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VAN

The Urartian capital of Tushpa              Population: 350,000 (Van); 250,000 (İpekyolu extension)

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Other name: Wane (Kurdish)

Despite its superb setting on the shores of magnificent Lake Van and its long history, Van is not a beautiful town. Having suffered terribly during the First World War, it was then battered by an earthquake in the 1950s which saw off all its remaining historic buildings; a further terrible quake in 2011 wreaked yet more havoc.200 DSC01613

The only specific attraction in the town centre is Van Museum (closed Mondays) which contains finds from and information about several Urartian sites in the area including Ayanış, in a breath-taking location right beside the lake some 20 kilometers to the north. The star exhibits are 13 striking stelae found in distant Hakkari in 1998 and thought to date back to c.1,500 BC.

A stroll along the main drag throws up one very unexpected sign of the times which is the new park named after the Kurdish poet Feqiye Teyran (Faqi Tayran) who lived from 1561 to 1632. What is so amazing about this park is not just its name but that it also carries a bilingual description of Teyran in Turkish and the Kurmancı dialect of Kurdish, the language spoken by so many of Van’s residents.

200 DSC01550To ram home the point about change, a second park is named after Ahmed-i Hani, another Kurdish writer who lived from 1650 to 1707 and who is buried in Doğubeyazıt, not far from the İshak Paşa Sarayı (palace).

Van Kalesi (Van Castle, Rock of Van)

The shocking first sight that greets antiquity-loving visitors when they get out of the dolmuş to go and explore Van's great Urartian castle is a glistening wall of white stone where part of the castle has just been completely rebuilt.

Fortunately it’s a half-km walk from the dolmuş stop to the entrance gate which is long enough for the fury and frustration to have abated somewhat. What’s more the rebuilding has been restricted to one end of the castle so that if you could only manage to walk half that distance in a blindfold you would be able to fool yourself that nothing so awful had happened after all.300 DSC01567

Van Kalesi is mostly a relic of the days when what is now Van was Tushpa, the capital of the Urartian kingdom that lasted from the 13th to the 7th century BC. The kingdom was famous for its wonderful metalwork, the best examples of which are now on display faraway in the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara, much to the disgust of some locals.

The Urartians wrote in a form of cuneiform that they may have learnt from the Assyrians; there are fine examples of it on the sloping faces of the Rock of Van although you need to have a pretty good head for heights to inspect most of them. Excavations in 2012 apparently uncovered a Urartian palace within the castle.

On your way to the entrance you might want to pause to inspect a tomb which is a popular port of call for infertile women although you may well find it locked.

Just inside the entrance you might also ask someone to unlock an attractive copy of an old Van house.

Around Old Van

From the Rock of Van you will have a spectacular view not just of Lake Van but also of the humps and bumps that mark the site of Old Van, the large Armenian quarter that vanished forever in 1915.

300 DSC01569-1Locals picnic in the shadow of the rock on the Old Van side of it but there’s also a path that skirts the ruins and brings you out beside the wonderfully stripy Hüsrev Paşa Cami, an Ottoman structure dating back to 1567.

Just a short walk away is the equally attractive Kaya Çelebi Cami dating back to 1662. The Hüsrev Paşa complex is newly restored (I believe it may have been damaged again by the earthquake); the Kaya Çelebi is locked up but if you peer through the door you’ll be able to admire its splendid mihrab.

When exploring the area it's probably wise to heed local warnings and do so in a group.

Sleeping

Akdamar Hotel. Tel: 0432-214 9923

Büyük Asur Oteli. Tel: 0432-216 8792

Büyük Urartu Oteli

Hotel Merit Şahmaran, Edremit. Tel: 0432-312 3060

Eating

While in Van you should certainly forego your hotel breakfast one morning and head out with the locals to one of the many kahvaltı salonus (breakfast rooms) dotted about town.

The most fun is Bak Hele Bak Yusuf Konağı, a kahvaltı sarayı (breakfast palace) no less, which is presided over with considerable verve by its owner Yusuf Bey, a man who obviously missed his vocation as a circus ringmaster. Your Turkish needed to be robust to keep on top of the rhymes and riddles with which he blasted all comers, but everyone was able to appreciate the superb breakfast which came with fried eggs, herb-studded Van cheese, fresh pide bread, and delectable balkaymak (cream and honey) to be washed down with lashings of tea. It's oon the ground floor of the TSO building

Travel info

Van airport (VAN) is west of town and given the distance from İstanbul and Ankara the only really sensible way to get here is by plane. There are no airport transfer buses - -  you’ll have to use a taxi.

There are hourly buses to Van from Tatvan and regular minibuses from Doğubeyazıt.

There are also hourly buses south to Hakkari, passing Çavuştepe and Hoşap Kalesi. 

Day trip destinations

Akdamar Adası

Albayrak

Ayarış Kalesi

Çavuştepe

Edremit

Erçek Gölü

Erciş

Gevaş

Hoşap Kalesi

Tatvan

Ulupamir

Yavuzler Köyü

Yedikilise

Read more: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-226542-visiting-van-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly.html

Driving from Van toHakkari: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-350865-the-road-from-van-to-hakkari.html

 

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