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Tushpa/Van Fortress, the Mound and the Old City of Van

Date of Submission: 13/04/2016
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Van Province, Ipekyolu District
Coordinates: N38 30 03.67 E43 20 21.56
Ref.: 6114

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The property, Tushpa/Van Fortress, the Mound and the Old City of Van, is located within the borders of İpekyolu District of the Province of Van and covers an area of 97 hectares. Van Fortress or Tushpa (Assyrian: Turušpa, Urartian: Tušpa, Turkish: Tuşpa) was the capital city of the Urartians, the founders of the Urartian Kingdom centred at the Lake Van Basin between the ninth and the sixth centuries BC. The Fortress, founded on a 1345 m long, 200 wide and 100 m high conglomerate rock, is located on the southern shore of Lake Van. To its north, in the same direction, lies the Mound of Van Fortress and its south the Old City of Van, the former revealing five thousand years old settlement culture, and the latter eight hundred years old urban fabric. The area, where the Van Fortress and its lower settlement were founded, is the most fertile territory in the region, which was the primary reason for its occupation from the Early Bronze Age till the early twentieth century AD.

Van Fortress (Tushpa)

The Fortress includes the royal buildings of capital of the Urartian Kingdom, which became a state in the ninth century BC in the heartland of eastern Anatolia. In this regard, it bears the impressive traces of the 250-year reign of the kingdom: walls and foundations, building floors carved out of levelled bedrock, rock chambers for the kings, open air sanctuaries, royal annals inscribed on the rocks, inscribed stelae, building inscriptions and so on. In this respect, the citadel has all the components of a large-scale and developed state structure.

The magnificent walls of the citadel were largely built on the rock terraces, stepped rocks peculiar to Urartian architecture that can be seen all around. The large blocks of the lower courses are mostly Urartian, on which mud brick and stone additions were made until the Ottoman era.

Sardurburç (Sardur Tower) located on the western tip of the Van Fortress is considered as the earliest building of the citadel. Sarduri I (840-830 BC), the founder of the Urartian Kingdom, declared his foundation of the capital in the Assyrian inscription repeated six times on the Sardurburç. The building itself lies in north-west direction and is measuring 47x13 m with a height of 4 m.

The “Inner Fortress” built on the highest point of Tushpa is surrounded by walls that rise as high as 10 m. The entrance is from the west and it is composed of a palatial complex and a temple. It is named as the Old Palace due to the resemblance of its carefully worked calcareous blocks to those of Sardurburç.

The New Palace and its surroundings present basic features of construction and infrastructure of the Urartian buildings. The area rises immediately to the south of the road climbing up to the Upper Citadel. The bedrock was worked to facilitate foundations and rooms, and the area has evidence for a three-storied plan. The ground floor has platforms for storage rooms and service rooms, above which rise the upper stories on foundations carved out of bedrock. In the east is a levelled space, the largest of the New Palace. The infrastructure, drainage remains and bronze dedication plaques hint at an important building complex.

There are eight rock-cut tombs on the south face of the Van Fortress. Four of them are multichambered tombs dated to the Urartian period along with another one named as the “Cremation Tomb.” These have some common features: A platform in front of the entrance, a main hall reached via steps from the platform and adjoining chambers all connected to the hall. The architectural features of these tombs are the main reason for ranking the Urartian architects among the most skilful architects in the Near East. In some examples, the chambers reach 9 m in height and cover an area of 200 m2. Carving such a large mass and execution of a regular/symmetrical plan also require specific mathematical and architectural knowledge.

A rock chamber on the northern slope of the rock of Van, which was used to accommodate cattle, is named as the Şirşini of Menua (Menua’s Stable) due to an inscription at the entrance.

A rock terrace on the southeastern slope measuring 40x15 m is known locally as Analı Kız (Mother with Daughter) Sacred Place or “Treasure Gate” due to two rock niches it accommodates. It was built by Sarduri II (755-730 BC), the fifth king of the Urartians, and served as sacred area where religious rituals took place. The niches housed basalt stelae recording the campaigns of Sarduri II.

