Tushpa/Van Fortress

Photo by Walter.

Tushpa/Van Fortress, the Mound and the Old City of Van is part of the Tentative list of Turkiye in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Tushpa was the capital city of the Urartians (the Kingdom of Van in present Eastern Anatolia) from the 9th century BC to the 6th century BC. The early settlement was centered on the steep-sided bluff now known as Van Castle. Here have been found Urartian cuneiform inscriptions dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. The Old City of Van lies to the south of Van Fortress and was inhabited from the thirteenth to the twentieth century.

Map of Tushpa/Van Fortress

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Malta - 28-Sep-21 -

Tushpa/Van Fortress (T) by Clyde

I visited this tentative WHS in Spring 2021. Having already visited the Diyarbakir WHS and Sanliurfa tWHS, I wasn't really expecting much of the Van Fortress. Yet just after we drove past the really big albeit closed museum of Van, we were surprised by the sheer size of the impressive fortress also known as Van Citadel, and we decided to drive through some side streets further away to see the whole fortress from afar before climbing to the top and exploring the mound and other components of this tWHS.

The fortifications were built by the ancient kingdom of Urartu during the 9th to 7th centuries BC, overlooking the ancient ruins of Tushpa, the Urartian capital during the 9th century. The lower parts of the walls of the Van Citadel were constructed using basalt without mortar, while the rest was built using mud bricks. Successive groups such as the Medes, Achaemenids, Armenians, Parthians, Romans, Sassanid Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Safavids, Afsharids, Ottomans and Russians each controlled the fortress at one time or another. Similar fortifications were built throughout the Urartian kingdom, usually cut into hillsides and outcrops in places where modern-day Armenia, Turkey and Iran meet. The Van Citadel is supposed to be one of the largest and most representative of such fortresses which were used for regional control, rather than as a defense system against foreign armies.

An important trilingual inscription of Xerxes the Great from the 5th century BC is inscribed upon a smoothed section of the rock face, some 20 meters above the ground near the Van fortress. The inscription in cuneiform is divided into three columns written in Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite.

From the top it is easy to spot the few remains of the old city of Tushpa near the southern wall. Most are nothing more than ruins used by local farmers and shepherds for grazing. However, there are some reconstructed and/or restored Islamic buildings worth visiting or at least seeing such as the old Van minaret as well as the 16th century Köse Hüsrev Pa┼ča complex with a mosque, a madrasa, a hospice, a caravanserai, a bathhouse, an elementary school,  and a mausoleum.

I think it will be hard for this tentative WHS to make it on the list since there are other fortifications nearby in Turkey and Syria that are already WHS. Still I enjoyed my visit and would recommend anyone travelling around the Van Lake to allow some extra time for a visit (best time would be before sunset). Another cute thing to do in the area, especially if you have kids or you're a cat lover, is to visit some of the local white Van cat breeders who claim that this two-colour eyed or blue eyed cat is not at all shy or afraid of water.


Switzerland - 14-Mar-19 -

Tushpa/Van Fortress (T) by Walter

Tushpa/Van Fortress (Van Kelasi in Turkish) and the Old City of Van is a site is located in the city of Van, which is easily reached by cheap domestic flights from Istanbul. It in the western outskirts of the city, near the lakeshore, visible from far away. Entrance to the site is on its western end, which is inconvenient if walking from Van city. Entrance fee is 6 TL. The site can also be entered from the East, but necessitates jumping above a small wall, and walking uphill.

Tushpa was the capital city of Urartian Kingdom, from the ninth to the sixth centuries BC. The kingdom was centered around Lake Van and built the first fortress on a high conglomerate mound about 100 meters high and 1.4 km long on the southern shore of Lake Van. It was a very fertile region and was occupied front Early Bronze Age. Successive states (Armenian, Romans, Sassanid, Byzantines, Arab, Seldjuk, Ottoman, Russian) built and rebuilt fortresses of top of its predecessor.  Nowadays, foundations, walls, fortifications, tombs and buildings of those different ages mix with one another, including 10-meters high Ottoman fortifications (top of my picture) and older mud-and-stone-bricked fortification from the Uratian time (just below on the left of my picture).  

From the top of fortress hill, the view is great on the lake, on the modern city of Van, and its surrounding mountains, and, down below, on the ruins of the razed-to-the ground Old City of Van.

The Old City (at the bottom of the picture) was surrounded by walls in three directions and consisted of streets with single or two storied houses, mosques, churches and other buildings. It had been inhabited from the thirteenth, with a multi-cultural atmosphere, until it was razed to the ground during World War I and the Armenian Genocide (the nomination file only mentions the “Russian invasion”). The city of Van was later rebuilt to the east. Nowadays, the Old City is better viewed from the fortress, as only the layout of the city can still be seen except for rare ruins of a few mosque minarets.

A two storied house was reconstructed near the visitors’ center (not to be confused with Van Museum, still not opened in November 2018). It was closed the day I visited, but travel guides say a Van cat lives in this house (Van cats are a local breed of cats with odd eyes and a fondness to water).

The visit to this site is easy once in Van, and rewarding with 360° great views of the area. The razed Old City is however a grim reminder of the area's troubled recent past. Sunrise and sunset are best times to visit. OUV is in my opinion certain.

Full Name
Tushpa/Van Fortress, the Mound and the Old City of Van
Structure - Military and Fortifications
2016 Revision

Includes parts of former TWHS The old city of Van and Lake Van (1984)

2016 Added to Tentative List

The site has 1 locations

Tushpa/Van Fortress (T)
WHS 1997-2024