Like so many others, my interest in Turkey and its rich culture began with Turkish drama. Dizi (the Turkish word for series) after dizi acquainted me with vistas, ideas and traditions I had not known before. The more I watched Turkish drama, the more I wanted to visit Turkey and walk the streets where the characters I had come to know, walked. At first it was Istanbul, bustling and beautiful with its unique Mahalles (neighborhoods), rich history and beautiful people. But it wasn’t long before I craved experiencing the other regions of Turkey.
There’s so much more to Turkey than Istanbul as overwhelming as the city is. The Turkish film industry understands this allure and leverages its settings in cinematography. While most dizis are filmed in Istanbul, the production companies find a way to take the story to other parts of Turkey as well. In Kuzey Guney, with Kuzey as my guide, I took a tour of the beautiful cities of Samsun, Antalya and Mersin.
Later on, with Asi as my guide in the classic series Asi, I walked the winding streets of Antakya in the Hatay Province of Turkey near the Syrian border. Every corner of Turkey has its own story and its people are bursting at the seams to tell it. It was in Hercai that I was first introduced to the awe-inspiring architectural ruins of Göbekli Tepe (which I visited with a group of friends last year). And now, once again, Hercai has enthralled me with the splendor of Ishak Pasha Palace, the filming location for its Season 3 teaser.
Standing proudly atop a Turkish bluff is the Ishak Pasha Palace, hauntingly beautiful with views of Mount Ararat. The brilliant sun melding into a deep sapphire sky transports one to the time of the Ottomans, Persians, Arabs and Byzantines whose fascinating history is felt everywhere in this region.
Despite having been abandoned for years, the imposing palace manages to retain much of the opulence and grandeur of the Ottoman empire. Built over an entire century (1685-1785), the Middle Eastern-inspired arches and domes of the sprawling palace have survived for over 400 years. The edifice sits near the Iranian border, in the Ağrı (Ararat) region of Turkey, which explains the heavily Persian influence of the architectural design. It is the last large monumental structure of the Ottoman Empire in the “Lale Devri” — Tulip Period, and one of the few examples of the historical Turkish palaces still surviving.
But as I said, like everything in Turkey, there is a story to be told.
İshak Pasha, the palace’s namesake and the man who oversaw the completion of the structure, was the son of Hasan Pasha of the Çıldır dynasty that dominated the region in seventeenth century. He became the governor of Çıldır and Ahıska and given the rank of vizier- the title given to a high-ranking political advisor or minister in the Muslim world. However, the magnificence of the palace was viewed by his superiors to be a sign of competition with the Ottoman dynasty, causing him to be discredited and later exiled to Hasankale to live out the rest of his life.
From then on, there is very little information about the later history of the palace. Only the French orientalist, Pierre-Amédée Jaubert gives some information in his travels. According to Jaubert, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a plague in the city spread to where the palace was situated causing the death of many in the harem, including, Mahmud Pasha, the Bey of Doğubayazıt. The date of his death (1805) was later engraved on the gravestone in the cemetery in the inner courtyard of the palace based on the information given by Jaubert in his book.
After the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War, the region fell under Russian domination briefly only to revert back to Turkish rule at the end of the First World War. From then on, İshak Pasha Palace was not viewed as important and left to deteriorate.
It was not until the 1950’s that the palace and its complex were recognized for their picturesque appearance leading Mahmut Akök from the General Directorate of Museums to make detailed plans that revealed its architectural character. This led to the restoration of the historic complex in the 1960s.
The palace, located in the east-west direction, covers an area of approximately 7600 m2 in a rectangular layout and consists of three main groups of buildings located side by side.
The entrance to the palace is through a very imposing door on the plain façade to the east. The door, which is dominated by Seljuk and European influences, has a pointed arch design. Decorated with pilasters, niches and stalactite, the door has a low-arched opening at the bottom, from which a passage is provided to the front courtyard.
The palace is like a small city with its own mosque, administrative buildings, harem, Turkish bath, kitchen, bakery, barns, a dungeon in the basement and military barracks.
The complex, which served as the second administrative campus after the Topkapı Palace in İstanbul, has two stories with 366 rooms. Of note is the ingenious heating system of the complex which was designed to create heat by circulating hot water (heated in furnaces inside the building) through pipes to heat interior spaces. Considering the harsh winters of the region, the advanced heating system is still admired today.
The palace has two large courtyards connected by a Gothic style portal. The palace and the cemetery’s crown gate display beautiful examples of traditional Turkish-Islamic art in the form of the cypress tree motif that represents longevity.
In the courtyard there is a fountain known as the ‘milk fountain’ among the locals. In the old days milk would flow from one tap and water from the other. A rose motif embroidered with curved branches and leaves in a water drop motif symbolizing the love between water and rose is one of the most interesting details of the fountain.
The Love Story
The palace even has its own love story. An epic story between two lovers, Gülbahar and Ahmet, who lived in Ishak Pasha Palace. The two lovers would meet each other by the shores of Küp Lake, near the palace.
In his book Agri Dagi Efsanesi (The Legend of Mount Ararat), Yaşar Kemal describes the epic love of Gülbahar and Ahmet:
“On the slope of Mount Ararat, there is a lake at four thousand two hundred meters. They call it Küp Lake. The lake is the size of a threshing floor. Deep inside. Not a lake but a well. All four sides of the lake, that is the mouth of the well, is surrounded by rocks that are red, sharp and sparkling like blades. Then the blue of the lake begins. A tone of blue that can be seen nowhere else.
Gülbahar lost her Ahmet in Küp Lake. Since that day, those who pass by the Küp Lake see Gülbahar sitting on the shore of the lake, with her long hair flowing like a beam of light on her back, her head between her hands, her eyes staring down into the pure blue water. From time to time, Ahmet appears in the waters of the lake. His image reflects in Gülbahar’s eyes. Gülbahar opens her arms and walks to Ahmet. “Ahmet, Ahmet!” she shouts. Her voice echoes all over the mountain. The lake boils, Ahmet disappears, Gulbahar disappears , a small white bird comes and dips its wing into the solid blue of the water, and then the black shadow of a horse comes over the water. “
This story of the two lovers in Agri Dagi Efsanesi was made into a 1975 movie starring Fatma Girik and Hakan Balamir.
On a previous trip to Turkey I visited the beautiful ruins of Gopekli Tepe… Next time I’ll go to Ishak Pasha Palace and gaze across the plains at the Mountains of Ararat.
*Note: Ishak Pasha Palace is on the tentative list to be considered for UNESCO World Heritage designation.
(C) Copyright by North America TEN with historical context by A.S.