Van to Diyarbakir

From Van to Diyarbikar

Traveling along the eastern edge of Turkey, we're only a few miles from Armenia and Iran. Passing mustard fields of bright yellow, there are fields of sheep, ravines with Armenian watchtowers on the other side. At Tuzluca the river valley widens, but watchtowers still guard each side. In the distance we can see nuclear power plants in Erevan, Armenia. In 1999, we traveled through eastern Turkey, some of the most isolated and beautiful terrain in the world. After visiting Kars and Ani, We moved south thru Igdir and Dogubayezit to Van. After exploring the Urartian ruins there, we drove Diyarbakir and Nemrut Dag, then to on to Urfa Antakya, near the Syrian border.

Ishak Pasha Palace

Igdir is a small town, dominated by Mt. Ararat. A lenticular cloud is forming on this peak of almost 17,000', the mythical final resting place of Noah's ark that straddles the Iranian and Turkish borders.

22 May . We drive towards Iran, stopping at the Beyazit Mosque, built in 1512, for an overall view of the Ishak Pasha Palace. From afar it's a magical looking castle, set on the side of a hill. Up close, it's a disorienting array of architectural styles, designed by its eccentric owner. A wild pastiche of Seljuk, Armenian and Georgian styles leads to an unear incoherent overall effect, but from a distance the silhouette on its ridge makes for great postcards The castle dominates the road below, part of the ancient Silk Road route going thru Iran and farther east.

That night we stay at the Sim-Er Hotel with wonderful verws out to the broad white slopes of Ararat. It's out of season, and the hotel has neither heat, no hot water. We played bridge in front of a wood fire in the main room, at times wondering if we could buy some of the furniture to keep the fire going. Ararat clouded over in the evning but was clear again by breakfast, a rare view

Urartian castles

  Early departure to Van. The vast plain of Chaldiran holds Ararat in view. There's little to see, but this area is historically rich, being fought for by various empires for over 3000 years .  On 23 August 1514 a battle was fought here, between the Ottoman Empire over the Safavid Empire of Persia.  The victorious Ottomans temporarily captured the Safavid capital of Tabriz, but were unable to hold it But it did  it establish the border between the two empires, which later became the boundary  between Turkey and Iran today. Tabri, the former capital became a frontier city, strategically too close close to the Ottoman enemy.  That became a big factor leading the Safavids to move their capital to Qazvin, in the mid-16th century, and later to Isfahan, in central Persia, in 1598.  THis wasn't the first time a major battle was fought here - it was also the site of one of the first large chariot battles as the Hittites conquered this area in the 16th century BCE


Farther south, we entered the town of Van  Once the capital of Ancient Urartia, Van dates to the times of Gilgamesh and the Great Flood.  Other legends place  the Garden of Eden here.   Our first stop is Van Kalesi,  (ancient Tushpa), an 10th - 8th century BCE Urartu fortress stretching along a hilltop. The lower walls date to the 16th - 19th centuries. . Good examples of cuneiform inscriptions on the temple ruins and a well-preserved cistern dating from 700 BC can be found there.

Next was Cavustepe to see the remains of the 8th century BCE capital of the Urartian Kingdom. Built by Sardar II, it was held until the Urartians were conquered by the Cimmerians and Scythians. The outlines of the defensive walls are clearly seen, stretching along the low hills, dominating the major roads that still run below it.  Storage chambers still contain wheat that's 3000 years old.  A cuneiform inscription, loosely translated, reads "I did this! Mess with me or my work and my god-pals will kill you"

At the end of the fortress is the citadel, carved out of rock with cisterns to sustain a siege.  The ceilings are 4 feet thick, then rock carved and hollowed out below.


Aktamar Island


Just outside the city, to Aktamar Island sits with and its beautiful 10th century Church of the Holy Cross.  We hired a small boat to take us out to the island.  The architecture asgain is a mix of Seljuk, Armenian and Georgian styles, with fantastic Bible stories carved in relief as bands around the church.  The interior is less impressive - the once beautiful frescoes are now washed out, defaced or vandalized, as at Ani.

The mountains of Chandir Dagi rise at the other end of the lake, and outside a small graveyard presents expansive views of the blue-green lake.

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