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Lake Van

Lake Van
From space, September 1996
(top of image is roughly northwest)
Type saline lake
Primary inflows Karasu, Hoşap, Güzelsu, Bendimahi, Zilan and Yeniköprü streams[1]
Primary outflows none
Catchment area 12,500 km2 (4,800 sq mi)[1]
Basin countries Turkey
Max. length 119 km (74 mi)
Surface area 3,755 km2 (1,450 sq mi)
Average depth 171 m (561 ft)
Max. depth 451 m (1,480 ft)[2]
Water volume 607 km3 (146 cu mi)[2]
Shore length1 430 km (270 mi)
Surface elevation 1,640 m (5,380 ft)
Islands Akdamar,
Çarpanak Adası (İçeriçarpanak),
Adır Adası (Lim),
Kuş Adası (Arter)
Settlements Van, Tatvan, Ahlat, Erciş
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Van (Turkish: Van Gölü, Armenian: Վանա լիճ Vana lich; Kurdish: Gola Wanê) is the largest lake in Turkey, located in the far east of the country in Van district. It is a saline soda lake, receiving water from numerous small streams that descend from the surrounding mountains. Lake Van is one of the world's largest endorheic lakes (having no outlet). The original outlet from the basin was blocked by an ancient volcanic eruption. Although Lake Van is situated at an altitude of 1,640 m (5,380 ft) with harsh winters, it does not freeze due to its high salinity except occasionally the shallow northern section.[3]


  • Hydrology and chemistry 1
  • Geology 2
  • Climate 3
  • Ecology 4
  • History 5
    • Armenian kingdoms 5.1
    • Byzantine empire 5.2
    • Seljuk empire 5.3
  • Architecture 6
  • Transportation 7
  • Islands 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11

Hydrology and chemistry

Akdamar Island and the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross, a 10th-century church and monastic complex. Mount Artos (Cadir) seen on the background.
Lake Van Landsat photo

Lake Van is 119 kilometres (74 mi) across at its widest point, averaging a depth of 171 metres (561 ft) with a maximum recorded depth of 451 metres (1,480 ft).[2] The lake surface lies 1,640 metres (5,380 ft) above sea level and the shore length is 430 kilometres (270 mi). Lake Van has an area of 3,755 km2 (1,450 sq mi) and a volume of 607 cubic kilometres (146 cu mi).[2]

The western portion of the lake is deepest, with a large basin deeper than 400 m (1,300 ft) lying northeast of Tatvan and south of Ahlat. The eastern arms of the lake are shallower. The Van-Ahtamar portion shelves gradually, with a maximum depth of about 250 m (820 ft) on its northwest side where it joins the rest of the lake. The Erciş arm is much shallower, mostly less than 50 m (160 ft), with a maximum depth of about 150 m (490 ft).[4][5]

The lake water is strongly alkaline (pH 9.7–9.8) and rich in sodium carbonate and other salts, which are extracted by evaporation and used as detergents.[6]


The lake's outlet was blocked at some time during the Pleistocene, when lava flows from Nemrut volcano blocked westward outflow towards the Muş Plain. Now dormant, Nemrut Dağı is close to the western shore of the lake, and another dormant stratovolcano, Süphan Dağı dominates the northern side of the lake.

The water level of the lake has often altered dramatically: near Tatvan, Oswald (see Geology of Armenia, 1901) noted a raised beach high above the present level of the lake as well as recently drowned trees. Investigation by Degens and others in the early 1980s determined that the highest lake levels (72 metres (236 ft) above the current height) had been during the last ice age, about 18,000 years ago. Approximately 9,500 years ago there was a dramatic drop to more than 300 metres (980 ft) below the present level. This was followed by an equally-dramatic rise around 6,500 years ago.[2]

Similar-but-smaller fluctuations have been seen recently. The level of the lake rose by at least three metres during the 1990s, drowning much agricultural land, and (after a brief period of stability and then retreat) seems to be rising again. The level rose approximately two meters in the ten years immediately prior to 2004.[1]

As a deep lake with no outlet, Lake Van has accumulated great amounts of sediment washed in from surrounding plains and valleys, and occasionally deposited as ash from eruptions of nearby volcanoes. This layer of sediment is estimated to be up to 400 metres (1,300 ft) thick in places, and has attracted climatologists and vulcanologists interested in drilling cores to examine the layered sediments.

