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338                   JOUKNEYS IN KURDISTAN      LETTER xxxi

as a violet mass against the sinking sun, with a fore-
ground of darkening greenery. The great truncated cone
of the Sipan Dagh looms grandly over the lake to the
north; to the east the rocky mass of the Varak Dagh, with
white villages and monasteries in great numbers lying
in its clefts and folds, rises precipitously to a height of
10,500 feet; and to the south the imposing peaks of
Ardost, now crested with snow, and Mount Pelu, pro-
jecting into the lake, occupy prominent positions above
the lower groups and ridges.

The town of Van is nearly a mile from the lake, and
is built on an open level space, in the midst of which
stands a most picturesque and extraordinary rock which
rises perpendicularly to a height of about 300 feet. It
falls abruptly at both extremities, and its outline, which
Colonel Severs Bell estimates at 1900 yards in length,
is emphasised by battlemented walls, several towers, and
a solitary minaret rising above the picturesque irregularity
of the ancient fortifications. Admission to the interior of
the castle is refused, consequently I have not seen the
chambers in the rock, supposed to have been the tombs of
kings. The most celebrated of the cuneiform inscriptions
cut on tablets smoothed in the rock is on the south side
in an inaccessible position, and was with difficulty copied
by the murdered traveller Schulz with the aid of a
telescope. It is well seen from below, looking, as has
been remarked, like an open copy of a newspaper. Like
the tablets of Persepolis and Mount Elwend, it relates in
august language the titles and deeds of Xerxes.

The founding of Van is ascribed to Semiramis, who,
according to Armenian history, named it Shemiramagerd,
and was accustomed to resort to its gardens, which
she had herself planted and watered, to escape from the
fierce heat of the summer at Nineveh. The well of
Semiramis and other works attributed to her bring her