From the date of construction various structures have been added to Fortress and it was repaired several times. Süleyman Khan Mosque, renovated during the reign of Ottomans, is among these structures. This mosque is also the first Islamic structure of the city.

The Mound of Van Fortress

The 750 m-long mound of Van fortress is located just north of the citadel and lies in east-west direction parallel to the citadel itself. The mound, which covers 5000 year-old historical process, accommodates early Transcaucasian, Urartian, post-Urartian and medieval remains. There are only a few settlements that can offer a complete picture of the cultural history of the region and the mound of Van Fortress is one of them. Urartian architecture spreads over a wide area, revealing domestic architecture with multi-roomed houses and stone-paved courts, and stone-paved stables. Mud brick walls on stone foundations, which were preserved up to 1.5 m high, are impressive. The practice of mud brick walls rising on stone foundations is seen widespread across the site on the buildings of different periods.

The Old City of Van

The Old City of Van lies to the south of Van Fortress and surrounded by walls in three directions, which are supported by towers. There are three entrances on the walls, namely Tebriz Gate on the east, Middle Gate on the south and Harbour Gate on the west.

The city, which consisted of streets with single or two storied houses, mosques, churches and other buildings, was inhabited from the thirteenth to the twentieth century, until the Russian invasion of 1915. It encompasses numerous monuments including Van Great Mosque (Van Ulu Camii), Red Minaret Mosque (Kızıl Minareli Camii), Hüsrevpaşa İslamic-Ottoman Social Complex and Kaya Çelebi Mosque. Recent investigations suggest that Great Mosque was built in the twelfth century, in Ahlatşah era or before 1400, in the reign of Qara qoyunlu. It is rectangular in plan and has a brick cylindrical minaret at the northwest corner. Varied arrangement of the bricks give its body a diamond motif, while between two turquoise and dark blue row of tiles is a band with a geometric composition evolved from eight armed star. Hüsrevpaşa Complex was built by Hüsrev Paşa, the governor of Van in the sixteenth century, in the Architect Great Sinan era. The complex includes a mosque, tomb, madrasa, alms house, inn and a double bath. Kaya Çelebi Mosque dates to the seventeenth century. It has a square plan and is covered with a dome. At the front is a partitioned narthex.

Other important buildings of the city are: Horhor Mosque, Beylerbeyi Haci Mustafa Paşa Mosque, Kethüda Ahmet Mosque, Miri Ambari, Cistern, The Double Cupolas (Çifte Kümbetler), Surp Paulos and Petros Chruch (Çifte Kilise), Surp Vardan Chruch, Surp Stephanos Church and Surp Dsirvanarov Chapel.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Van Fortress/Tushpa, the Mound of Van Fortress and the Old City of Van house material culture remains from the third millennium BC to the beginning of the twentieth century: early Transcaucasian people, Urartians, Medians, Persians, Romans, Parthians, Sassanids, Arabians, Byzantines, Armenian, Seljuks, Ayyubids, Ilkhanids, Qara qoyunlu state, Mongols, Safavids and Ottomans. All these cultures are visible in site’s stratigraphy. In this regard, the people of Van and historical process of the site can be observed in a wide range of fields from lifestyle and production modes to architecture. This multi-cultural past offers a striking richness.

As the capital of the Urartian Kingdom for nearly 250 years, Van Fortress is the most unique and impressive city of Iron Age Anatolia. The well-preserved remains of the city bear testimony to its glorious past. Urartians’ revolutionary contributions to eastern Anatolia and Caucasus are explicit in architecture, modes of production and life style. It is Van Fortress/Tushpa where the first steps of this transformation were taken and resulting material culture is displayed.

Urartians revived literacy in eastern Turkey about 850 BC, using their own Hurrian-related language, which they adapted to the cuneiform script. Urartian writing is curious for two reasons. First, it adopted the cuneiform script at a time when it was being phased out in other parts of the ancient Near East in favour of other scripts such as the alphabet and hieroglyphs (in the case of the Neo-Hittites). Second, its purpose was unambiguous and restricted, namely as a symbol of royal power and prestige. It was hardly ever used for common-place tasks such as accounting. Many cuneiform inscriptions either on the rock surfaces or on the stelae, cement the castle’s position as a capital. The cuneiform inscription on the façade of the tomb of Argisti I is the longest Urartian inscription.

