Van is a city with a short name, a long history, and numerous interesting things to see, especially if you like history and natural beauty. Or cats.
Located on the eastern shore of Lake Van, the city of Van (VAHN, pop. 400,000, alt. 1727 meters/5666 feet) has been here for a very long time.
The Rock of Van, the ancient fortress and funeral monument around which a later citadel was built, bears cuneiform inscriptions dating from the Kingdom of Urartu (c. 1300-700 BC—here’s a Timeline).
Beside the citadel, the ruins of the old town of Van, built atop the ruins of ancient Urartian town of Tushpa, lie beneath a carpet of grass.
Besides the local museum, the Rock of Van and the citadel, you should visit the Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, the Urartian ruins at Çavuştepe, 25 km (16 miles) SE of Van, and the dramatic Kurdish fortress at Hoşap, 33 km (21 miles) farther to the SE. In your travels, you may even see a Van cat. You’ll know it by its white fur, eyes of different colors, and love of swimming (of all things).
The old town of Van was burned by Ottoman forces in 1915 as they retreated before a Russian army which had invaded Ottoman territory in support of Armenian revolutionaries. The Russians held the town until 1917, when the Russian Empire itself suffered revolution and collapse.
The modern city of Van grew up 5 km (3 miles) inland from the lakeshore and the Rock of Van during the 20th century, with wide boulevards and town planning. Because it has the best hotels, restaurants, transportation and other services, Van is the best base for explorations of the region.
Van is an important stop on my Recommended Itinerary of Eastern Turkey. It’s a long way from western Turkey by bus or car, and an even longer trip by train, so if you’re coming directly you’ll want to fly. Turkish Airlines has daily flights from Istanbul and from Ankara.
Distances & Travel Times
Ağrı: 230 km (143 miles) N, 4 hours
Ahlat: 194 km (121 miles) NW, 3.25 hours
Ankara: 1248 km (776 miles) W, 22 hours
Bitlis: 170 km (106 miles) W, 3 hours
Diyarbakır: 379 km (236 miles) W, 7 hours
Edremit: 15 km (9 miles) W, 20 minutes
Erciş: 98 km (61 miles) N, 2 hours
Erzurum: 410 km (255 miles) SE, 6.5 hours
Gaziantep: 692 km (430 miles) W, 10 hours
Gevaş: 44 km (27 miles) NE, 50 minutes
Hakkâri: 203 km (126 miles) S, 4 hours
Istanbul: 1644 km (1022 miles) W, 28 to 34 hours
Malatya: 579 km (360 miles) W, 10 hours
Malazgirt (Manzikert): 87 km (54 miles) NW, 2 hours
Tatvan: 150 km (93 miles) W, 2.5 hours