From the snow-capped peak of Mount Ararat, legendary resting place of Noah’s ark, to rustic Armenian churches and the spectacular natural wonder that is Lake Van, eastern Turkey is off the beaten path and full of splendor. At the crux of the Pontus and Taurus Mountains, this eastern region is rugged country, with higher elevations and a more severe climate that points west. From the highlands in the north, sometimes called Turkey’s Siberia, to the southern mountains that descend toward the Mesopotamian plain in Iraq, vast stretches of this eastern region are sparsely populated. Yet a complex mosaic of cultures and histories fills this unique landscape. In the northern highlands bordering Armenia, the Black Sea, and Georgia, local principalities fended off the Mongols while building a series of Christian monasteries. The ruins at Ani are the remnants of a once-magnificent walled city along the Silk Road. With the appearance of the Urartu Kingdom in the land around Lake Van in the ninth century BCE, eastern Turkey experienced its first state-style organization, and the Urartians devised a network of water channels and dams to collect rain and other surface water still visible today.
The remarkable treasures of eastern Turkey offer visitors a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime experience, where ancient structures of stone are juxtaposed with towering minarets and millennia-old steeples. This mingling of cultures and faiths amid traditional ways of life provides inspiration to inhabitants and visitors alike.
The setting of Doğubayazıt could not be more impressive. On one side, Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı), Turkey’s highest mountain, stands majestically at 5,137 meters. On the other side, the Ottoman Ishak Pasha Palace, a breathtakingly beautiful fortress-palace-mosque complex, surveys the town from its rocky perch. Doğubeyazıt has a distinct atmosphere, and the city prides itself on its strong Kurdish heritage, celebrated annually through the Kültür Sanat ve Turizm Festivalı (Culture and Arts Festival).
Van, eastern Turkey’s largest city beautifully situated along the shore of its eponymous lake, boasts beautiful vistas, fascinating ancient ruins, and stunning scenery. Originally an important center of the Kingdom of Urartu (ninth through sixth centuries BCE)—the Urartian capital was at nearby Toprakkale—Van spreads out at the foot of an ancient citadel that rises high above the city.
A half-day excursion southeast of Van along the road to Başkale and Hakkari leads to the fascinating Urartian site at Çavuştepe (25 kilometers from Van), and the spectacular Kurdish castle at Hoşap, 33 kilometers further along the road.
The primary attraction in Kars, however, lies on a windswept plateau 42 kilometers to the east: the magnificent tenth-century ruins at Ani that stand just across the Arpaçay Gorge from Armenia. Once the seat of the Armenian Bagratuni Empire, Ani was known as the “City of a Hundred Gates and a Thousand Churches” and, in its heyday, was said to have rivaled Constantinople, Damascus, and Baghdad in splendor.