A Tale in Red: Is it a lake?

How can I describe what you felt the first time you saw Lake Van? I saw it from the car window while we were entering Tatvan. However, I had the first impression that the lake should be enormous since I couldn’t see the other side of it. And it was! Not only that, but the particularities of Lake Van also went a long way from his size. 

Nestled in the rugged landscapes of Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, lies Lake Van – the largest lake in the country and one of the largest soda lakes in the world. Spanning a massive area of over 3,755 square kilometres, this saline soda lake is a marvel of the natural world, exuding an enchanting beauty that captures the heart of every visitor.

Formed by a volcanic eruption nearly half a million years ago, Lake Van is a product of the region’s dynamic geology. It’s a closed basin with no outlet, so water from incoming streams and rivers accumulates and can only leave through evaporation. This has led to the lake’s high salinity, making it an alkaline or soda lake. 

Perhaps the most striking feature of Lake Van is the medieval Armenian church of Ak damar Island (also known as Akhtamar), situated in the lake. This island, one of four in Lake Van, is home to the Church of the Holy Cross (Akdamar Kilisesi), a stunning piece of Armenian architecture built between 915 and 921 AD during the kingdom of Vaspurakan. This church, with its intricate stone reliefs depicting biblical scenes, is a must-visit site for history and architecture enthusiasts.

In addition to its historical significance, Lake Van is also a haven for biodiversity. It’s the home of the Van cat, a distinctive breed known for its white fur and often mismatched eye colours. The lake’s unique soda environment supports a variety of aquatic life, including the Pearl Mullet (Alburnus tarichi). This fish species has adapted to the high alkalinity levels and is the only fish in the lake. Millions of Pearl Mullets migrate upstream for spawning every spring, creating a remarkable natural spectacle.

The surrounding region is a paradise for nature lovers and hikers, with the snow-capped peaks of the Taurus Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop. From exploring the ancient Urartian fortress of Van Castle, which offers panoramic views of the lake, to hiking in the mountains and discovering hidden waterfalls and hot springs, the Lake Van region is teeming with natural and historical treasures.

Furthermore, the lake has been the centre of many scientific studies due to its unique characteristics and the annual formation of a deep layer of cold water. This occurrence has created a natural archive of climate change in the form of distinct sediment layers at the bottom of the lake.

Culturally rich, ecologically diverse, and stunningly beautiful, Lake Van embodies the profound allure of Eastern Anatolia. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or a curious traveller, Lake Van offers a unique and memorable journey into Turkey’s captivating past and present.

I visited (posts after this) the church in the middle of the lake and Van’s cats. But what I will never forget was the Van Lake colour. I could picture the place in winter, a white blanket covering the mountains around and the soft touch of snow on the lake’s surface and its islands.

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