The surroundings of Van include the Armenian church ruins on the island of Ahtamar Adasi and the impressive remains of the Urartian castle of Çavustepe.
Located in Lake Van, the island of Ahtamar Adasi is home to the ruins of a monastery complex which was likely established in the 10th C.
To find the "Red Monastery" of Kamrak Vank follow the main road 65km/40mi west of Van and then fork off 7km/4mi west of Gevas to the village of Göründü (10km/6mi). The monastery lies a further three hours' walk beyond Göründü in the mountains. A local guide is recommended. The site can also be reached from the village of Altinsaç on the southern shores of Lake Van. The two preserved cruciform churches with simple domes probably date from around the 12th century.
On the road to Özalp, near the village of Dereüstü some 16km/10mi northeast of Van, the remains of the upper and lower Anzaf castles can be seen. In Urartian times both castles controlled the trade route to Persia. The lower square fortress with four thick semi-circular towers on the north side of the road was built by King Ishpuini, while the upper castle 800m0.5mi to the southeast, also with Cyclopean walls, was the work of his son Menua. The high castle walls and some typically Urartian stone markings can still be seen.
Aparank Manastiri, Turkey
A little to the northwest of Müküs at almost 1,900m/6,200ft above sea level stands the Kurdish village of Aparank (Vatas). Allow ten hours for the journey with guide and mule. Of the five Armenian churches and a 17th century monastery in the village, the oldest building is the Church of St John (943-952) with a central dome and three apses. In 1664 another church was built to serve as the main church for the community, but it is now used as a barn.
More Armenian church ruins can be seen in the Narlica Deresi between Bahçesaray and Catak at the village of Wschny. The Church of St Mary (Church of the Mother of God) with its central dome, one long main transept and a short one is of interest as are the unusual conical roof above a round drum and the former village church nearby.
The small garrison town of Çaldiran which lies 120km/75mi northeast of Van is dominated by the ruins of an Urartian fortress. The place is situated on the northwestern edge of a wide plain where in 1514 Selim I defeated the Safavid ruler Ismael I.
Northwest of Van and about 100 minutes away by boat the island of Çarpanak lies opposite the Cape of Citören. Here too can be found the remains of an Armenian church. It was initially built as a square structure with a central dome but later converted to a long triple-naved building. Light and dark volcanic rock from Ahlat was used in its construction. The main portal on the narrow side is particularly impressive displaying decorations in geometric, cruciform and stalactiform patterns.
About 24km/15mi southeast of Van in the Hosap Suyu valley the impressive remains of the Urartian castle and seat of King Sardur II (764-735 B.C.) stand on an isolated ridge. These remains, including the walls and the palace complex with an Urartian "king's toilet", give visitors some notion of Urartian architectural style, although many structures were affected by alterations made in the Middle Ages. The site also offers a superb view over the Gürpinar plain.The site consists of an upper and lower castle within which lie the remains of a Temple of Chaldi (with porch, column pedestal and an inscription about the artificial irrigation of the surrounding plains), citadel walls, seventh century B.C. workshops, store-rooms and cellar with pithois (storage vessels), cisterns, kitchen, palace with throne room, harem and colonnaded halls. Sardurihinili was destroyed by the Scythians in the seventh century.
The remains of three Armenian monasteries can be found close to the shores of the Deveboynu peninsula about 70km/43mi west of Van. The site can best be reached by boat from the jetty opposite the island of Ahtamar. At the tip of the peninsula stands the Monastery of the Resurrection with the remains of frescoes which date from before the 13th century. Further inland is the 10th century Monastery of St Mary (Monastery of the Mother of God) and nearby the badly damaged Monastery of the Miracle of Chakhur. At a secluded spot some distance further inland near the village of Mezir (about 3 hours away) is the Monastery of St Thomas where the holy relics of St Thomas are said to have been kept. As well as a number of monastery buildings, the Church of St Thomas stands within the walled site.
The sacred rock niche of Hazine Piri (also known as Hazine Kapisi) can be found near the village of Elmalik some 12km/7mi south of Van. It is thought to be the oldest sacred niche of this type in the Van region.The Urartian castle known as Zivistan Kalesi is also to be found in the village. It consists of an upper and lower fortress. The upper site has been destroyed, but considerable remains of the lower site can still be seen.
The remains of an Urartian harbor made from black basalt blocks can be seen about 20km/12mi east of Ercis close to the point where the River Deliçay flows into Lake Van. It is thought that a castle once stood here but no traces remain.
