The small city of Doğubeyazıt, situated alongside Turkey’s border with Iran, is home to one of the finest examples of Ottoman palace architecture. The opulent Ishak Pasha Palace stands at the crossroads of civilizations and accordingly blends together Ottoman, Persian and even European styles. Doğubeyazıt may be a challenge to reach, but the splendor of the palace rewards those who make the effort.
Doğubeyazıt is also the closest city to Mt. Ararat (Ağri Daği), the country’s highest mountain. What’s more, is that a nearby location is home to a peculiar formation that many believe to be the ark of Noah himself!
At the end of this guide to Ishak Pasha Palace and the Noah’s Ark site, learn more about transport and accommodation down below.
Ishak Pasha Palace: A Brief History
Construction on the palace began in 1685. But it wasn’t finished until a century later in 1784, during the time of Ishak Pasha, after whom the structure is now named. Ishak Pasha was a local general whose family had long administered the region during the days of the Ottoman Empire.
His background remains up for debate to this day, though many believe he was a Kurd. In any case, he and his family became incredibly wealthy thanks to the lucrative silk trade that passed through Doğubeyazıt.
And with their wealth, the local pashas (high-ranking Ottoman officials) sought to build the most beautiful and unique palace in the land. They certainly got what they asked for, as the elaborate palace blends Ottoman, Baroque, Persian, Seljuk and Armenian styles. It was even once furnished with colorful stained-glass windows.
According to British army officer Frederick Burnaby, who visited the palace about 80 years after it was built, the mastermind behind the project was an Armenian architect. The pasha supposedly cut off the architect’s hands so that he could never build something for a rival. Such stories are commonplace throughout the world, however, and best taken with a grain of salt.
While it seems completely isolated today, the palace was once the heart of the original Doğubeyazıt. Now referred to as Eski (Old) Doğubeyazıt, it was once a thriving city of 250,00. Hardly anything remains today, however.
In 1930, it was completely destroyed by the Turks in response to a Kurdish uprising. The stone and wood from the ruins were then used to construct the modern city of Doğubeyazıt. Thankfully, the palace, along with a few old mosques, remain mostly intact.
Ishak Pasha Palace takes up a total area of 7,600 square meters. While perched high up above the surrounding planes, it still would’ve been fairly vulnerable given the advances in weaponry of the time. But the palace was likely intended as more of a pleasure house from the start.
The Russians, however, did use it as a defensive outpost during their occupation of the region in the early 20th century. It was later left abandoned for decades before later being restored in the 1950s.
Approaching the entrance, the elaborate entry portal offers a taste of what’s to come. In addition to its Persian-style muqarnas (ornamented vaulting), the carved reliefs take inspiration from Europe. In particular, the Rococo, or the Late Baroque style, which is known for its curvy, highly ornamental style.
The First Courtyard
Entering the palace, you’ll first find yourself inside the First Courtyard. It’s relatively empty and void of decoration compared with the other sections, as this was a place for workers of lower status. And as we’ll cover shortly, even prisoners!
One of the highlights here is the fountain, carved in a typical Ottoman style. It was nicknamed the ‘Milk Fountain’ based on a legend that one tap would emit milk and the other water. It still functions today (with just water) and there are benches on either side for sitting and relaxing.
There are numerous side rooms attached to the First Courtyard, one of which is the old guard ward where palace security slept. But considering how the rectangular room, which lacks any windows, was originally roofed over, it appears more like a prison.
The actual prison, though, is nearby and can be accessed via a descending staircase. The dark dungeon is home to six cells, each one lit by a single lamp.
As far as we know, the most famous prisoner kept here was Pierre Amédée Jaubert, a French orientalist and adviser to Napolean.
After acting as an interpreter for Napolean in Egypt, he later traveled to Anatolia. In 1805, he was imprisoned here by the pasha (presumably Ishak Pasha’s successor, given the timeline) on his way to forge an alliance with Qajar Persia. After four months in the dungeon, he was finally released when the pasha died.
Also within the First Courtyard is another descending staircase to the former stables. It’s currently blocked off to visitors, as it’s one of the few areas not touched during the restorations.
The Second Courtyard & Mabeyn
Through a Gothic-style portal decorated with ornate cyprus tree motifs, visitors enter the Second Courtyard. From here you can get a close-up view of the mosque, one of the palace’s visual highlights.
The courtyard is also home to the beautifully carved octagonal tomb of Ishak Pasha himself. Well, at least probably. While the tomb was left unnamed, the dates in the inscription line up with the year Ishak Pasha died (1799).
The palace complex also once contained a graveyard but it’s all been damaged beyond repair.
As you stand in the center of the courtyard, you’ll notice two doors: one straight ahead which leads to the harem section, and a Seljuk-style portal to the right. This leads to the mabeyn section, or the place where state affairs were handled.
