Asa mysterious city of the East, Van is a destination where history, nature, and culture intersect, like all other cities in the Eastern Anatolian Region. In addition, Van offers a diverse range of winter and water sports.
Lake Van – with its azure blue waters, its history and culture, churches, mosques and castles, its nature, and wetlands, where hundreds of bird species are seen – is the most important natural asset and a cultural treasure of the region with its natural beauty.
Van Castle (Van Kalesi) is five km from the city centre. This castle was erected by the King of Urartu, Sarduri I, between BCE 840 and 825. The city, known as Tushpa, served as the capital of the Kingdom of Urartu for at least a century. Around the castle is the Analı-Kız Open-Air Temple (Analı Kızlı Açık Hava Tapınağı), the rock tombs of Argishti 1, Menua and Sarduri II, the thousand stairs, the fortress walls and the wall boxes.
The Castle was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List in 2016.
Minua (Shamram) Water Canal
The Minua (Shamram)Canal was built by King Minua of Urartu to bring water to the vineyards and gardens along the canal and to the capital Tushpa. About five thousand hectares of land along the canal are irrigated. The canal, partly dug into the ground and partly carved into the rock, is 50 km long and has an average width of 2.5 meters. The Minua (Shamram) Canal, which is still in use, is a unique example of water engineering that has been actively utilized for 2800 years.
Akdamar Island and Akdamar Memorial Museum
Akdamar Island (Akdamar Adası) is the largest island on Lake Van. From the Gevaş Pier, it takes about 20 minutes by boat to reach the island. The history of the church established in the southeast area of Akdamar Island dates from the 10th century. Gagik I Artsruni, ruler of Kingdom of Vaspurakan commissioned the construction of the castle by architect/priest Manuel. The reliefs on church’s walls feature numerous scenes from the Bible and the Torah. The Church, which became the Memorial Museum after its 2007 restoration, is one of the most important faith centres in Türkiye. Akdamar Island and its Memorial Museum (Anıt Müzesi) were included in the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List in 2015.
There is a long-running story about the name of Akdamar Island. According to this history, the name of the island was originally Ah Tamar, which became Ahtamara, and then, finally, Akdamar, and thus to the present day.
Süleyman Han Mosque
Süleyman Han Mosque (Cami) is an important ruin prominent in the skyline of Van Castle. According to the records of Evliya Çelebi, the mosque was renovated by order of Süleyman, the Magnificent in 1534. The minaret is a symbol of the Ottoman Empire's domination of the region.
This castle is in Hoşap (Güzelsu) on the Van-Hakkari highway in the Gürpınar district of Van. The medieval castle, built on a steep rock mass northwest of the Hoşap River (Hoşap Nehri), consists of the inner castle, and the outer castle to the north. While the castle’s history dates from the kingdom of Urartu, most of its surviving structure was built by the Mahmudi, a tribe subject to the Ottoman Empire. Abandoned in the middle of the 19th century, the castle’s inner structures have remained largely intact to this day. For this reason, it is a notable symbolic structure of the region.
This castle is in Çavuştepe Village (Çavuştepe Köyü) in the Gürpınar district. It consists of upper and lower castles built by King Sarduri II of Urartu between BCE 764-734. It contains temples, cisterns, palaces, and warehouse buildings.
Ayanis Castle (Ayanis Kalesi) is the last magnificent fortress of the Kingdom of Urartu. The castle is built atop a hill northwest of Ayanis Village (Ayanis Köyü), 35 km from Van. According to the cuneiform inscription, the castle was built between BCE 645-643 by Rusa, son of Argishti, King of Urartu. The castle and the city carry the glory and sophistication of the Kingdom of Urartu without any missing pieces to the present day. It is the most well-preserved Urartu settlement with its magnificent walls and huge warehouses, as well as its domestic spaces, palaces, and temples. In addition, the castle's location offers vistas of the beautiful shores of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a magnificent view integrated with Mount Suphan (Süphan Dağı), and extraordinary sunsets.
The Seven Churches (Yedi Kilise) are in the village of Upper Bakraçlı, in the centre of Van, at the foot of Mount Erek (Erek Dağı). Called Varagavank Monastery (Varagavank Manastırı), the compound does not actually include the seven churches of its name: there are five churches in two groups, a jamatun added to the church, and a library and a bell tower. The oldest of the churches that constitute the Monastery is the Church of St. Sophia, built in the 8th century and of which only the abscissa survives. The second is the Church of St. John, built adjacent to the north wall of the Church of St. Sophia and now in ruins. These two structures constitute the first group. The core of the second group of structures – all of which have survived – is the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary, built between 1003-1021. A rectangular structure in the east-west direction from the outside was built, with a four-leaf-clover interior plan; the interior is formed by rooms located in the corners, opened in four directions, with semi-circular niches. The dome of the church is collapsed.
