Tosp, the Ancient Capital of the Kingdom of Van

Tushpa, the Ancient Capital of the Kingdom of VanTosp (Armenian: Տոսպ ) is an ancient city, the capital of the Kingdom of Van (Urartu) in its heyday. Tosp was located on the shore of Lake Van, on the western outskirts of the modern city of Van. The main element of the architecture of Tosp was the Van rock, the residence of the kings.

The existence of the Kingdom of Van was documented since the 13th century BC. The state ceased to exist in the 6th century BC.

The Kingdom of Van, occupying the territory of the Armenian Highlands (modern Armenia, Eastern Turkey, Northwestern Iran, and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan), has been in leading positions among the states of the region,

“Urartu” (Ուրարտու) is the Assyrian name of the kingdom, which has been used since the 9th century BC in Assyrian and Babylonian notes. In the 10th century BC, another variant of the name, Urarti, was used.

There is also an early Assyrian name – “Country of Nairi”. This name was first used in the 13th-11th centuries BC, but Lake Van retained its old name of “the sea of the Nairi country” in the Assyrian texts in the subsequent period as well.

In this regard, a fragment of a bronze bas-relief depicting the Assyrian army under the command of Shalmaneser III, who defeated the army of the Kingdom of Van during the reign of King Aram in 858-856 BC in the battle near the shores of Lake Van, is particularly notable. The inscription on the bas-relief says, “I put my name by the sea of the country of Nairi and made sacrifices.”

The first studies of the Van rock were conducted by young French scientist Eduard Schultz at the beginning of the 19th century. Schultz was sent to Van to study the message of the medieval Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi about the participation of the Assyrian Queen Shamiram in the construction of the city on the shore of Lake Van.

In particular, Schultz made a copy of the so-called “Chronicles of Khorkhor” by King Argishti I, one of the main documents on the history of the Kingdom of Van cut on the western side of Van rock, which was badly damaged by cannon shells during the battles of the World War I.

At the end of the 19th century, a small expeditionary group of the British Museum and groups from Germany conducted research in Tosp. Valuable artifacts found during the works of these groups now decorate the British and Berlin Museums. Besides, a multi-volume work of Lehmann-Haupt based on the results of that research was published.

In 1915-1916 during the period when Van was occupied by the troops of the Russian Empire, excavations in Tosp were carried out by a group of archaeologists from the Russian Archaeological Society under the leadership of academicians Hovsep Orbeli and Nicholas Marr.

Their group was lucky to dig out the chronicles of Sardury II, another important document in studying the history of the kingdom, buried in the niches of the north-eastern slope of the Van rock.

Since the expedition of the Russian Archaeological Society, no large-scale excavations have been carried out in and near Tosp. Small reconnaissance work was done by a British group in 1948.

Meanwhile, the fortress of Tosp was badly damaged in regular illegal excavations of Turks and Kurds in search for buried treasures.

The history of the Kingdom of Van is very interesting as it was quite developed for its time. In the days of King Ishpuini and his son Menua, a lot of rooms for various purposes were cut out in the Van rock.

Different levels of the construction were connected with each other via ladders. The exact purpose of the cave system is still unknown, but it is precisely established that the rooms located in the lower portion of the rock were used as a royal burial place.

In the farthest of the lower caves, a columbarium, a chamber with 78 holes for placing funeral urns with ashes left after cremation, was located.

The upper “caves” of the southern slope of the Van rock had spacious rooms with high ceilings, palace appearance, and preserved traces of painting on the walls. Scientists consider them royal chambers, which correlates with the works of Movses Khorenatsi who, describing the architecture of Tosp, wrote that in the “hard rock various palaces, chambers with resting rooms, treasuries were cut out.”

Due to the fact that the western part of the rock was lower than the central one, a powerful fortress tower was built on it. To the left of the tower were the main gates of a citadel.

The buildings on the Van rock were several-level. The outer walls and rooms cut out in the rock were painted with bright colors, mostly red and blue. Movses Khorenatsi mentioned three-story luxury buildings built during the reign of King Menua.

