Van

Van (pronounced vahn, like the English word one) is in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey. It is located on the eastern shore of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a salt lake which is locally known as Van Denizi (“the sea of Van”). Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey.

Understand

Van has been continuously inhabited since the days of the Urartians, an Iron Age people who established a state in the area between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, when it served as the Urartu capital of Tushpa (the very name of "Van" derives from the Urartian Biainili, which was the native word that the Urartians used to describe their country). The Urartians spoke a language that was unrelated to any other, except for the also extinct Hurrian that was spoken in the surrounding area, writing it with cuneiform that they imported from the Assyrians, their southern neighbours in Mesopotamia (ultimately deriving from the Sumerian script, the earliest system of writing).

Get in

By bus

Buses leave to most destinations in Turkey. A ticket to Diyarbakir costs 20 TL (09:00, 12:00 and 23:00, 6 hours), to Malatya costs 25 TL (08:30, 9 hours) and Trabzon costs 50 TL (07:30 and 12:00, 12 hours). Remember that most departure times are from the Otogar, a few km's out of town. Free shuttle buses run from the main ticket offices in the town centre but remember to be there at least half an hour before the scheduled departure time. As always, check details when buying the ticket.

Minibuses to Doğubeyazıt and Yuksekova for border crossings to Iran.

There are also two buses a day to and from Urmia in Iran costing only 15 Euros.

By train

From Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa station (on the Asian side) there are trains direct to Tatvan, a town on the west side of Lake Van, two times a week, on Mondays and Fridays. This train (Vangölü Express) departs from Haydarpaşa at 10:55PM and calls in a number of cities and towns across Anatolia, including Eskişehir, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, and Malatya among others. According to the timetable all the way between Istanbul and Tatvan takes almost 40 hours (arriving in Tatvan at 2:17PM on Wednesdays and Sundays), frequent and probably long delays discluded. This is the longest (both in terms of miles traveled and time spent inside the train) non-international train journey in Turkey and gives a through panorama of almost all regions of inland Turkey. Inter Rail pass is accepted in this train. Once arrived in Tatvan, you can take the ferry which crosses the lake to Van.

International train from Istanbul to Tehran (Trans-Asia Express) calls in Van once per week (on Thursday evening, around 10pm, as of April 2011), see (note that this link is not up-to-date as of April 2011, despite being the official website, the Van-Tabriz train leaves Van on Tuesday evening, not Wednesday)

Apart from Trans-Asia, there is also another international train service once a week (on Tuesday evening as of April 2011) between Van station and Tabriz in NW Iran.

By plane

There is an airport (Van Airport) located about 5-10 km away from the city. There are flights from Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara and Antalya. Outside the airport there are taxis to the city costing 20 YTL, but you can also walk for the main road where dolmuses stop and take you to the city only for 1 YTL. A new bus run by the municipality now serves the security entrance to the airport (past the taxis and towards the main road).

To get to the airport from the city centre, dolmuses marked Hava Alani leave nearby Hotel Akdamar (Kazim Karabekir Caddesi). Drive takes about 15 minutes, making weird detour because of the major roadworks.

By boat

There is a ferry line in the Lake Van, between Tatvan on the western shoreline and Van on the eastern shoreline. The ferry going to Tatvan leaves three times a day, morning, noon and evening, though departure times are not fixed. 5TL. It takes four hours to cross the lake.

See

The fortress
Armenian Cathedral on Akdamar Island

Lake Van Monster

Although there have been claims of witnessing a sea serpent inhabiting the Lake Van almost constantly since the days of the Urartians as well as associated myths throughout the history (and there is even a video allegedly captured the monster taken by a professor from the local university in 1997, leading to highly sensationalized news broadcasts on national TV channels), no one is quite sure whether the Lake Van Monster (Van Gölü Canavarı) exists or not. Some claim the alleged sightings are just those of local buffalos taking a dip in the lake mistaken for something less familiar, while others say it is all a hoax to boost tourism in the relatively underdeveloped and remote area. No matter what, the municipality of the lakeside town of Gevaş decided to honour the legendary serpent by putting up a 4-metre statue of a dinosaur-like creature in the middle of a roundabout.

Talk

Local people mainly speak Turkish and Kurdish. The national language is Turkish, while the native language, Kurdish, is also very common. People, especially the young generation, understand some basic English.

On a pretty trivial note, if you need to practice your rusty Urartian, one great opportunity to do so is to meet Mehmet Kuşman, the retired security guard of the Urartu-era Sarduruhinili Castle (in the village of Çavuştepe 25 km south of Van), and one of the 38 people in the world who are proficient in the extinct language. He is completely self-taught in the language, and has no academic degree on history or linguistics whatsoever (in fact, he is an elementary school graduate).

Buy

Eat

The city is famous for its breakfast halls (kahvaltı salonu), in which for about 10 lira, you are served a really filling breakfast including locally produced cheese (different types) and honey among many other stuff. The price usually includes an unlimited amount of tea. Look around.

Sleep

Plenty of hotels around the northern end of the bazaar.

Go next


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