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Van Tours Travel Guide Turkey

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The city of Van, located in the southeast extremity of Turkey is interesting for its variety of sights available for I lie visitor to enjoy. It was one of the most important centers of the Urartu Kingdom; the capital of the Urartians was established a short distance from Van at Toprakkale. Van spreads out at the foot of an ancient citadel which rises high above the city. Nearby is the huge Lake Van, seven times larger than the Lake of Geneva. It is fine for swimming and water sports and is dotted with islands. Transportation across to the other side is available by ferries of the Turkish Maritime Bank. (Tour Guide Van)

Tour Guide Van


Ancient legend has it that Van was built during the reign of the Assyrian Queen Semiramis and was later enlarged by a local prince by the name of Van, in whose honor the city was eventually christened. During the rule of the Urartu people, the city was known as Taespas, and during this era, the citadel was built. After the Persian occupation of Anatolia, the city came into the hands of the kings of Pontus, who were succeeded by the Armenian kings, the Syrian kings, the Byzantines and the Arabs. The province has been Turkish territory for five hundred years.

Van became the capital of the Urartians in the 9th century B.C., when the Urartu King Sardur I took control of the area. The Armenians replaced these early colonists around 600 B.C. It is sup­posed that the ruins of this early period were destroyed before the Christian period. Van became the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan after the decline of the Persian power of the Sasanians. The city surrendered without resistance to the Otto­man Sultan Siileyman The Magnificent in the 16th century. It has remained in Turkish hands from that time.

(Tour Guide Van)
Turkish Cat 


The sights of touristic interest are many and varied in Van. These include, first and foremost, the ancient citadel of the city, several fine mosques dating from the Seljuk settlement in the region, Toprakkale, which is the site of the Urartian capital, and a fantastic Armenian church.

The Citadel of Van: It is found two kilometers to the west of the center of Van, on the top of a long rocky spur. A considerable part of this fortress still stands. It was built upon the limestone perch in the 9th century B.C. by the ruler of the Urartu people, Sardur II. The citadel stretches for nearly two thousand meters on the long side by a hundred and twenty on the northeast end. Its summit is eighty meters above Lake Van. Inscriptions carved in cuneiform script by the Kings of Urartu can be seen near a grotto in which were found burial vaults and inscriptions in three languages. These were in Babylonian, Persian, and Mede, and they sang the glory of the Persian conqueror Xerxes in the 5th century B.C. On the sides of the hill are other burial vaults that were cut into the side of the cliff.


Toprakkale: This is the site of the 8th century B.C. center of the Urartu civilization. It is located a few kilometers down the Özalp road and occupies the summit of a hill from where the view of Lake Van is magnificent. A day of visiting this site will be one well spent. Excavations here have brought to light many admirable artifacts and interesting inscripitons. Going up to the fortress from a northwest direction, you first come across a building that was constructed of huge, well-cut stone blocks. This is thought to have been a temple. Steps were cut out of the side of the hill for easy access to the building. It is supposed that the temple was erected in honor of Haldis, the primary Urartian deity. Rock-cut steps can be seen at various points on the earth mound citadel. The fortress is surrounded by walls of large stone blocks from two to three meters thick. Several basalt statues were found in the buildings along with bilingual scripts in the Hittite hieroglyphic and Phoenician. Ortho- stats with bas-reliefs found at the site of Toprakkale may be seen in the Archaeological Museum of Ankara.


Aghtamar Island: This small islet is reached by boat from the port of Gevaş, and the voyage takes about a half an hour. The most remarkable of the points of interest on Aghtamar is the Armenian church found roughly four kilometers from the bank. This structure, known as the Aghtamar Church of the Holy Cross, was built in the 10th century. It was done with a shining cupola and is a work of charm and finesse. The interior is decorated with frescoes also dating from the 10th century and in an excellent style, but its originality lies in the admirable reliefs which decorate the outside walls. These are treated in the monumental fashion representing scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible. They alternate animal figures, medallion portraits of saints, animals in high relief, while a vegetation frieze interlaces scenes of rural life. Outside the church are some of the monastic buildings where in the 10th century the patriarchs of the Armenian church resided.

The church was built of the local brown sandstone, and its plan is cruciform, with a huge twelve-sided, cone-topped drum to cover the central area. The south porch was added to the structure in the 18th century. The paintings on the walls which were once covered over with plaster by the Ottoman Turks, whose religion discouraged the human form in works of art, have suffered for it. Among the frescoes are scenes from the life of Christ, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the innocents, with a black sword raised over an infant, Christ washing the feet of the disciples and a line of apostles or saints around the altar end.

Around the church can be seen fallen tombstones, and graves dating from the Seljuk Turkish period in Anatolia. The designs are lovely with their intricate floral and geometric patterns. The church and palace of Aghtamar Island were built by the Armenian King Gagik, and the island was used for a short period as the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia.

Tatvan: This town is located on the promentory at the south­west end of Lake Van, from where you can board a ferryboat for a tour of the lake; the boat goes toward the north to Ahlat, Adilcevaz, and Erciş and south to Reşadiye. From Tatvan you can climb the Nemrut volcano for a view of the crater lake some three hundred meters below. A jeep can be rented in Tatvan to take you through a crack in the rim of the crater and down to the lake shore. Steam still hisses from fissures found near the summit of the volcano. A belief of the local population has it that the crater lake is con- nected underground to a small lake to the west which is the source of the Murat branch- of the Euphrates River.

Ahlat: This village is reached from Tatvan, by a good road. Near the town there is the ghost town of Eski Ahlat, which had consi­derable importance in the Middle Ages. The town was surrounded by walls and dominated by a fortress of which there remains no trace. On the right bank of the brook, you can see the ruins of three türbe or mausoleums. One of them is Padişah Hasan Türbesi m hich dates from 1275. The road climbs onto the plateau and passes through a big Moslem cemetery. To the right rises a large and well - preserved mausoleum; this is the Ulu Kümbet from the 13th century. The exterior walls of this tomb are decorated with a very intricate and interlacing design. To the left of this, at the other side of the track is a group of interesting mausoleums. A little further, on the right of the track, bordering the little cliff that dominates the lake, stand the ruins of a fortress constructed in 1554, during the reign of Süley­man The Magnificent.

Adilcevaz : Continuing on toward Erciş, you will pass through Adilcevaz; it lies some seventy kilometers from Tatvan. Adilcevaz is surrounded by vast gardens. Here is found a fortress dating from the Middle Ages; another attraction is a mosque from the Mongo' period. The fortress, in a rather poor state of preservation, rises immediately above the town. It was constructed by the Seljuks. Inside the ruined castle were found several pieces of a Urartu relief of a Urartian god or king; this has been moved to the museum in Van. It is thought that these fragments had fallen into the castle from the ancient Urartian fortress that is perched high over the valley to the west of the town. (Tour Guide Van)