Mount Ararat, Eastern Turkey

Last Updated on April 1, 2024

The highest mountain in Turkey, Mount Ararat, has held a significant place in the world's history. Its two peaks, Great Ararat (Büyük Ağrı, 5137 meters/16,854 feet) and Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı, 3895 meters / 12,779 feet), were revered by the people of ancient Urartu (13th to 7th centuries BC), who gave their name (Urartu = Ararat) to the mountain.

Mount Ararat is famous in the Bible as the final resting place of Noah's Ark. There have been many expeditions to Mount Ararat to uncover the location of Noah's Ark, but there has been no luck, so far. 

Where is Mount Ararat?

Mount Ararat is located in the furthest concern of Eastern Anatolia and borders the land of Armenia. The nearest town to the mountain is Doğubayazıt, and when permits are granted for climbs up the mountain, the treks depart from this town.

Iğdır, Kars, Erzurum, and Van are also relatively close to Mount Ararat, offering a chance to discover the local historical sites after or before your visit. 

History and Legend of Mount Ararat

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000 BC) describes a great flood, as does the later record of Berossus (3rd century BC) and, of course, the Bible (Genesis and Gospels) and the Qur'an.=

In the story, a flood lasting 40 days and nights wipes out all living things except those in a boat or ark built, on orders of God, to survive the deluge. In the ark are male and female representatives of each species, including Noah, his wife, and his family.

Recent marine archeological research in the chill, deep waters of the Black Sea has revealed sunken cities on the underwater slopes along the Turkish coast. Geological evidence supports the theory that the northern end of the Bosphorus was blocked by earth and rock in ancient times. The Black Sea had no outlet (like Lake Van today), and its water level was below that of the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus.

However, an earthquake destroyed the Bosphorus blockage, releasing a deluge of water from the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, raising the water level and flooding its coastal communities. Were there characters like Noah who saw the flood coming and built boats to survive? We may never know. What does seem far-fetched is that any of the boats came to rest on the slopes of Ararat, which is a long way from the Black Sea.

This has not deterred ark-hunters, who have trekked up Ararat over the years in search of Noah's Ark. The most famous expedition was led by ex-US astronaut James Irwin in 1982.

In 1985, an expedition led by David Fusold discovered a boat-shaped stone formation on a nearby mountain called Musa Dağı ("Mount Moses") east of Doğubayazıt near the village of Üzengili. Using ground-penetrating sonar, Fusold mapped the site and produced intriguing but inconclusive evidence that the stone formation was anything more than a curious stone formation.

Mount Ararat Today

Mount Ararat is a sacred site for both Christians and Armenians, and it is a popular destination for pilgrims. Additionally, there are several trekking paths available for travelers who want to climb either the Great Ararat (Büyük Ağrı, 5137 meters/16,854 feet) or Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı, 3895 meters / 12,779 feet).

Traveling to Mount Ararat

Want to go look for yourself? It takes work. Although guided treks up Mount Ararat were allowed during the 1970s, after several grim incidents, the government forbade them because of the very real danger from smugglers and other outlaws, Kurdish terrorists, severe weather, and wild beasts, the trekking groups were stopped in 1990s. 

Currently, there are still group treks and professional guides available to take people to Mount Ararat. It is generally considered to be a safe experience. However, it is important to note that the path to the peak is challenging, and inexperienced climbers will require the assistance of a professional guide.

Also, there are two main methods for climbing up Mount Ararat; the classic route to climb the southern face of the mountain begins in the Doğubayazıt district of Ağrı. On the other hand, the northern routes from Iğdır require more technical glacier climbing and necessitate detailed preparations to reach the mountain.

Contact a Ministry of Tourism office to find out what the current permit situation might be.

—by Tom Brosnahan, updated by Duru Nemutlu




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