St. Bartholomeus Church
The church is in Albayrak village (Albayrak Köyü) of the Başkale district. Built on a hill overlooking the great Zap Valley (Zap Vadisi), the church and jamatun were built on the same date. According to the most common belief, the church was built in the 4th century on the Tomb of Saint Bartholomeus. Based on information referencing the monastery, it is believed that the church and jamatun were built at the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century.
According to some sources, during the Diocese of Vardapet Kirakos, the church and jamatun underwent repairs in 1651 during the rule of Husrev Sharif, the governor of Hakkari, which was part of the Ottoman Empire. The church and the jamatun, dated from the 17th and 18th centuries, are still standing.
The Red Minaret Mosque
The mosque, in the Tebrizkapı neighbourhood (Tebrizkapı mahallesi), east of old Van city, is also known as Sinaniye Mosque (Sinaniye Camisi) or Tebriz Gate Mosque (Tebrizkapı Cami).
The minaret of the present mosque dates from the Seljuk period and the mosque from the Ottoman period. It is not clear when exactly it was constructed, as there is no inscription on it. The Seljuk-era minaret rises on a square pedestal with a cylindrical tower. The pedestal is partly composed of cut-stone, part of the tower is made of brick. A geometrical insert strip runs through the tower; the lower and upper sections of this strip have tile plates called ‘baçini’. The upper part of the minaret was also destroyed. The mosque, built later, has a transverse rectangular plan; the middle part is covered with a dome, and the sides with cradle vaults. While some of the mosque walls are still standing, the upper cover was completely destroyed. The mosque is entered through a door that opens to the north facade.
The Meherkapı Inscription (Meherkapı Yazıtı) is a Urartian cuneiform inscription found 600 meters west of Toprakkale, in a niche created by carving into the bedrock on the southern front of the mountain. This inscription, four meters high and 2.70 meters wide, is from the reign of the Urartian King Ishpuini. The inscription contains information about the religion of the Urartian state, as well as the gods and goddesses and lists of daily sacrifices submitted to them.
Abdurrahman Gazi Mosque and Kümbet
The mosque and kümbet are located northeast of Van Castle (Van Kalesi), under the Analı Kız Open-Air Temple (Analı Kızlı Açık Hava Tapınağı). It is estimated that the kümbet in the northwest corner of the mosque was built in the first half of the 19th century.
Selçuklu Cemetery and the Kümbet of Halime Hatun
The cemetery and kümbet are in the Karşıyaka District in Gevaş town. The cemetery is a first-degree archaeological site. On the east side of the cemetery is the Kümbet of Halime Hatun. According to the inscription on the entrance gate, this structure was built in 1335 by Governor Izzeddin for his daughter Halime Hatun.
The Kümbet of Kadem Paşa Hatun
The kümbet is located at the exit of Erciş district, on the side of the road. According to the inscription, it was built in 1458. The kümbet is a two-story building with a dodecagon body and pyramidal cones, built of smooth-cut stone material.
Izzeddin Shir Mosque
The mosque is in the Hişet District in Gevaş town. Although there is no inscription on it related to its construction, it is believed to have been built by the Judge of Van and Hakkari, Izzettin Shir. It is generally dated to the 14th-15th centuries. On the north side of the mosque is the madrasa.
Old Van City
Old Van City (Eski Van Şehri) is filled with ruins that bear traces of the Turkish dominions that dominated the region from the 2nd century. The fortifications surrounding the city of Tushpa in three directions were reinforced with bastions. On the walls, there is the Tebriz Gate (Tebrizkapı) to the East, the Middle Gate (Ortakapı) to the south and the Pier Gate to the West. The city, inhabited until the Russian occupation in 1915, featured neighbourhoods with mosques, churches and other structures consisting of single or two-storey houses. Among the monuments of Old Van are the Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami), the Red Minaret Mosque (Kızıl Minareli Cami), the Hüsrev Pasha social complex (külliye) and the Kaya Çelebi Mosque (Kaya Çelebi Cami). Horhor Mosque (Horhor Cami), Beylerbeyi Haci Mustafa Pasha Mosque (Beylerbeyi Hacı Mustafa Paşa Cami), Kethüda Ahmet Mosque (Kethüda Ahmet Cami), Miri Ambari, Cistern, Double (twin) Kümbet, Saint Paul and Peter Church (double Church), St. Vardan Church, St. Stepanos Church, and St. Dsirvanarov Chapel are other important structures.