The regional center of Ercis lies a good 115km/70mi north of Van. Known to be well-established as early as the 11th century, in Armenian times it was called Agantz and was one of the most important towns of that period. In 996 David of Taik annexd Ercis and Manzikert (Malazkirt) to the Armenian province of Karin (Erzurum), in 1055 it fell to the Seljuks and in the 14th century to the Turkmans, whose princes resided here from time to time. Around 1840, a catastrophic flood occurred when the level of Lake Van rose forcing the inhabitants around the lake (Agantz) to move to new homes, the villages of Plohur, Gazimbag and Celebibag. Some of the old town is still under water or else in the marshy terrain near Eski Ercis Kalesi.One remaining feature of the old town is a simple domed tomb, the Yar Ali Türbesi (also known as the Hargin Türbesi or Kadem Hatun Pasa Türbesi). It almost certainly dates from the days of the Karakoyun dynasty and can be found in an historic cemetery about 3km/2mi southeast of the town on the road to Van. Most of the other tombs have been destroyed.
Gadir Adasi (Adir Adasi)
About 40km/25mi off the eastern shores of Lake Van lies a small island where the ruins of a medieval Armenian monastery can be found. Opposite the mainland a little further south stand the ruins of the Arab castle of Amik Kalesi.
Domed Tomb, Gevas, Turkey
The regional center of Gevas is situated on the road to Tatvan almost 40km/25mi southwest of Van. The remains of Vastabkalesi, an Armenian castle can be seen on the edge of the town, while in the town itself to the southeast of the citadel stands the extensive Izdisar Camii.The mosque of the provincial governor of Van, Izzeddin Sir Bes, has the rooms of an old Koran school in the forecourt. To the north of the town on the road to Tatvan lies an Islamic cemetery with a polygonal mausoleum and some other interesting tombstones and pyramid-shaped sarcophagi. The richly decorated domed tomb with a pyramid roof dates from 1358.
On the slopes to the east side of Gümüsdere, a town about 17km/10mi south of Van, lies an open-air workshop used by the stonemasons of Alniunu, an Urartian town whose name can be found inscribed on the harbor mole at Tushpa. Like the Hittite quarries at Yesemek, examples of half-worked stone blocks can be seen. They were clearly intended as the pedestals for sacred sites and were used on the citadel at Tushpa (Van). Unfortunately a lime kiln in the vicinity destroyed a number of the stone blocks.
The village of Güzelsu lies beneath the Hosap Kalesi about 60km/37mi southeast of Van on the way to Baskale. It was built in 1643 by the local Kurdish prince Sari Süleyman on the ruins of its 14th century Seljuk predecessor. The massive construction on and around a steep-sided rock was used in antiquity as a watchtower to survey the military road from Van along the Cuh pass to northern Persia.The complex of several storys contains three baths, two mosques, a medrese, a well, cisterns, prison and 360 rooms spread over several floors - all of which can be reached by passing through an impressive entrance hall with inscriptions and a lion relief and mounting some steep steps. The citadel which is itself surrounded by huge stone walls is reinforced by a town wall with equally thick walls and four towers. The wall surrounded the town of Hosap to the north, where today some of the houses are made from sun-dried bricks. A Kurdish-Ottoman bridge over the Hosap Suyu links the castle to the old military road, which at this point passes through a narrow gap in the rock. The Kurdish fortress Mahmudiye Kalesi takes its name from the local dynasty.
About 15km/9mi to the north of Van on the road to Ercis lies the village of Kalecik, where the ruins of an Urartian castle known today as Kalecik Kalesi can be seen on a small rock. It was built by King Ishpuini to protect Tushpa against attacks from the north.
Kavenli and Kavuncu
Two Urartian castles known as Kavenli and Kavuncu are situated 6km/4mi and 7km/4.5mi respectively east of Van on the western slopes of the Erek Dagi. The function of these two fortresses was primarily to protect the Urartian capital, but they were also used as stores for agricultural produce.
Despite its remote location the region around the small town of Muradiye 90km/56mi northeast of Van can offer visitors both historical interest and some delightful landscapes. At the north end of the settlement, the ruins of the former seat of a Kurdish bey (1840) stand on a rock. The castle was built by the Urartians to protect the plain. In the ninth century an Arab colony (Bergri) grew up here after Arab incursions but it was not mentioned as a town in its own right until 1021. The Persian shah Ismail I rebuilt the fortress at the turn of the 15th/16th century.
