Van, Turkey Tourist Attractions
Eastern AnatoliaThe earliest excavations in Van began in 1827 and were important in unraveling the mysteries of Urartian civilization and language.
Istanbul University conducted further excavations in 1959/1960 and established a "Center for Historical and Archeological Research of Van" in 1967.HistoryCa. 840 B.C. the Urartian ruler Sardur I built a citadel and the town of Tushpa, the capital of his empire, on the rocky outcrop. To the west of the modern town this later became Van fortress (Van Kalesi). The region was inhabited in the third millennium B.C. by the Hurrians, regarded as the ancestors of the Urartians and also as the first tribe to create a political and cultural entity in eastern Anatolia. Assyrians attacked the east of the Hurrian lands, forcing the natives to emigrate to the north and into the Van region where they formed separate small kingdoms. The oldest Urartian kingdom, called "Bianli" (people of Bian), had two capitals under King Aramu in the still unidentified places of Sugunia and later Arzashgun (probably to the south and northwest of Lake Van respectively). Sardur I is regarded as the founder of the empire when he established a new capital of Tushpa (Van Kalesi) by Lake Van in 840 B.C. The kingdom of Bian was later of course to become Van.Even when the Urartian Empire (Biani Empire) was at its greatest, it had no access to the sea. Under Ishpuini (830-810 B.C.) new buildings were erected in Tushpa and the town enjoyed a measure of prosperity. His son Menua, other children and grandchildren concerned themselves with irrigating the farmland and with building a defensive system based on warning beacons located at a number of fortresses within sight of each other. Ishpuini's grandson Sardur II was responsible for creating cultural centers such as the great open-air Temple of Tushpa, but in 743 B.C., territory in northern Syria was lost to the Assyrians. Further defeats to the Assyrians continued under his son Rusa I (735-714 B.C.) and were warning signs to the Urartian Empire. Nomadic threats from steppe tribes such as the Cimmerians and later the Scythians heralded the end of the empire, finally brought to an end by the Medes in 590 B.C.More recent historyBefore the Armenian king Tigranes the Great (95-54 B.C.) extended Van as the center of his empire, the fortress belonged to the Persian satrapy of Armenia and then after Alexander the Great to the kingdom of Pontus. The Armenian Reshtuni dynasty lasted until an Arab raid in 634. In 1071 Van fell to the Marvanid dynasty and then to the Karakoyun Ogullari ("Black Rams"). The ensuing dispute between the Ottomans and the Persians ended in favor of the Ottomans but the old Ottoman townbeneath the citadel was destroyed when Russian troops withdrew in 1917.
Van Gölü is the Turkish name for Lake Van. It is the largest lake in Turkey and has little life under its waters due to the high natural soda content.
In a side street of the modern town of Van, to the east of Cumhuriyet Caddesi, lies Van Museum, which despite its limited size is well worth a visit. Most exhibits, some on display in the front garden, were unearthed at Urartian sites. On the first floor is an ethnographic section.
The view from the citadel rock over the ruined old town of Van is impressive. The town walls which can easily be identified extended as far as Lake Van. The area destroyed during the Russian troops' withdrawal was eventually abandoned in favor of the new town to the east. The site is now an open-air Museum and part of the national park designated by UNESCO as the "Citadel and Old Town of Van". The old town contains many important monuments from the Islamic period despite all the destruction.
In the old town area of Van two Armenian churches, Surb Paulus (ca. 960) and Surb Petrus (badly damaged) are secreted close together behind the remains of the so-called Twin Church.
The Twin Mausoleums in the old cemetery to the south outside the old town of Van are situated opposite the former Orta Kapi. The two domed tombstones with columned supports are reminiscent of nomadic tent life and date from the 18th century although the tradition of open türbes continues. Both mausoleums commemorate governors of Van province: DemirPasa (1789) lies in the eastern tomb, while Ahmet Pasa (1796) lies in the other one. A walk through the historic cemetery can prove difficult but it contains old sarcophagi and gravestones with Kufic inscriptions and embellishments.
Hüsrev Pasa Camii (Kursunlu Cami)
To the southwest close to the old city wall and Orta Kapi (Middle Gate) in Van stands the still well-maintained single-domed mosque which was endowed by Koca Hüsrev Pasa. According to the inscription above the doorway, it was built in 1567. Evliya Celebi reported that the dome was covered with lead plates in the 17th century, hence its other name of "Kursunlu Cami" or "Lead Mosque". The walls of the prayer room were tiled to a height of 2m/6.5ft in the 16th century It also suffered badly when the Russian troops were withdrawn but it was faithfully restored in 1968.
