Few mountains west of the Himalayas have as compelling a hold on Western imagination as Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı in Turkish). Traditionally, Armenian monks considered this volcanic mountain holy, and nobody was allowed to climb it; it was not until 1829 that Dr Johann Jacob Parrot, a German academic, conquered the peak. Numerous other ascents have followed, though it was forbidden by Turkish officialdom until the 1950s.

Despite the efforts of American astronaut James Irwin and others, no reliable trace of Noah’s Ark has been found. Locals, however, insist that the oval mound of earth spotted by a Turkish air-force pilot on a routine flight is the “Ark”, which now boasts a visitor centre and is included in tours of the area. Genesis 8:4 reports the Ark as coming to rest on the “mountains of Ararat”, but this is prone to misinterpretation, as Ararat was the Assyrian rendition of Urartu, the ancient kingdom centred on Lake Van, meaning the Ark could have come to rest anywhere within the bounds of the kingdom. According to the Koran, the Ark was deposited on Mount Cudi, hundreds of kilometres away near Cizre.

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