The dormant volcano Mount Çadır seen from the Akdamar Island

In 1989 and 1990, an international team of geologists led by Dr. Stephan Kempe from the University of Hamburg (now Professor at the Technische Universität Darmstadt) retrieved ten sediment cores from depths up to 446 m (1,463 ft). Although these cores only penetrated the first few meters of sediment, they provided sufficient varves to give proxy climate data for up to 14,570 years BP.[7]

A team of scientists headed by palaeontologist Professor Thomas Litt at the University of Bonn has applied for funding from the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) for a new, deeper-drilling project to examine the lake's sediments. Litt expects to find that "Lake Van stores the climate history of the last 800,000 years—an incomparable treasure house of data which we want to tap for at least the last 500,000 years."[8] A test drilling in 2004 detected evidence of 15 volcanic eruptions in the past 20,000 years.


Lake Van is situated in the highest and largest region of Turkey, which has a harsh continental climate. Average temperatures in July are between 22 and 25 °C, and in January between −3 °C to −12 °C. In particularly-cold winter nights the temperature reaches −30 °C. Lake Van mitigates the climate somewhat, so in the city of Van, on the shore of the lake, the average temperature in July is 22.5 °C, and in January −3.5 °C. The average annual rainfall in the basin of Lake Van, ranges from 400 to 700 mm.[9][10]


Lake Van viewed from the Space Shuttle Challenger.

The only fish known to live in the brackish water of Lake Van is Chalcalburnus tarichi the Pearl Mullet or inci kefalı,[11] a Cyprinid fish related to chub and dace, which is caught during the spring floods. In May and June, these fish migrate from the lake to less alkaline water, spawning either near the mouths of the rivers feeding the lake or in the rivers themselves. After spawning season it returns to the lake.[12]

103 species of phytoplankton have been recorded in the lake including cyanobacteria, flagellates, diatoms, green algae and brown algae. 36 species of zooplankton have also been recorded including Rotatoria, Cladocera and Copepoda in the lake.[13]

In 1991, researchers reported the discovery of 40 m (130 ft) tall microbialites in Lake Van. These are solid towers on the lake bed created by mats of coccoid cyanobacteria (Pleurocapsa group) that create aragonite in combination with calcite precipitating out of the lake water.[14]

The Lake Van region is the home of the rare Van Cat breed of cat, noted for among other things its unusual fascination with water.

Since about 1995 there have been reported sightings of a 'Lake Van monster' about 15 metres (49 ft) in length named Van Gölü Canavarı ("Monster of Lake Van").

The lake is surrounded by fruit and grain-growing agricultural areas.


Tushpa, the capital of Urartu, was located near the shores of Lake Van, on the site of what became medieval Van's castle, west of present-day Van city.[15] The ruins of the medieval city of Van are still visible below the southern slopes of the rock on which Van Castle is located.

Armenian kingdoms

Armenian gravestones near Lake Van, 1973.

The lake was the centre of the Armenian kingdom of Ararat from about 1000 BC, afterwards of the Satrapy of Armina, Kingdom of Greater Armenia, and the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan.

Along with Lake Sevan in today's Armenia and Lake Urmia in today's Iran, Van was one of the three great lakes of the Armenian Kingdom, referred to as the seas of Armenia (in ancient Assyrian sources: "tâmtu ša mât Nairi" (Upper Sea of Nairi), the Lower Sea being Lake Urmia). Over time, the lake was known by various Armenian names, including Armenian: Վանա լիճ (Lake of Van), Վանա ծով (Sea of Van), Արճեշի ծով (Sea of Arčeš), Բզնունեաց ծով (Sea of Bznunik),[16] Ռշտունեաց ծով (Sea of Rshtunik),[16] and Տոսպայ լիճ (Lake of Tosp).

Byzantine empire

By the 11th century the region around Lake Van was on the border between the Byzantine empire, with its capital at Constantinople, and the Seljuk Turkish empire, with its capital at Isfahan. In the uneasy peace between the two empires, local Armenian-Byzantine landowners employed Turcoman gazis and Byzantine akritoi for protection.

In the second half of the 11th century Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes launched a campaign to re-conquer Armenia and head off growing Seljuk control. Diogenes and his large army crossed the Euphrates and confronted a much smaller Seljuk force led by Alp Arslan at the Battle of Manzikert, north of Lake Van on 26 August 1071. Despite their greater numbers, the cumbersome Byzantine force was defeated by the more mobile Turkish horsemen and Diogenes was captured.

Seljuk empire

The 10th century Armenian monastery of Narekavank, formerly near the southeastern shore of the lake
Ferry Van approaching Van harbour.

