Forty-one new graves have been discovered during ongoing excavation and restoration works at the Meydan Seljuk Cemetery in Ahlat district of Bitlis province in eastern Turkey.
In the cemetery, work is underway with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism under the chairmanship of Mehmet Kulaz from the Art History Department of Van Yüzüncü Yıl University (YYÜ).
Excavation chief Kulaz said this year they focused on rehabilitating a section of the cemetery which was used extensively by the Russians as the Ahlat-Tatvan highway during World War I and where great destruction took place. occurred.
Explaining that they are working on an area of about 3 acres, Kulaz said, “After removing the surface soil from this area, we leveled the ground. In this process, about 41 new graves were unearthed this year. “
“During our work, 96 graves have also been restored to date. The headstones of these graves, which were broken into a few pieces, have been restored and brought back to life.”
According to Kulaz, 18 of the newly discovered graves belong to children. He noted that a significant number of these tombs are considered special tombstones due to their ornaments and inscriptions.
Explaining that many of the stones belonging to sandukas (a type of cenotaph placed over the graves of distinguished people in the Turkish-Islamic tradition) did not survive after being excavated from the ground, Kulaz said: “We are restoring the tombstones whose parts have been identified.Thanks to our work, their integrity has been restored and they are resurrected in their original positions.But it is not possible to find the lost tombstones.
“Hopefully this year, before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrives in Ahlat, we will reach a milestone in rehabilitating the part that was destroyed during the Russian occupation and looks like a stream bed. In this area we also found various architectural structures. as graves while clearing the surface soil. We will have the opportunity to talk more clearly about the functions of these structures once the excavations are completed.
The largest Turkish-Islamic cemetery
Scattered over 201 acres, the Ahlat Seljuk Meydan Cemetery is the largest Turkish-Islamic cemetery in the world on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Tentative List. Offering a journey through history in the form of an open-air museum, the cemetery houses more than 8,000 tombs, 1,500 of which are in perfect condition.
The graves in the cemetery are larger than most, reaching a height of 3.5 meters (11.4 ft). They are ornate on both sides and are famous for their interesting rectangular prism shape. In addition to cist tombs (small stone tombs), there are also underground chamber-style tombs, which resemble the Turkish tombs found in Central Asia. The tombs attract visitors with their majestic appearance and intricate stone carvings depicting dragons, palmettes, oil lamps, and geometric patterns that often focus on leaf motifs. The symbols included on the stones had great significance for the Turks of Anatolia and Central Asia.
The historic headstones in the cemetery are also unique with their stone-cut designs and different shapes. The most interesting thing is that each tombstone varies in height.
While archaeological excavations began last year at the Meydan Seljuk cemetery following the discovery of the graves of 30 children, restoration of the headstones has been underway since 2011.