Lake Van, Turkey

Lake Locations:

Turkey -

Also known as:  Van Goiu

Turkey’s Lake Van is a spectacular example of a very old lake surrounded by a very old culture. Located in the far eastern area of Turkey called Anatolia near the border with Iraq, Iran and Armenia, this ancient portion of the Silk Road has been conquered and re-conquered so many times that it’s difficult to accurately trace the history of the local people. Currently the area around the huge saline lake is the cultural home of the Kurds, but with a large population of Muslims and other ethnicities. Before the Ottoman Empire, the land was held by the Armenians who left a huge number of church ruins behind. One of the 20th century invaders were the Russians who occupied the region after defeating the Ottomans during WWI. The Ottomans destroyed the old city of Van when they left. The new city of Van on the east end of the lake was built a few miles inland. Some of the most spectacular treasures of the region’s early church history now reside in museums in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The 928,000-acre lake was created by volcanic action when lava flows disrupted drainage out of the valley where the lake lies. With several inflowing streams and no outflow, the sodium carbonate in the lake continues to build, so the water is chemically nearly 20% sodium carbonate. Surrounded by dormant volcanoes, the lake has collected sediments for a great many years. In some places bottom sediments are thought to be hundreds of feet thick. Recently, science has looked to core sampling to determine if Lake Van’s sedimentary layers can tell the story of the earth’s climate over past centuries. Scientists have recently discovered the largest known examples of microbialites in Lake Van. Growing similar to coral using the carbonate minerals to form a structure, the microbialites found reach up to 130 feet tall. Diving is tightly regulated in Turkey and non-Turkish citizens must obtain a permit, be accompanied by a licensed Turkish diver, and remain above 60 feet in depth, so it isn’t likely these will become a tourism feature.

Due to the extreme salinity, only one species of fish survives in the water. The Pearl Mullet is a small fish related to the carp and a major source of food and cash to the many fishing operations in the area. Even this small fish cannot successfully breed in the salty waters; it must migrate to the incoming streams to spawn. Because the government is concerned that too many fish are being harvested by the 120 or more fishing boats, and because they suspect some fish are being taken at the mouths of streams before they have managed to breed, conservation officials are watching the situation closely. Therefore, sport fishing is not a large draw for tourists. However, tourists can watch for the Lake Van Monster, called Van Golu Canavan. Since this ‘monster’ isn’t the stuff of long-standing local legends and was first sighted in 1995, even more questions remain over this creature than other monsters supposedly residing in large deep lakes around the world. A video taken of the monster in 1997 by an employee of Yuzuncu Yil University in the City of Van has been much criticized. Needless to say, visitors need not worry about encountering the underwater beast.

Lake Van holds four islands that are of interest to tourists. Akhtamar Island (also called Akdamar) contains The Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross. This ancient, partly-ruined church has many bas-relief carvings of biblical figures on its exterior walls. Boatmen on shore are willing to take visitors to the island for a fee. Near the boat landing is a unique ‘camping restaurant’; campers are welcome to camp free as long as they eat in the restaurant. Carpanak Island is now uninhabited, but formerly contained an Armenian monastery called Ktuts. The ruins of it can still be seen. Adur Island also holds 17th century church ruins. Kus Island, also called Bird Island, is noted for the numbers of birds found here. The island formerly contained a small Armenian monastery, the ruins of which can be visited. One popular day trip from Van is to visit the Muradiye waterfalls. These spectacular falls tumble 60 feet into a deep gorge. The gorge channels birds migrating north from Lake Van in May; hundreds of species can sometimes be seen near the falls. The nearby fields contain some of the area’s most beautiful native flowers in May and June.

There is no public swimming beach at the City of Van on the eastern shore. One is located about 10 miles along the south shore at Edremit. Many of the better hotels have swimming pools on their premises. Another site around Van is the Rock of Van or Van Castle; the summit of these ruins provide a stunning panoramic view of the city and lake. The town of Van, originally named Tushpa, was the capital of the Urartian kingdom in the 9th century BC. Cuniform inscriptions dating to the 8th and 7th centuries BC found here were ordered carved by Darius the Great of Persia. Van also has an excellent local museum, and craftsmen in the area are noted for their fine gold and silver jewelry, rugs and famed kilim carpets. Lucky visitors may also see one of the elusive Van cats. These famous white cats are a local variety that are known for having eyes of two different colors and actually enjoy swimming. The cats have declined in number and are now protected as the government makes an effort to increase their numbers.

Getting to Van on the east end of Lake Van can be difficult as it is quite remote from Turkey’s population centers. Most visitors come by air to the small airport. Locals usually take the five-hour ferry ride from Titvan at the west end of the lake. Because it has been considered too difficult to build a rail line through the rugged terrain, a separate train ferry moves freight cars across the lake. Although smaller than Van, Titvan has several hotels suitable for tourists and a number of local attractions. The main terminal for the ferry is here, and the town is well-supplied with small eating establishments. Both here and in Van, huge breakfasts are a time-honored ritual, and many forms of lodgings provide the meal with the room.

Turkey is an area in transition due to political and military issues. Because there is little public information about Lake Van tourism, a reputable travel agent can help to plan a trip to meet visitors’ particular interests. Careful planning will assure that visitors have the best possible visit to ancient Lake Van. Bring a camera: the architectural treasures alone could fill many albums.

Things to do at Lake Van

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Waterfall
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Ruins

Fish species found at Lake Van

  • Carp

Lake Van Photo Gallery

Lake Van Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 928,000 acres

Shoreline Length: 270 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,380 feet

Average Depth: 56 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,480 feet

Water Volume: 492,102,909 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 4,800 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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