Alp Arslan divided the conquered eastern portions of the Byzantine empire among his Turcoman generals, with each ruled as a hereditary beylik, under overall sovereignty of the Great Seljuq Empire. Alp Arslan gave the region around Lake Van to his commander Sökmen el Kutbî (literally Sökmen the Slave), who set up his capital at Ahlat on the western side of the lake. The dynasty of Ahlatshahs (also known as Sökmenler) ruled this area from 1085 to 1192.

The Ahlatshahs were succeeded by the Ayyubid dynasty.


Near the Van Castle and the southern shore, on Akdamar Island lies the 10th century Church of the Holy Cross (Armenian: Սուրբ Խաչ, Surb Khach), which served as a royal church to the Armenian Vaspurakan kingdom. The ruins of Armenian monasteries also exist on the other three islands of Lake Van: Lim, Arter, and Ktuts. The area around Lake Van was also the home to a large number Armenian monasteries, among the most prominent of these being the 10th century Narekavank and the 11th century Varagavank, both now destroyed.

The Ahlatshahs left a large number of historic tombstones in and around the town of Ahlat. Local administrators are currently trying to have the tombstones included in UNESCO's World Heritage List,[17] where they are currently listed tentatively.[18]


The railway connecting Turkey and Iran built in the 1970s uses a train ferry across Lake Van between the cities Tatvan and Van, rather than building railway tracks around the rugged shore line. Transfer from train to ship and back again limits the total carrying capacity.

In May 2008 talks started between Iran and Turkey to replace the ferry with a double track electrified railway.[19]


See also


  1. ^ a b c Coskun, M.; Musaoğlu, N. (2004), "Investigation of Rainfall-Runoff Modelling of the Van Lake Catchment by Using Remote Sensing and GIS Integration", Proceedings of the 20th Congress of the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (PDF) 
  2. ^ a b c d e Degens, E.T.; Wong, H.K.; Kempe, S.; Kurtman, F. (June 1984), "A geological study of Lake Van, eastern Turkey", International Journal of Earth Sciences (Springer) 73 (2): 701–734,  
  3. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Lake Van
  4. ^ Wong, H.K.; Degens, E.T. (1978), "The bathymetry of Lake Van, eastern Turkey", Geology of Lake Van (169), Ankara: General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration, pp. 6–10 
  5. ^ Tomonaga, Yama; Brennwald, Matthias S.; Kipfer, Rolf (2007), Spatial variability in the release of terrigenic He from the sediments of Lake Van (Turkey) (PDF), 4th Mini Conference on Noble Gases in the Hydrosphere and in Natural Gas Reservoirs,  
  6. ^ Sari, Mustafa (2008), "Threatened fishes of the world: Chalcalburnus tarichi (Pallas 1811) (Cyprinidae) living in the highly alkaline Lake Van, Turkey", Environmental Biology of Fishes (Springer Netherlands) 81 (1): 21–23,  
  7. ^ Landmann, Günter; Reimera, Andreas; Lemcke, Gerry; Kempe, Stephan (June 1996), "Dating Late Glacial abrupt climate changes in the 14,570 yr long continuous varve record of Lake Van, Turkey", Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology ( 
  8. ^ "Turkey's Lake Van Provides Precise Insights Into Eurasia's Climate History", Science Daily ( 
  9. ^ Матвеев: Турция [что значительно ниже установленной позже корректной цифры в 161,2 метра] (Russian)
  10. ^ Warren J. K. Evaporites: Sediments, Resources and Hydrocarbons, Springer, 2006 ISBN 3-540-26011-0
  11. ^ Journal; Fish Physiology and Biochemistry
  12. ^ Inci kefali summary
  13. ^ Selçuk 1992
  14. ^ Kempe, S.; Kazmierczak, J.; Landmann, G.; Konuk, T.; Reimer, A.; Lipp, A. (14 February 1991), "Largest known microbialites discovered in Lake Van, Turkey", Nature 349 (6310): 605–608,  
  15. ^ The Concise Encyclopædia of Archaeology — Page 488 by Leonard Cottrell – 1960
  16. ^ a b Hewsen, p. 9
  17. ^ Yüksel Oktay. "On the Roads of Anatolia — Van". Los Angeles Chronicle. 
  18. ^ (List) "Tentative World Heritage Sites".  
  19. ^ "Turkey, Iran agree on joint railway". 27 July 2007 – Yeni Şafak

Further reading

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