A 2,800-year-old castle built by an enigmatic ancient civilization known as the Urartu, or people of Ararat, was recently unearthed by Turkish archaeologists from Van Yuzuncu Yil University.
The structures date back to the time of Urartu, a kingdom that clashed with the Assyrians in the first millennium B.C. Located in the crossroads of many cultures, it has been under the rule of many different peoples.
The ancient kingdom of the Urartu spanned what is now modern-day Armenia, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reports that archaeologists discovered the ruins on a mountain soaring 8,200 feet in elevation in the Gürpınar district of eastern Turkey’s Van province. The spectacular find was part of an excavation project funded by the University.
Excavation leader and archaeologist Dr. Rafet Çavuşoğlu says in the report “Although it is believed to be dated back to the Urartian era like the Van Castle, we see that it was mostly used in the Middle Ages.”
The Van Castle, another spectacular discovery, is a nearby fortress that was built between the ninth and seventh centuries BC. Over the millennia, civilizations including the Urartu, Armenians, Parthians, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Romans and Ottomans, held control of the area.
Some highlights of the most recent discovery include a large cistern measuring roughly 21 feet deep, 21 feet long and 8 feet in diameter. The team also found artifacts made of ceramic and remnants of walls that had been crafted out of limestone and sandstone.
“This castle is a very important discovery for us,” Çavuşoğlu stated with pride.
In November of 2017 a stunning underwater discovery was made as Lake Van gave up its secrets to archaeologists. Its waters are now more than 150 meters higher than in millennia past, and a number of buildings that were once part of the original city are now far underwater.
Urartu Castle built by Iron Age peoples
The Iron Age people known as the Urartu constructed the buildings that are now submerged beneath the lake. The residents had at some point been forced to leave the area after the water level increased due to a volcanic event.
The area, which is southeast of the Black Sea and southwest of the Caspian Sea, was part of an ancient civilization that first emerged along Lake Van in the early 13th century BC. The Urartians wielded a great deal of political power in the Middle East during the ninth and eighth centuries BC but ultimately lost control of the region after conflicts with the great Assyrian Empire.
Archaeologists say that sometime during the seventh century BC, the entire civilization, with its towering castles built atop mountains, stone irrigation canals and steles recording great events in its history, appeared to vanish into thin air. This, they posit, was because of an invasion by the Scythians, the Cimmerians or the Medes.
The Urartu was only understood to be a distinct, much older culture following excavations conducted in the 19th century, according to historian Mark Cartwright.
During their time in power, the Urartians were known for their impressive architectural projects, including a nearly 50-mile-long irrigation canal and ornately decorated temples. These religious structures were often outfitted with etchings that paid homage to local customs: The lion, for instance, was a popular Urartian motif, as Owen Jarus noted for Live Science in 2017.
Last year, the AA reported on a team of Turkish restorers who refurbished the stone carvings of the 2,700-year-old Ayanis Castle, which sits atop a hill overlooking Lake Van. One of the best-preserved heritage sites linked to the enigmatic civilization, the castle’s Haldi Temple housed walls decorated with “one-of-a-kind” intaglio ornaments, excavation leader Mehmet Işıklı, an archaeologist at Atatürk University, told the AA at the time.
Other recent finds related to Urartu range from the grave of a noblewoman buried with her jewelry at Çavuştepe Castle, also in Gürpınar, to a 2,800-year-old open-air temple at Harput Castle in the eastern Turkish province of Elazığ. In April, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that the temple—made up of an oval and flat area used to house sacrificial animals, as well as various niches, seats and steps—was likely used for major religious ceremonies honoring Haldi, the Urartian god of war.
Because the region often experiences powerful earthquakes, few traces of Urartian buildings survive today, per World History Encyclopedia. Interestingly, Çavuşoğlu previously led an excavation at Çavuştepe Castle that suggested the Urartians used a construction technique called “locked stones” to protect their fortifications against tremors, as Daily Sabah reported in 2019.
Experts hope that the new find will shed light on Urartu culture and architecture.
“In cooperation with Van Yüzüncü Yıl University, we made an important discovery here. We found a new castle witnessing the Urartian period and the Middle Ages,” Gürpinar’s mayor, Hayrullah Tanis, tells the AA. “This discovery excites us in terms of tourism and culture.”