All About Turkey

Mount Ararat

Ararat MountainArarat is located at Agri in eastern Turkey near the Armenian and Iranian borders. As the crow flies, it is about 250 kilometers east of Erzurum, 130 kilometers southeast of Kars, and 160 kilometers north of Van. The main road between Turkey and Iran goes from Erzurum through Dogubayazit (just south of Ararat) to Tabriz. The summit of Mt. Ararat is 5,165 meters above sea level. It is higher than any mountain in the continental United States except for Alaska or in Europe outside the Caucasus.

Ararat is a dormant volcano; the last eruption was on June 2, 1840. At present the upper third of the mountain is covered with snow all the time; the last hundred meters of snow at the top have turned to ice. For climbers on the mountain, fresh running water is available after the sun has been up a while to melt the snow, but it is cut off in the late afternoon when cold air has overcome the heat of the sun. Below the snow the slopes are covered with great blocks of black basalt rock, some as large as village houses.

Over the years various groups have explored Ararat in the hopes of finding remains of Noah's Ark. Both Josephus in about 70 A.D. and Marco Polo about 1300 A.D. mention its existence on the mountain, but their reports are based on others' accounts. Josephus remarks that its remains are on display for all to see without need of an organized exploration. In more recent years many groups have hunted for it there. The possibility that ancient fables are historical fact is intriguing, and each new discovery of truth in previously discredited records gives additional strength to continuing the search for archaeological confirmation.

However, the problems of establishing exactly what the biblical record in this case means are serious ones that need to be settled even before one accepts this particular high mountain as the right place to look for the ark. In itself even that ignores the possibility that Noah and his family used up the ark in bits and pieces to build their new homes, a fate that has destroyed many other famous structures in the Near East since.

The story of Noah's ark, as it is told in the Bible, is a reworking of an earlier Babylonian myth recorded in the Gilgamesh Epic. The hero of the earlier version is one Utnapishtim, the favorite of Ea, the god of wisdom. It seems probable that the Babylonian story was based on an unusually devastating flood in the Euphrates (Firat) River basin, and that the ark in it grounded on the slopes of one of the Zagros mountains. The biblical word that we read as "Ararat" could as well be read "Urartu"; the text has merely "rrt" and the proper vowels must be supplied.

Urartu was the name of a historical kingdom, but the word also meant "a land far away" and "a place in the north." So, while Buyuk Agri Dagi is a spectacular mountain and not a difficult one to climb for those experienced in high altitude exercise, it still seems less than likely that Noah's Ark will be found there. That doubt does not detract from the continuing interest in it, nor from the important achievements of archaeologists in deepening our understanding of the Old Testament.

Climbing the AraratOn the north side, Ararat has its roots in the Araxes (Aras) River valley. There it rises from the valley elevation of about 760 meters above sea level. In that area the Araxes River is the border demarcation between Turkey and Armenia. The top of the mountain is only about 30 kilometers from the border. For some years both the Turkish and the Soviet governments have been touchy about foreigners exploring on Ararat because of military security precautions. Therefore it was difficult to get permission to climb it for sports fans. On 1st of November 2004 Ararat Mountain and surroundings were declared as the 35th National Park of Turkey by the Government so it's believed that it will attract more visitors and help to the local economy as well. So far there are no ski resorts on the mountain but you never know, maybe one day... The nearest one is on Bubi Mountain which is open from December till April.

If one has that permission, it is best to plan the trip starting from Dogubayazit on the south, a saving of more than a kilometer in climbing. One can start from Dogubayazit by jeep or sturdy station wagon, traveling across the valley to the base of the mountain where pre-engaged local guides will meet the party. The average hiker who is experienced in high altitudes can make the climb in three days, but it is better to plan four days to allow for exploration of the summit. Late August is the best season.

All About Turkey © Burak Sansal 1996–2014, a certified professional tour guide in Turkey. Contact Burak at buraksan@superonline.com for all kinds of regular and/or private travel services throughout the country.