hospital of Divriği
Inside of the mosque
  • 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 — the individual figures, all singular, are numbering in thousands — weren't produced elsewhere and then simply attached to the pre-ready walls, but rather were chipped out of the stone blocks constituting the walls, as would be done for a huge and extremely detailed sculpture. As of July 2022, you cannot visit the building because of restoration works with no declared finishing date. You can still view the main gates from the outside. Divriği Great Mosque and Hospital (Q581641) on Wikidata Divriği Great Mosque and Hospital on Wikipedia
  • Several renovated traditional mansions dot the historic core, as do mausoleums (kümbet) of the Mengücek nobles.
  • 2 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.
  • 3 Kesdoğan is the other citadel across the river, on a higher and much less accessible outcrop than the main citadel — and is so ruinous that it's hard to tell apart from the natural terrain. The locals attribute it to the Armenians, probably an allusion to the Paulicians. This is likely as kastaghon in Armenian dialects means "little fort". Kesdoğan might be in severe disrepair, but that doesn't hold the locals back from finding it fascinating: an oft-narrated local tale about the castle involves a love story between an Armenian princess and Ertuğrul, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty — never mind the four centuries separating the Paulicians and Ertuğrul apart, provided he had ever visited there and geographical divergence doesn't widen the gap even further.
  • Other bits of ancient fortifications are scattered around the town.
  • 4 Seyir Terası ("view terrace") is on a ridge overlooking the town, with a scary glass-floor balcony hanging over the canyon of the Çaltı River. A plankway follows the clifftop to an observation tower on an even higher ground.
  • 5 Kız Köprüsü ("maiden's bridge") 4 km north of the old town is a 13th-century, Mengücek stone bridge with three arches, one of them humpback over the actual course of the Çaltı River. An early 20th-century railway bridge, also stone with several arches and just as picturesque, is adjacent.
  • 6 Şeytan Kayalıkları ("Satan's rocks") are a series of interesting hoodoo formations along the side of a valley 18 km north near Maltepe. The name is reportedly because of the eerie sounds created as the air is pushed between the formations on windy nights, when the locals loathe to be present anywhere nearby. If the wind forecast failed for the night and you are thinking you've missed the whole show, don't despair. The Moon's movements are far more predictable, and the shapes appearing as the rocks reflect the moonlight on a full moon are said to be almost as creepy.
  • 7 Tuğut (officially Çiğdemli) is a village about 30 km southeast. It is reputedly more than 500 years old — highly plausible given the decrepit condition of its several multistorey stone buildings.
  • There are numerous Armenian churches in the surrounding countryside, but unless you are specifically interested in the Armenian heritage of the region, they may not be worth seeking out: they are in a very advanced stage of dereliction, and many are in very remote sites. One that is within relatively easy reach is 8 Yukarı Kilise ("the upper church"), some distance north and uphill from the Great Mosque.

Do[edit]

Buy[edit]

  • 1 Hüma Hatun Sokağı is a renovated shopping street in the historic bazaar area (arasta). It is home to a dozen shops offering handmade souvenirs and other local produce, all run by women.

Eat[edit]

Drink[edit]

Sleep[edit]

  • Divriği Belediyesi Oteli, +90 346 418 18 25. Hotel run by the town council. Clean rooms with en suite bathrooms and balcony. No breakfast served. 20 TL.

Connect[edit]

The telephone code of the town is (+90) 346.

Go next[edit]

It's possible to move on further east to Erzincan, Erzurum, and Kars by daily trains. You can also go to Kemaliye, a beautiful old town locally known as Eğin on the Karasu River to the east, by a combination of train and taxi. But if you are intent on a little bit of adventure, take the Taş Yol ("Stone Road"), a series of tight tunnels that took more than a century to complete high above the gorge of the Euphrates River, to Kemaliye.

Routes through Divriği
AfyonkarahisarSivas  W D260-TR.svg E  ElazığEND
AnkaraSivas  W Doğu Ekspresi (the Eastern Express) E  ErzincanKars


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