In addition, in order to provide Tosp with enough fresh water and to irrigate the surrounding territories, a seventy-kilometer water channel was built under Menua (the water of Lake Van is salty and unsuitable for irrigation).

This grandiose construction with height of up to 15 meters and a hanging water bridge across the Khoshab River has been working until today without interruptions for 2500 years, supplying fresh water to the areas near the modern city of Van.

The only reconstruction of the canal in the modern period was done in 1950 when the individual walls of water conduits were reinforced with concrete structures.

The water supply in the channel depends on the time of the year and ranges from 2 to 5 cubic meters of water per second. Scientists believe that the engineering characteristics of this channel are not in any way inferior to modern hydraulic structures.

The translation of an inscription on one of the stones of the “Menua’s Channel” reads, “The power of the god Khaldi helped Menua, the son of Ishpuini, build this channel. Thus, its name will be Menua’s Channel.

By the greatness of god Khaldi, Menua is the mighty, great king of the country of Biainili, the ruler of Tosp-city.

Menua says, “Let the one who destroys this inscription, breaks it, forces someone to commit these deeds, or tells, “I built this channel”, be destroyed by Khaldi, Teisheba, and Shivini.”

In 685 BC, Rusa II (Armenian: Հրաչյա, according to Movses Khorenatsi) acceded the throne and focused his efforts on intense renovation and construction in his state. Under Rusa II, over 10 new cities were built, including Teishebaini.

By the period of Rusa II’s rule, the Van rock had already been completely overbuilt, so new buildings have not been built on it since the reign of Rusa I. Rusa II decided to move the capital from Tosp to the newly fortified Rusahinili fortress located a few kilometers east of Tosp.

After the transfer of the capital to Rusahinili, Tosp continued to exist as a fortress and a city settlement without its former grandeur. At the beginning of the 6th century BC, Tosp was destroyed by the Medes and later rebuilt as the new city of Van.

• View of the Van rock from the side of Lake Van.
• View of the Van rock.
• Entrance to the “royal rooms”.
• View from the side of the fortress with the inscription of King Argishti.
• Sketch of the Van rock by the first archaeologists and researchers, the end of the 19th century.
• Sketch of fragments of structures in Tosp based on bronze ware, the British Museum.
• Channel of Menua today.
• A sketch of the Menua’s Channel by European archaeologists of the 19th century.
• The chronicles of Sarduri II discovered in a niche in 1915.
• Chronicles of King Argishti.
• The inscription of Xerxes the Great on the wall of the citadel of Van.
• A ceremonial hall cut into the rock in the royal rooms.
• The square with the chronicles of Sarduri II located on the northern slope of the Van rock.
• The damaged fragment of Sarduri’s chronicles.
• Works on turning around the record of Sarduri II.
• The north side of the fortress of Van.
• Scheme of royal rooms.
• The site of the southern slope of Van cliff.
• A fragment of a bronze bas-relief depicting the Assyrian army.
• Royal rooms painted with inscriptions in support of the independence of Kurdistan.
• The citadel of Van’s fortress.
• The citadel of Van’s fortress – entrance.
• The citadel of Van’s fortress.
• The citadel of Van’s fortress.
• Elements of the southern wall of the Van rock and the south gate’s staircase.
• Elements of the southern wall of the Van rock. The main staircase to the royal rooms.
• Elements of the southern wall of Van rock and southern gates.
• Tosp on the map of the Kingdom of Van with modern states in the background.
• Map of the Kingdom of Van during the reign of Aram.
• Map of the Kingdom of Van during the reign of Sarduri I.

Related Publications


  1. Half of me is Vanazi…
    I hate to be critical of my Armenian ancestors, but at the end of the day I still have to go back to the final days of greater Armenia approximately AD 1065 when the savages arrived at our doorsteps and ask the millennial question, why did we fail to protect our nation from Turkish invasion? Didn’t we as a race realize how high were the stakes? At the end of the day we as people need to look in the mirror and accept responsibility for being who we are as people and why the word unity lacks from our moral fiber…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *