Erzurum is the largest province in Eastern Anatolia and is located on a high plateau (1950 m). The province has always been a transportation junction and is now the transfer point for air, rail or bus connections for travelers coming to Eastern Turkey.
The history of the city extends back to 4000 BC and it has seen many civilizations in Anatolia. One of the most important remains from this periods is the well preserved Byzantine city walls. Most of the historical finds are kept in the collections of the Archaeological Museum, which is a part of the Erzurum Museum.
Erzurum was captured and ruled by many different nations like Hurries, Urartus, Cimmerians, Scythes, Medians, Persians, Parthes, Romans, Byzantines, Sassanides, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Ilhanides, Safawides, and of course Turks. The Ottomans captured the city only in 1514 and ruled until the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. Some great historical figures like Alexander the Great and Tamerlane can be added to the list of rulers.
The city has always been a point of collision of forces coming from various directions and served as a base of operation. In the 19th century it became the main Ottoman fortress against the Russians who occupied it three times. The resistance against the supreme in powers of the west was initiated with the War of Independence. Atatürk gathered a Congress of National Delegates here on July 23, 1919 where the foundation of national unity and independence were laid down.
The modern city, with wide tree lined boulevards and university buildings, is intertwined with the historical district. The Seljuk buildings in the town are remarkable. The Ulu (Grand) Mosque built in 1179 is interesting, with its many columns and seven wide naves. Next door to Ulu Mosque is the Cifte Minareli (Double Minaret) Medrese (theological school), which is the most famous feature of the city. It is a perfect example of Seljuk architecture, the carved portal being particularly fine.
Walking south you will see the Three Tombs (Üç Kümbetler). Another interesting tomb is the elegant 13th century Hatuniye Tomb. The Yakutiye Medrese of the 13th century is one of the most important historical monuments of Erzurum with its beautiful portal and richly tiled minaret. Here is an elaborate mosque built by the great architect Sinan in the 16th century, the Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque. The Aziziye monument commemorating the Turkish - Russian War, the citadel and Bell Tower, the Rüstem Pasa Caravanserai and the Bedesten are other historical places of interest.
For nature lovers, Lake Tortum, 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Erzurum, and Mount Palandoken provide perfect opportunities. Palandöken winter sports and skiing resort which is reached by mountain roads of scenic beauty, is only 6 kilometers (3,7 miles) from Erzurum. This winter sports spot is competitive with those of Europe, and the 2011 Universiade Winter Games will be held at these facilities between January 27th - February 6th. By Lake Tortum you will encounter a rarely found beauty of a peaceful lake. The waterfalls at the northern end of the lake are worth seeing as they plunge from a height of 47 meters (150 feet). Erzurum is a province suitable for mountaineering with peaks of 3000 meters (10,000 feet), and also has many hot springs and meadows.
Erzurum has a specific local black stone (Oltu tasi, Jet) which is carved to produce jewelry, rosary beads, key-chains, pipes and boxes, which you may see while wandering around, especially in Tashan.
Oltu stone, which has been carved in Erzurum since the 18th century, is one of the best examples of semi-precious stones to be found in the world. Oltu is excavated generally around Yasakdag, especially in Dutlu, Hankaskisla, Alatarla and Cataksu villages between the months of March and October. There are approximately 600 oltu quarries. Out of a total of 287 quarries in the Central Dutlu Region, 120 quarries are still being worked.
Jet is obtained from mountainous areas which are dug perpendicularly to the general surface and have galleries 70-80cm in diameter where only two or three miners can work. It's a very compact velvet-black mineral of the nature of coal. Beds of this organic substance are 70-80 centimeters in thickness. Jet is formed when fossilized trees are subject to diastrophism resulting in folding.
The most attractive characteristic of oltu stone is that it is very soft when excavated and only begins to harden when it is exposed to the air. Therefore, it is very easy to carve this mineral. It generally comes in black, but can also be blackish brown, grey or greenish. When put near gas, this mineral bursts into flames and leaves behind a certain amount of ash. When rubbed, the oltu stone attracts, by way of static electricity, light substances such as dust.
Various ornaments made from oltu are some of the best examples of Turkish aesthetic arts. Oltu stones are mostly used to make ornaments including rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, tie pins, pipes, studs, cigarette-holders, and prayer beads. It is also used in the electric and electronics industries.
Even though artificial jet is produced, it is easy to distinguish the real oltu stone from the artificial. To be certain if a stone is real jet just heat a pin and see if it penetrates the stone, then the mineral is not real jet. Real jet leaves behind brown residue when scraped with a knife. When you take an oltu stone in your hand and blow on it, vapor is left on the stone.