Van Kalesi, 3km to the west, is the nearest visitable Urartian fortification to Van. A narrow outcrop 1.5km long, over 100m tall and perhaps 300m wide at the base; equipped with its own spring, it was once an eminently suitable Urartian stronghold. Passing the northern face, note the arched niches, part of an Urartian temple, set in the base of the cliff, behind an Ottoman-era mosque and türbe. These once held statues, and cuneiform inscriptions on the base of one of them document the life and works of the powerful Urartian king.
Entry is from the car park and ticket booth on the northwest side, where there’s also a decent restaurant/café and a replica of an old Van house, built of mud-brick and home to one of the famous Van cats. Just west of the tea gardens is a large stone platform (possibly a jetty) made of limestone blocks, some of which are over five metres long. Two inscriptions adorn the structure, both in the Assyrian, rather than the Urartian, language, praising the Urartian king Sarduri I (844–838 BC).
From the “jetty” or ticket booth a path ascends the gentler north face of the Rock leading, eventually, to the citadel on top. The single most impressive part of Van Kalesi is the rock tomb of Argishti 1 (785–760 BC). It’s set in the sheer cliff-face on the south side of the Rock, west of the summit area. It’s reached by a set of worn steps, fortunately protected by metal railings. The carved rock face above the stairs is covered in well-preserved cuneiform inscriptions relating Argishti’s conquests. Take a torch to explore the interior, where the fixing holes for votive plaques can still be seen. There are several more anonymous rock-cut tombs on the south face of the Rock, east of the summit area, but take care when exploring as the path is badly worn and the drops deadly.
The most prominent building on the top today is a ruined mosque, the arch-roofed building is a medrese and, close by, are the barracks of the Ottoman garrisons once billeted here. The curious steps cut into the limestone are actually the foundation bases for cyclopean Urartian walls, the mud-brick ones visible today are much later.