Hüsrev Pasha Mosque and Social Complex
Located in old Van, the complex includes a madrasa, a tomb, and an imaret. The mosque was built by Köse Hüsrev Pasha, governor of Van in 1567, according to its inscription on the entrance gate. It is considered among the works of Mimar Sinan.
Kaya Çelebi Mosque
According to the foundation, the mosque was started by Kaya Çelebi Zade Koçi Bey in 1660 but, following the execution of Koçi Bey in 1663, construction was completed by Cem Dedemoğlu Mehmet Bey. Built with two-coloured cut stones, the mosque is an important Ottoman-era structure.
Since there is no inscription on the foundation of the Horhor Mosque (Horhor Cami), its date and builder are unknown. Its architectural features suggest that it dates from the 18th century.
Double (Twin) Kümbet
The two kümbet, built in the 18th century, are octagonal in plan. Built with cut stone, each kümbet has facades that sit on corner columns, and a dome-like interior covered with a pyramidal cone. The kümbet on the south belongs to Teymur Pasha, governor of Van; the north kümbet to either his brother, Ahmed Pasha, or to the governor, Mehmet Emin Pasha. The area where the kümbet are found became a cemetery in time. The kümbet in the north was destroyed in an earthquake in 2011.
The bridge (Şeytan Köprüsü) is over the Bendi Mahi Brook near the town of Muradiye. Running in an east-west direction, the single-lane bridge sits on the cliffs. It is believed that this impressive bridge was built at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The Hurkan Bridge (Hurkan Köprüsü) is located on the Çatak River (Çatak Nehri), at the Çatak - Narlı Road intersection. It is one of the historic buildings over which the old Van-Mosul caravans passed. The bridge is believed to have been built during the Ottoman period, after the 16th century.
The Red Bridge (Kırmızı Köprü) on the Bahçesaray-Hizan road was built on the Müküs stream. The bridge, which is still in use, has a single-lane and a pointed arch.
Örnek Van Houses
The Örnek Van Houses (Evleri) are in the Kalecik district, about 5 km from the city center, in the figure of the Eagle's Nest, at an altitude of 1,830 meters; there is also a viewing terrace that overlooks the entire city. The viewing terrace, which is about 250 meters higher than the city of Van, is one of the best places to watch the sunset on Lake Van (Van Gölü). The houses here were mostly built after 1915.
Edremit Maiden's Castle Viewing Terrace
Edremit Maiden's Castle (Kız Kalesi), which has a history of about 3000 years, was used as a votive and altar place by the Urartu civilization due to its hilltop position dominating the region. It was considered a sacred place where various ceremonies were held and where the Urartu Kings were crowned. Edremit Maiden's Castle is also a panoramic viewing terrace with a stunning view of Lake Van (Van Gölü).
The main reason for Van's cultural wealth, which can be described as the intersection point of civilizations, is the heritage left by the many civilizations it has sheltered. The Urartians, who emerged in this region in BCE 900 and chose fertile and beautiful Van as their capital, were a civilization far ahead of their era in architecture, technology, art and mining. The Van Museum (Van Müzesi), which offers a comprehensive perspective on the Urartians, awaits visitors who desire to see the heritage of all the civilizations that have left their mark over thousands of years of history in the ancient city of Van, especially this resplendent civilization.
Vanodoccian Fairy Chimneys
In Yavuzlar Village (Yavuzlar Köyü), 33 km from the town center, the fairy chimneys are called Vanadoccia by local people. Formed over thousands of years, these fairy chimneys are the ultimate result of the lava-turned-rock spewed by the volcanic Yiğit Mountain (Yiğit Dağı) and the subsequent the erosion of those rocks by rainwater and wind. The fairy chimneys attract many visitors each year, especially in summer. They also draw attention for their numerous tunnels and caves measuring meters long – geographical features which have emerged due to rainfall in recent years.
The travertines are 45 km from the town center of Başkale, near the village of Dereiçi. Even now continuing to form, the travertines have an important place in the miraculous natural legacies of Van.
Lake Van Microbialites
Microbialites are rock-like structures formed by the photosynthesis of cyanobacteria and the microalgae and calcium carbonate deposits from the water around them. Microbialites were abundant on earth millions of years ago, but exist today in very few places and in limited numbers. The microbialites in Lake Van (Van Gölü) are the largest in the world. With sizes varying from 30 centimetres to 18 meters, they are found at depths between 1.5 meters and 23 meters. Like the coral reefs they resemble, each microbialite cluster is unique.
The presence of microbiolites has laid the groundwork for the development of diving in Lake Van. The presence of a Russian sunken ship also makes Lake Van an attractive spot for diving. World-renowned athlete Şahika Ercümen set a record with a 61-meter free dive in Lake Van.