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Brian McKee and his partner Ai Kijima awoke in Van at the start of their journey around Lake Van, taking photographs for Cornucopia 54. It was Ramazan and everything was closed but McKee soon found he was "among the kindest people I have ever met, with more invitations to dinner than we could possibly accept."
The modern town was built in the 1930s inland from the old town, now a desolate area, where the dramatic Van Kale (Van Castle) looks out over the lake. The old town (Eski Van) was the capital of the 9th-7th century BC kingdom of Urartu. It came under Ottoman control in the 16th century, and remained an important Armenian town until it was destroyed in the break-up of the empire in the early 20th century when it was abandoned. The truncated minaret of the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) stands near the Tabriz Gate quarter in what is now a sprawling archaeological site. It has recovered from the earthquake in 2011 that demolished several thousand buildings and claimed more than 600 lives. The town today is enlivened by a student population from the university established in 1982, and will become more accessible if a high-speed link under discussion turns into a reality, unsettling the tranquil nature of the whole region.
Look out for the white Van cat, which is distinguished by its different-coloured eyes and penchant for swimming.
At present, Van is connected with Tatvan, which is 96 km (60 mi) away on the opposite shore of Lake Van, by a train ferry that helps to avoid the necessity to build a 250 km (155 mi) railway through difficult mountainous terrain. The railway will be constructed when traffic increases sufficiently. Van is connected with the rest of Turkey through the Ferit Melen Airport.
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