Van Ulu Camii
Van, Turkey
The remnants of the Great Mosque of Van -- the lower half of a minaret and foundation walls -- are often dated to Seljuk rule in the twelfth century. Art historian Aslanapa, who excavated the site in 1970-72, proposes a later construction date during the first rule of Qara Qoyunlu Sultan Qara Yusuf (1389-1400) based on a historical analysis of the d ecorative elements. A segment of a Ottoman period wall, part of a 1721 addition, has also survived to the west of the minaret. The mosque was abandoned after the collapse of its roof in the 1844 earthquake and was destroyed to its current state during World War I. It is one of the few relics remaining from historic Van, which was burnt to the ground during the same war.

The restituted floor plan drawn in 1913 by W. Bachmann was largely confirmed by the archaeological findings of Aslanapa. The mosque, based on this plan, was made up of a series of vaulted bays on three sides of a domed sanctuary and measured about twenty-six meters on the north-south axis. Its width of about thirty meters at qibla was reduced to twenty-seven and a half meters on the northern wall due to two set backs along the western wall. Its tall pishtaq, located at the north end of the eastern elevation, was flanked by a thick round minaret with a square base chamfered on the outer corner. An enclosed portico with a portal was added along the north wall under Ottoman rule; this is the only wall segment that has survived.

The interior of the mosque was divided into six rows and six to seven aisles with tall, octagonal piers. The square sanctuary, which occupied nine bays at the center of the qibla wall, was covered with an elaborate muqarnas vault terminating at about sixteen meters with an umbrella dome. The dome was carried on six thick archways that connected the sanctuary with arcades to its east, west and north and was covered with a two-stepped conical crown on the exterior. Longitudinal vaults capped at half the dome's height covered the arcades. The interior was lit with a total of sixteen windows on four walls.

Photographs of the ruined mosque from 1913 show elaborate brick decorations on the portal and minaret. The square doorway of the portal was topped with a kufic inscriptive plaque and set inside a pointed arch with interlocking geometric motifs outlined with tiles in its tympanum. Two rectangular bands -- one with geometric motifs and another bearing a kufic inscription framed the ensemble, flanked by two piers with niches on either side. The brick body of the minaret was adorned with a series of simple tile bands.

The interior of the sanctuary was also richly decorated with brickwork and carved stucco. The mihrab, in particular, was set in an imposing frame with carved stucco arabesques filling in between tiles outlining geometric motifs and kufic inscriptions. A braided kufic band enveloped the sides of the sanctuary above the mihrab. A narrow thuluth inscription and series of trilobed arches carved with inscriptions filled the space between the kufic band and the dome archways. The muqarnas vault of the sanctuary was adorned with a variety of brick patterns highlighted with glazed tiles. Traces of painted stucco carvings were also found on the remnants of arcade vaults outside the sanctuary. The mosque was constructed entirely of brick on a foundation of stone masonry.


Aslanapa, Oktay. Turkish art and architecture, 170-171. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.

Aslanapa, Oktay. "Kazisi Tamamlandiktan Sonra Van Ulu Camii." Sanat Tarihi Yilligi 5 (1973): 1-25.

Bachmann, Walter. Kirchen und Moscheen in Armenien und Kurdistan, 69-74. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1913.

Kuban, Dogan. Selçuklu cag ginda Anadolu sanati, 112-114. Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Kültür Sanat yay., 2002.

Uluçam, Abdüsselâm. Ortaçag ve sonrasinda Van Gölü çevresi mimarligi, 28-33. Ankara: T.C. Kültür Bakanligi, 2000.
Van, Turkey
Images & Videos
12th or 14th c./5th or 8th c. AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Great Mosque of Van
Ulu Cami
Building Usages