Van City & Lake

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City of Van TurkeyThe city of Van with a population of approximately 400,00 is located 4 km from the southeast border of the mysterious Lake Van or Van Gölü at an altitude of 1,727m. Its predecessor, the old city of Van, Eski Van, was devastated during World War I and the few remains were destroyed by an earthquake in the 1950s. All that is left of it now are three mosques and a few fragments of other buildings amidst a large carpet of grass. Walking around here, it is hard to imagine that before 1915, the year of its destruction, this was an attractive town of 80,000 people living in stone and wood houses. The town contained a thriving bazaar, several churches and mosques, and even some foreign consulates.

Underneath the old city (Eski Van) are the remains of Tushpa, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Urartu. While the Assyrians referred to this rival state as Urartu, it was known to the Hebrews and in the Bible as Ararat (Jeremiah 51:27). The Urartians themselves referred to their state as Biainili, also spelled Biaineli, from which the Armenian Van was derived. The kingdom of Urartu or Ararat flourished from the 13th to the 7th centuries BC and was a strong opponent of Assyrian power. An indication of their power is the fact that Jeremiah calls upon the kingdom of Ararat to come up against Babylon. Eventually, the kingdom came to an end when subsequent waves of Cimmerians, Scythians, and Medes raided Urartu.

The main attraction of Van is, of course, the like-named lake that is quite unique as an alkaline lake with a pH of 9.8 and has its own ecosystem. In addition there is the citadel with Van's Urartian castle (Van Kalesi) and temple, both dating back from the 9th century BC, the few remains of the old town (Eski Van), the nearby island of Akdamar with the Armenian church of the Holy Cross, the nearby Kurdish castle of Hoşap and the Urartian palace at Çavuştepe.

The highlight of a visit to Lake Van is undoubtedly the island of Akdamar. Akdamar was once a center of Armenian culture. In 921 AD, Gagik Artzruni, the king of Vaspurkan, built a palace, church, and monastery on the island. The church of the Holy Cross (Akdamar Kilisesi) is the sole remnant of this glorious past and has recently been restored. The walls of the Holy Cross Church are still in a superb condition and are decorated with wonderful relief carvings which are among the masterworks of Armenian art. The reliefs are actually a layman's bible displaying different stories from the Bible. Inside the church, there are still some preserved frescoes. Next to the church, there is an old Armenian churchyard. The large number of gravestones emphasizes once more the importance of Akdamar to the Armenian people.

I visited Van several times, namely in 1992, 1997 and 2002. Turkish airlines offers daily flights from Istanbul to Van. Both, in 1997 and 2002, we found Hotel Yakut (Tel: +(90) 432 214 28 32 - 216 75 24 - 216 34 80, Fax: (0432);216 63 51 Kazım Karabekir Cad. PTT Sok. No:4) a very nice place to stay in Van. In 2002, we were helped by a good friend here Mr. Hakkan Berki (Tel.: +(90) 432-216 19 97, mobile:+(90) 535-714 67 59, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). He was of great help in showing us around, especially at Van Kalesi.

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