Where to Visit in Bitlis
Bitlis is a city in southeastern Turkey. It is the seat of Bitlis Province and Bitlis District. Its population is 53,023 (2021). The city is located at an elevation of 1,545 metres, 15 km from Lake Van, in the steep-sided valley of the Bitlis River, a tributary of the Tigris. The local economy is mainly based on agricultural products which include fruits, grain and tobacco. Industry is fairly limited, and deals mainly with leatherworking, manufacture of tobacco products as well as weaving and dyeing of coarse cloth. Bitlis is connected to other urban centres by road, including Tatvan on Lake Van, 25 km to the northeast, and the cities of Muş (Mush), 100 km northwest, and Diyarbakır, 200 km to the west. The climate of Bitlis can be harsh, with long winters and heavy snowfalls. Summers are hot, and often humid. Since the local elections of March 2019, the Mayor of Bitlis is Nesrullah Tanğlay.
Bitlis preserves more medieval and traditional architecture than any other town in eastern Turkey. They are of a high quality and are mostly constructed from locally quarried light-brown stone, sometimes called Ahlat stone.
The town contains a large number of late-medieval Islamic buildings in the form of mosques, madrassas, and tombs. Also commercial buildings such as “Han’s Caravanserais. Commissioned mostly by its local Kurdish rulers, the architectural style of these buildings is very conservative and similar to much earlier Seljuq-period structures. Important monuments include the 12th-century Ulu Mosque with its 15th-century minaret, and the Gokmeydani Medresesi and Sherefiye Mosque from the sixteenth century. Until 1915 there were five Armenian monasteries and several churches in Bitlis – only a 19th-century Armenian church survives, now used as a warehouse.
The City is also notable for its many old houses. These are built of cut stone and are often large and impressive structures. Most have two stories, but three stories are also found. Ground floors were generally intended for storage and stables, with the residential quarters on the upper floors. Ground floor rooms have few windows, upper floors are well lit. Roofs are flat and covered with beaten clay. Unlike traditional houses in nearby Erzurum or Van, Bitlis houses do not have bay windows and balconies.
Historically, the city produced wheat, which the British, in 1920, described as being “particularly excellent.” However, poor trade routes in the area during the early 20th century meant that the wheat was mainly produced and used by locals. During this time, the British stated that the people of the city were unable to use all of the wheat they produced, and most was “left to rot in the underground storehouses.”