The Mound of Van Fortress and the Old City of Van, on the other hand, witnessed 5000 year-old settlement history and 800 year-old urban fabric respectively. The Old City of Van is important in this respect, since it preserves the undisturbed urban pattern of an Ottoman city. Except some intermediary periods, it remained under Seljukian and Ottoman rule and bears the monumental architectural remains of them. Only a handful of sites in Anatolia enjoy a material culture like that of Van, complete with houses, religious buildings, tombs, roads, and other urban features. While it is an open-air museum that reveals all this historical process with relevant material culture remains, it is also a witness to the harmonious, mutually respectful existence of communities with different religious beliefs over eight centuries.

Criterion (ii): Van Fortress and surroundings as shaped by the Urartian architects proved to be a convenient habitat for future generations. The rock architecture, for example, was fully exploited by the Ottomans and it was one of the largest castles of the empire in Anatolia. The fact that Persian, Parthian, Sassanian, Christian and Ottoman remains are visible in the site makes it unique in cultural continuity and legacy. Besides all these, it is the single most important centre that Ottoman urban fabric along with that of Urartu is observed.

Criterion (iii): The Kingdom of Urartu, with its political structure, institutions, architecture and other cultural remains, was one of the most developed state structures in the first millennium BC in Anatolia. Representing all the characteristics of the Kingdom of Urartu, the capital Tushpa/Van Fortress bears exceptional testimony to this disappeared civilization. Along with other cultural remains, the site has the richest and longest collection of Urartian inscriptions, making it the most important source for the reconstruction of the Urartian history. Just as it was a witness to the foundation of the Urartian Kingdom, the Lower settlement of Tushpa inevitably contains important archaeological information for the decline and the new comers arrived in the aftermath.

Criterion (iv): Royal rock tombs, monumental open air sanctuaries and palaces are the most prominent architectural features of the capital, which is a unique and still-standing example of a citadel. Every corner of the outcrop, which is by itself a monument, was utilized by the Urartian architects. Monumental rock-cut royal tombs and niches with accompanying inscriptions make the site the most distinctive settlement of the region in the first millennium BC. The royal tombs in particular have no parallels in Mesopotamia and Anatolia in that period.

Criterion (vi): Until its abandonment due to the heavy damage inflicted by the events of 1915, the Old City of Van was home to many religious and ethnic groups for 800 years allowing them to leave their unique marks of material culture. This multiculturalism, on the basis of mutual respect, is evident in religious and civilian architecture.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The property includes within its boundary all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value. The Fortress, the Old City of Van and the Mound of Van Fortress form a culturally homogenous fabric. It is in 1st degree protected area and conserved appropriately to the Law on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property. The monuments in the area have been registered and preserved by the Van Board of Protection of Cultural Property. The property is regularly controlled and monitored by the State in order to sustain its cultural values. Security services are provided by the staff of the directorate of Van Museum. The old city and the citadel are fenced and in 2016, the entire area will be delimited with the same method.

Comparison with other similar properties

A number of 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 most important of these were the fortresses at Van, Anzaf, Cavustepe and Başkale. Among all, the most conspicuous and largest example is the fortress of Van.

With regards to first millennium capitals in Anatolia, Tushpa is the best example, where Urartian cultural traits like urbanization, burial practices and writing can be observed as a whole. The Hittite capital, Hattusha-Boğazköy, which is on the WHL, has much in common with the Urartian capital Tushpa. The agglomeration of administrative and religious buildings in the same area and presence of unique building types peculiar to the period are comparable features of both sites. Assyrian Capitals Nimrud (WHL Tentative List), Dur Sharrukkin (Khorsabad) and Nineveh (WHL Tentative List), bears similar features with Tushpa in reflecting the citadel concept of the 1st millennium BC.

The difference of Tushpa and its lower settlement is its uninterrupted 5000 years-old settlement history which is evident with cultural remains of many civilizations. It is possible to see architectural remains of various people and cultures that settled in the area. In this respect, the Old City of Van is particularly important, since it preserves the urban pattern of an Ottoman city.