The area to the north of Muradiye is characterized by a wide volcanic expanse of basalt. Through a narrow gorge, water breaks out of the volcanic ridge of Gönderme (Gönderme Bogazi) at Çaldiran. It then rushes down the valley over the volcanic rock until 8km/5mi north of Muradiye near the village of Degerbilir it plunges into a deep, narrow gorge as a wide and impressive waterfall.
The remains of a well-preserved fortress wall sometimes as high as 8m/26ft and flanking fortified towers rise above the village of Ulusar which is situated 20km/12mi southeast of Muradiye.
Little is left of the monastery of Narek Vank near the village of Narek (now known as Yemislik) about 60km/37mi southwest of Van. The magnificent complex once stood on a hill roughly to the south of the road to Tatvan in the upper Narek Deresi but it has been dismantled and many examples of plundered building materials can be seen in the village houses.
Drive southwest along the coast road from Van to Bitlis via Gümüsdere and fork to the east after 31km/19mi beyond the bridge over the Hosap Suyu (Dönemeç Çayi) and follow the Hosap Suyu upstream. On the left hand side of the road the line of a large irrigation canal becomes clearly visible along the slope of one of the western Erek Dagi foothills. This canal stretches 51km/32mi and is known as the Semiramis Canal (Samran Kanali), although it is mistakenly attributed to the Assyrian king Semiramis. It was in fact built by the Urartian king Menua to irrigate the plain of Van and the town of Tushpa.In various places blocks with cuneiform inscriptions concerning the builder can be found. Constructed ca. 800 B.C. in the area around Van, the canal runs between the old road and the new road to Gümüsdere and then flows into the Kurubas Deresi. Numerous water channels which today run through the plain to the south of Van old town are a part of this irrigation system and the canal is still supplied with water from springs in the Hosap valley.
German (1899) and American (1937) scientists carried out investigations on Tilkittepe near the village of Ayaspinar not far from Gümüsdere and came across a settlement which about 7,000 years ago had been used as a trading station for obsidian. This volcanic rock was hewn from the Nemrut Dagi, processed and sold to Mesopotamia.
On the southern foothills of the Zimzim massif (Akkerpi Dagi) on the north side of Van lies the other later capital of the Urartian Empire. Known as Rusahinili, it was founded by Rusa II.The king needed to secure the water supply to the new town, so he constructed a dam to create the so-called "Broad Lake" (Genis Göl) in the Erek Dagi and the Sihke ponds beneath Rusahinili. After some minor work, both still serve the purpose for which they were intended - the irrigation of orchards and vegetable gardens. Excavations have revealed painted sun-dried bricks of foundation walls, a Temple of Chaldi and a palace as well as store-rooms, castle remains, cisterns, floor mosaics and cuneiform texts. Most finds are displayed in museums in Van, Ankara and Istanbul.
The Armenian monastery site of Varak Vank which the Patriarch Anania Moks I founded between 943 and 967 can be found on the southwest slopes of the Susanis Dagi near the village of Yedikilise (seven churches) and 15km/9mi southeast of Van. It consists of buildings from five different periods including a Church of St Mary as well as three chapels. Most of the buildings have been incorporated into a farmhouse or are badly decayed. In the 10th century Yedikilise, which also included the churches of Surb Paulos and Surb Petros, was the seat of the Patriarch of Moks, accommodated up to 300 monks and is also supposed to have been in possession of a Relic of the Cross.The best preserved building is the cruciform domed Church of St Mary which displays some fine decorations and 11th century paintings. It was built before the Armenian king Senekerim exchanged territory with Byzantium. In the 17th century a square front church with eight shallow domes (frescoes and decorations) was added, followed by a pillared porch. On the north and south side, three chapels adjoin the main church.
About 76km/47mi southeast of Van on the Boset Tepesi (3,684m/1,2080ft) a gorge about 9km/5mi long and 100-150m/110-160yds deep cuts through rock at a height of 2,500m/8,200ft. Over 60 caves have been found in the area of the gorge and paintings, some of dancing female figures, have been discovered in four of them. One of the caves is known as the Kizlarin Magarasi (Maiden's Cave). Other animal paintings include depictions of mountain goats and deer. Altogether there are about 150 drawings but many are covered in soot. In prehistoric times the caves were obviously used for pagan rites. The flat-topped Baset Dagi (3,684m/12,080ft) towers above the west of the valley. The mountain is regarded as sacred by the local population and certain cults still conduct their rituals here.