Lake Urmia (Classical Armenian Kaputan Dzov [“Blue Sea”]) lies some 4,000 feet above sea level, extends 100 miles from north to south, and is 24 miles wide with an area of 1,800 square miles.
The largest of the three Armenian lakes and the only significant body of water in Iran, its area is deceptive, for Lake Urmia is extremely shallow—more a lagoon than a lake—averaging only 15 to 15.7 feet and nowhere more than 44 feet in depth.
Subject to the same process of desiccation that has affected the Caspian Sea, Lake Aral, and other bodies of water in Central Asia, Lake Urmia was originally much larger.
Today surrounded by marshes, quicksands, and salt flats, the towns of Urmia, Maragha, and even Tabriz, which once stood on its shores, now lie many miles away.
Having no outlet, the lake is extremely alkaline, and its waters are almost as lifeless as those of the Dead Sea.
The lake supports neither fish nor mollusks, and only a few crustaceans live in it. Among its many islands, Shahi was the largest but is now a peninsula.
On Shahi, the Mongol emperor Hulegu Khan built a fortress to contain his treasures and there he was buried in 1265.