Van Kalesi / Kela Wanê
|Van Fortress as seen from the northwest.|
|Condition||Large sections of walls are still standing.|
|Built||8th and 7th centuries BC|
|Materials||Unmortared basalt (lower walls) and mud-bricks|
The Fortress of Van (Armenian: Վանի Բերդ, also known as Van Citadel, Turkish: Van Kalesi or Kurdish: Kela Wanê) is a massive stone fortification built by the ancient kingdom of Urartu during the 9th to 7th centuries BC, and is the largest example of its kind. It overlooks the ruins of Tushpa the ancient Urartian capital during the 9th century which was centered upon the steep-sided bluff where the fortress now sits. 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. Successive groups such as the Armenians, Romans, Medes, Achaemenid and Sassanid Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Ottomans and Russians each controlled the fortress at one time or another. The ancient fortress is located just west of Van and east of Lake Van in the Van Province of Turkey.
The lower parts of the walls of Van Citadel were constructed of unmortared basalt, while the rest was built from mud-bricks.
Such fortresses were used for regional control, rather than as a defense against foreign armies. The ruins of this fortress sit outside the modern city of Van, where they support walls built in the medieval era.
A stereotyped trilingual inscription of Xerxes the Great from the 5th century BC is inscribed upon a smoothed section of the rock face, some 20 meters (60 feet) above the ground near the fortress. The niche was originally carved out by Xerxes' father King Darius, but left the surface blank. The inscription survives in near perfect condition and is divided into three columns of 27 lines written in (from left to right) Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. It is the only known Achaemenid royal inscription located outside of Iran. Other cuneiform inscriptions are typically off limits unless to large tour groups. It states that:
"A great god is Ahuramazda, the greatest of gods, who created this earth, who created that sky, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king, one king for all, one ruler for all.
I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, king of all kinds of peoples with all kinds of origins, king of this earth great and wide, the son of king Darius, the Achaemenid.
King Xerxes says: King Darius, my father, by the grace of Ahuramazda built much that was good, and he gave orders to dig this niche out, but because he did not make an inscription, I ordered this inscription to be made.
May Ahuramazda and the other gods protect me, my kingdom, and what I have made."
When it was published by Eugène Burnouf in 1836, through his realization that it included a list of the satrapies of Darius (repeated by Xerxes in nearly identical language), he was able to identify and publish an alphabet of thirty letters, most of which he had correctly deciphered. Burnouf's reading of the Van trilingual inscription had made a significant contribution to the deciphering of Old Persian cuneiform.
- The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World
- Burnouf, Mémoire sur deux inscriptions cunéiformes trouvées près d'Hamadan et qui font partie des papiers du Dr Schulz, Paris, 1836; Schulz, an orientalist from Hesse, had been sent out by the French foreign ministry to copy inscriptions but had been murdered in 1829; see Arthur John Booth, The Discovery and Decipherment of the Trilingual Cuneiform Inscriptions 1902, esp. pp 95ff, 206.
- Another photograph of the inscription.
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