Location: Eastern shore of Van Golu (Lake Van}, Van Province, Turkey
Elevation: 1719 meters
Van (pronounced "Waan") is among the oldest cities in Turkey, with known settlement dating back to at least 5000 BCE. Today the city is popular among Turks as a vacation destination and boasts a modern airport. Intermittent rail service to Van also exists via a ferry across Van Golu to the city of Tatvan, on the western shore of the lake. The city is home to the beautiful Van cat.
Van adheres mostly to a grid pattern and has an effective, by Turkish standards, public bussing system. Still, you would do better to get a taxi.
The vast majority of the people of Van speak Turkish. Some also speak Armenian, Kurdish, Georgian or Farsi. Some hotel operators and tour guides speak limited English and/or German.
Because the city is so modern (see below), there are few attractions within Van proper. However, the expansive Cay Bachesi (tea garden) and adjacent Ulu Camii (Great Mosque) are worth a look. The city center also houses an open-air market where a vast array of goods can be bartered for. As Van does not get many Western tourists the gringo tax is minimal for the wise shopper. The Van Cultural Museum has an interesting collection of mostly Urartian material when the curators feel like opening it. The second floor includes a very interesting, if decidedly Turko-centric, collection regarding the Armenian Rebellion and Armenian Genocide.
Indeed, the modern city is several miles east of the old settlement, which was razed in and subsequent to the Armenian Revolt (began 1895) and the Crimean War during which Russia occupied the region from May of 1915 through April 1918. Van is thought to have been a major center of the Armenian genocide at the hands of both the Ottoman Turks and Russians.
The remains of the old city lie in the shadow of the Van Kale (Van Castle), an ancient castle built by the Urartians around the 9th century BCE to oversee their capitol (then called Tuspa). The site is amazingly intact and has cuneiform inscriptions detailing the Urartian Empire and also mentioning the Persian King Xerxes.
It is worth noting the Lake Van did not exist in the time of the Urartians. Lake Van began forming in 1441 after an eruption of nearby Mt. Nemrut blocked drainage from the area thereby creating the Lake. In fact, the lake is still increasing in size today. Like the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake, Van Golu is saline and swimming in it is thought by some to have theraputic value. Only a single speicies of carp will be brave enough to join you. Also, similar to Scotland's Loch Ness there are those who claim to have seen a Van Monster.
Besides the lake itself, attractions around Van include: the 10th century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, which a friendly boatman will take you to for a moderate fee; Hosab, home to the impressive 14th century castle of a Kurdish warlord; Muradiye Waterfalls, a gorgeous cascade and featuring many scenic tea gardens; and the Halime Hatun Tomb. Besides Akdamar Island, many of the isles on Lake Van boast less preserved churches and monastaries however getting to them is a bit more difficult and will require the expensive hire of a charter boat.
Van is also a popular starting point for excursions to Mt. Ararat and the eastern border-zone with Iran. Unfortunately, due to recent unrest many eastern locations are off-limits to tourists or require a military escort who take you to your hotel, to a restaurant and then back to your hotel.
On a similar note, like Diyarbakir, Van province figured prominently during the Kurdish revolt and still has a heavy military presence. Though the area is largely safe, expect multiple jendarma (military police) and police checkpoints during any signifigant roadtrip. If travelling alone or with a small group in a dolmus (group taxi-van) it may be wise to budget some extra money to ease your movement.