Hüsrev Pasa Camii (Kursunlu Cami)
Clearly other buildings formed a part of the complex including a bath mentioned by Katip Celebi in the 17th century. None of the remains, however, can be discerned. By the east wall a simple but elegant octagonal mausoleum contains the remains of the founder.The roof made from stone blocks tapers to a cone and the door and window surrounds are decorated with patterns of rosettes, palms and geometrical figures.
Kaya Çelebi Camii
To the east of the Kursunlu Cami in Van stands the mosque which was endowed in the 16th century by Kaya Çelebizade Koçi Bey. The huge dome above the prayer room is dotted with small window openings and supporting projections. The pillars which flank the window openings are deliberately simple and the porch topped by a number of domes extends into the main hall.
Also known as Tebriz Kapi Camii, this mosque stands close to the earlier city gate to Tabriz in the eastern quarter of the old town of Van. It was probably built in the 13th and 14th century and also housed a Koran school. The minaret made from bricks arranged in a diamond pattern is decorated with a geometric design of dark-blue tiles.
The Grand Mosque in Van, praised by Evliya Celebi in the 17th century, is situated some way to the west almost directly beneath the citadel's rock wall. It was probably built in the 11th or 12th century but was rebuilt between 1389 and 1400. The dome collapsed during an earthquake in 1648 and the mosque was further damaged between 1915 and 1917 during the Russian occupation. Despite some initial work to clear away the rubble at the beginning of the 1970s, only the shell and a part of the minaret remain of the once impressively decorated prayer room. The Seljuk Kiliç Arslan built a 1000-step stairway leading up to the citadel 90m/295ft higher up but this is now closed.
The increasing flow of tourists, the growing cost of running repairs and the need to protect the famous fortress at Van have forced the Turkish authorities to make changes to the open site designated by UNESCO as the "Historic National Park, Citadel and Old Town of Van".
Tushpa - Rock Tombs
The vertical descent on the south front of the citadel rock in Van contains various rock burial chambers of Urartian rulers. To the south beneath the center of the castle, stone steps lead from the summit plateau to the burial chamber of King Sardur, the builder and to the rock tomb of King Menua. The tombs which are all built to the same plan consist of an entrance hall which gives access to the plundered burial chambers alongside or behind one another. The remarkable rectangular cavities in the walls with holes in the middle probably accommodated so-called "knob-tiles" (zigati) which were attached as decorations. On the southeast wall of the rock face lies another burial chamber with a small door. Inside, a 1m/3ft high platform with 78 cavities runs along the wall. They were built to hold the urns of the deceased and the holes helped to keep the containers upright.The most interesting of the tombs can be reached from the northwest peak of the citadel. The rock faces on the southwest side, before the entrance to the burial chamber of King Ardisti I, are covered with Urartian cuneiform texts describing the deeds of the deceased. These texts are known as the "Horhor Inscriptions".On an inaccessible middle section of the south rock another cuneiform inscription can be found in a rectangular rock niche. It dates from the Persian king Xerxes and is written in three languages: ancient Persian, Elamitic and Babylonian.
The Urartian citadel in Van only occupied the western part of the hill. Broad, sometimes unfinished trenches in the rock were cut by the Urartians to the east and west of the fortress to secure the flanks. The step-like recesses with their supporting wall ("bin merdivenler", thousand steps or "seytan medivenleri", devil's steps) which are still visible help to give some idea of the rock's huge proportions. The castle was extended by the Seljuks and Ottomans to its current dimensions. The less secure, but not so steep north side was strengthened at the same time by several enormous limestone walls built on stone foundations and with round towers which can still be recognized. In 1387 the Mongol Timur-Leng badly damaged the citadel after a 20-day siege. Both Akkoyun rulers and the Ottomans made significant attempts to restore it and also added at the same time, close to the hill, a water tower, various store-rooms, a barracks, a mosque with a minaret still in situ and a medrese.
Two large niches in the rock each with hemispherical vaulting, a broad platform, a sacrificial altar and cuneiform inscriptions mark the tomb of King Sardur II at the northeast end of the citadel rock in Van. This sacred site is known to the native population as "Anali Kiz" (Daughter with Mother). Every Thursday the local people visit the spot, bring sacrificial offerings and request the fulfillment of secret wishes by sliding down the existing "blood channels" to appease the sacrificial victim. This sacred site, also known in local parlance as the "Treasure Gate", came into being under Sardur II in honor of the principal god Haldi.
Sardur Burcu (Madir Burcu)
On the northeastern side of Van, under the citadel rock, the remains of the impressive harbor walls acquired the name "Sardur's Castle" in ignorance of their true function. At Tushpa, as at several other places around Lake Van, Sardur had a solid mole built of black basalt blocks which were quarried from Alniunu near Gümüsdere 17km/10mi to the south.
Map of Van Attractions