One of the notable landmarks of the mabeyn is the Oriole Room which offers clear views of the surrounding landscape. But be sure to look down from the terrace to see the unique carved wooden figures.
While hard to discern from this angle, three different figures are depicted here: an eagle, a lion and a human – possibly intended to represent Ishak Pasha himself.
Elsewhere around the mabeyn section, you’ll encounter numerous identical rooms which served as lodging for males. The largest of the rooms, meanwhile, a rectangular space filled with elegant arched window, served as the Imperial Council Hall.
Visitors also have the chance the enter the mosque. Note the multiple marble pillars in addition to the Ottoman and Baroque/Rococo ornamentation. Also look up to see the finely painted frescoes on the dome.
While the mosque is no longer active, you’ll still need to remove your shoes upon entry.
Returning to the Second Courtyard, you can now enter the harem section through its impressive portal. It’s been completely decorated in high relief carvings of lions and other vegetal motifs.
Like the other portals of Ishak Pasha Palace, there are muqarnas above the entrance. And carved epigraphs above the door praise both Allah and Ishak Pasha himself.
The harem section was the private quarters of the pasha and his family, including his many concubines. Stepping inside, one of the first rooms you’ll encounter is the kitchen.
The kitchen, complete with multiple stone archways, is surprisingly impressive. With so many people living in the palace, it was likely in constant use. Even today, its walls remain blackened.
But supposedly, many of the other palace rooms were used for cooking by the Russians during their occupation. The walls then had to be scrubbed during the intensive restorations.
The Ottomans loved their hammams, or baths, and no Turkish palace would be complete without one. Of course, hot baths were also necessary in such a harsh climate. The palace builders even devised a central heating system that involved pipes carrying hot water all throughout the complex.
Nearby, you can find a centuries-old squatting toilet, a design which remains sadly all too prevalent throughout the region today.
The most ornate room of the harem – and of the entire palace itself – is the columned Ceremonial Hall. It was here that family meetings and feasts would be held.
All around the room, you’ll find numerous arches containing various epigraphs. Some praise the pasha while other verses were taken from the Hadith, or book of Muhammad’s sayings.
The harem contains as many as 14 bedrooms which were inhabited by the pasha’s concubines. You’ll have to traverse the labyrinthine hallways to see them all. But as the rooms appear nearly identical, exploration can be rather disorienting.
The Urartian Castle
But that’s not all there is to see at Ishak Pasha Palace. Across from the main palace area is an additional fortress and mosque. The area is open to the public, so don’t miss the chance to check it out during your visit.
Heading up the walkway, the first structure you’ll encounter is the Old Beyazit Mosque. As mentioned above, the palace area is situated right in the center of the original Doğubeyazıt. And while very little remains of the old town, a few mosques like this one are still standing.
The mosque was inaccessible during my visit, but the platform just beside it offers tremendous views of Ishak Pasha Palace and the surrounding countryside.
Further up, built alongside the natural rocky outcrop, is the Urartian castle. Believe it or not, it predates Ishak Pasha Palace by thousands of years! This region was once part of the vast kingdom of Urartu, an iron-age civilization which formed in the 9th century BC.
The kingdom was headquartered at Lake Van, and their vast territory encompassed much of eastern Anatolia, most of present-day Armenia and parts of present-day Iran.
If you’re visiting eastern Turkey, you owe it to yourself to visit Van, about three hours from Doğubeyazıt by bus. There, not only can you visit the main Urartian fortress overlooking Lake Van, but also a recently-opened museum entirely dedicated to Urartian culture. It’s both massive and one of the best archaeological museums in the country.
As for the castle here at Doğubeyazıt, there’s not a whole lot to see within the walls. But visitors are free to climb up the slippery dirt trails, and as you’d expect, the views are spectacular.
There are supposed to be ancient Urartian tombs here along with some carved reliefs, but I wasn’t able to find them.
Ishak Pasha Palace alone is well worth the journey to Doğubeyazıt. But that’s not where your adventure has to end. The area is also home to what many believe to be the landing point of the Noah’s Ark!
Though I’d been hoping to visit, the site is about 30 km east of Doğubeyazıt, and my hotel couldn’t give me concrete info on taxi costs. Furthermore, I’d be traveling onward to Van later that day, and wasn’t quite sure of the bus schedule.
But while at the palace, I got chatting with an English-speaking staff member who was kind enough to make some calls and confirm the details. It turned out that I’d indeed have enough time to see the ark. He also arranged a taxi, and since it’d been awhile since he visited the ark, he hopped in the car to join me!
