"Day 14: Van - A tale of two citadels" Turkey Things to Do Tip by TheWanderingCamel

Turkey Things to Do: 1,138 reviews and 1,885 photos

1. Cavustepe's guardian and his castle
2. Urartian script and seeds
3. The Rock of Van
4. Meet the locals or enjoy the view? Which would you do?
(Background photo: P. Hoyne)

The name of Mt Ararat is familiar to millions of people all around the world. How many of those millions know anything of the kingdom that gave the mountain its name? Ararat is the Hebrew rendering of Urartu, an Iron Age kingdom, centered around Lake Van, that held sway in these lands of eastern Anatolia from the ninth to the sixth centuries BC. Time and distance kept the Urartian kingdom lost to the world until the early years of the twentieth century and still today very little is known about them despite some quite impressive evidence of their presence, notably huge fortresses such as the Rock of Van (aka Van Kalesi or Van Castle) that dominates the city, and, just 25km away, Cavustepe.

Situated within the city as it is, Van Kalesi, a citadel atop a mighty rock, was always going to be utilized by whoever was in power and consequently very little evidence of the Urartians remains here, though what there is is of great importance ... but more of that later. Our first stop was Cavustepe, not as immediately as impressive perhaps, but, unencumbered with the layers of later occupations and with a deeply knowledgeable guardian, both physically and intellectually accessible.

Built between 762 and 735 BC by King Sadur (whose father built Van castle) Cavustepe (known to the Urartians as Sadurinilli) was only excavated in the 1960s. The present guardian was involved in those excavations and his passion for the site has led to him becoming one of the very few people anywhere who can read the Urartian cuneiform texts, some of which are to be found engraved into the stones of the citadel, something he is pleased to do for any visitors to the site. He will also show them a handful of three thousand year old grain taken from the storage jars still buried in the granaries and, he hopes, sell them some of the small souvenirs most of which feature cuneiform texts carved into black basalt or small animals.

The citadel occupies a long narrow ridge above the fertile Gurpinar plain, some 25 kilometre south of Van. From end to end, it is almost a kilometre long and exploring it properly would take quite a while. Most visitors probably do as we did, climb up to the palace entrance, the Upper Citadel, where the guardian will be waiting, listen to his explanation of the site, examine the various chambers, storerooms, cisterns, the Temple of Haldi and even a royal loo, at this end of the palace and then enjoy the tranquillity that surrounds them - cattle grazing on the plain below where traces of a sophisticated system of canals can still be seen. These were built by the Urartians to supplement the citadel's water supply by bringing water from the surrounding mountains. Those with more time (one of the advantages of traveling independently) may like to walk along the ridge to the Lower Citadel, though there is much less to see here.. However much time you spend at Cavustepe, the still emptiness all around has an atmosphere typical of ancient sites such as this, made all the more potent by the absence of later occupations.

Back in Van, the area surrounding the great citadel on its massive rock is rather different. Shops, a teahouse, a reconstruction of a traditional Van house and a children's playground make it a popular spot for locals and there was quite a steady stream of people crossing the small bridge and making their way to begin the ascent of the Rock. Our guide led us first to the south side of the rock, the only area with any Urartian remains not overlaid with later works. Here rock cut tombs are the burial place of their kings and a large cuneiform inscription on the rock face tells of their exploits. I have to confess I didn't make it as far as the tombs, the steep, rough track defeated me and I returned to the park below where I spent the time waiting for the other in meeting some of the locals. On his return, MrL reported that the tombs were very dark, very empty and very smelly ... others may find them more interesting but it had been a long day. I'm sure the views from the top of the rock are spectacular. Whether I'll ever get back to Van to check them out is debatable, for now I have to be content with the very impressive sight the Rock presents from the bottom and the photos of others that are the reward of making it to the top.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Apr 19, 2012
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