On the way there, he instructed the driver to take an alternate route from the one cars normally take. Not only was this route more scenic, but we also drove through several villages on the way. All were once majority Armenian, but since the Ottomans purged them from the land in the early 20th century, they’ve all been taken over by Kurds.
My companion was telling me how despite the historical animosity between the two groups, his relatives once lived side by side the Armenians and considered them ‘good neighbors.’
Before long, we eventually reached the ark.
Everyone has heard the story of Noah, the flood and his ark. But not too many people are aware that according to the Bible, Noah landed at Ararat, the name for Turkey’s highest mountain and for the wider region around it. Ararat, in fact, is the Hebrew word for Urartu! (see above)
The boat-shaped formation first grabbed the attention of a Turkish captain named Ilhan Durupinar as he was doing aerial surveys in 1959. Word soon spread far and wide, with numerous Turkish and international researchers coming to examine the site over the coming decades.
One of the most well-known individuals to study the formation was an American named Ron Wyatt. Wyatt made repeated trips here from 1977 until his death in 1999. And he was convinced that the shape is not geological, but the petrified wooden remains of an actual ark.
Wyatt, however, was never trained as an archaeologist, and thus his findings have largely been ridiculed by the academic community. Be that as it may, his research remains widely popular within Christian evangelical circles. Whether you’re Christian or not, there’s a lot of thought-provoking information about his findings on this website.
Mysteriously, the Visitor’s Center established just above the lookout point was suddenly abandoned not long ago. And no archaeological excavations are currently taking place.
It’s strange to consider that what could potentially be one of the most significant sites in all of human history is now little more a side attraction to check out for a few minutes.
But whether or not you’re convinced that this is the real ark, the area is still interesting for a few other reasons. From here you can get a clear view of Iran, as the international border lies just 3 kilometers away.
And this is also one of the best places in the region to see Mt. Ararat and its smaller sibling, Little Ararat.
Known locally as Ağri Daği, Mt. Ararat is Turkey’s tallest mountain. Today, Armenia lies just on the other side, and the mountain had long been part of its territory. While it was officially ceded to Turkey by the Russians in the 1917 Treaty of Kars, the mountain remains Armenia’s national symbol.
But Ararat is an elusive mountain. It was completely obscured by clouds during my visit to the ark, with only the peak of Little Ararat visible. According to my companion, it’s covered by clouds over 300 days of the year. I also recalled having no luck when trying to view it from the Armenian side at Khor Virap.
Thankfully, I had managed to catch a clear view of the mountain the previous evening as I walked around Doğubeyazıt. As my hotel’s terrace was closed for renovations, I could only catch a glimpse through some buildings on the city’s outskirts. But I was just happy to see it at all.
Many travelers visit Doğubeyazıt to climb Mt. Ararat, a trek which lasts around 4 days. The experience was highly recommended to me by some other guests at my hotel. But while I seriously considered joining the next group excursion, I decided instead to save it for a future visit.
Most people reach Doğubeyazıt from either Kars to the north or from Van to the south. Van is also home to the nearest airport.
There are direct buses between Van and Doğubeyazıt and the ride lasts around 3 hours. You can catch them from the Van Otogar (bus terminal), which lies a bit out of town. You can reach the otogar itself via local bus or taxi. A taxi should cost around 20-25 TL from the city center (as of the summer of 2020).
The buses, while direct, are handled by smaller regional companies which won’t appear on any of the typical bus booking websites. Unfortunately, the timetables are mostly kept secret as well. Your best bet is to ask at your hotel (which probably won’t know) or just show up early at the otogar and wait for the next bus.
Coming from Kars is a bit more tricky, as there are no direct buses. You will need to transfer at a city called Iğdır.
The bus from Kars to Iğdır does not leave from the main Kars Otogar, but a local terminal within the city center. It’s labelled as ‘The Village of Kars Bus Terminal’ on Google Maps. The ride lasts around 3 hours and buses depart every hour or so.
Once in Iğdır, the onward bus to Doğubeyazıt does not depart from the same spot where you get off. You’ll have to walk about 10 minutes down the same road, and the location is clearly marked on the Maps.me app.
The ride to Doğubeyazıt will not be on a coach bus but a smaller minibus, or dolmuş. The ride lasts about an hour, and you’ll be dropped off at the local minibus terminal. Doğubeyazıt is small enough that the various terminals are all walkable from the center.
Ishak Pasha Palace is about 6 km out of town. It’s most easily reached by taxi, though it’s also possible via public transport. The public bus, however, does not leave on a set schedule, but only once the bus fills up with passengers.
To find the bus, you’ll first want to find Doğuş Hotel situated along Belediye Cd. From there you’ll want to cross the street and head southeast down Ishak Pasha Sk.
You will pass by a taxi stand and later a large empty lot on your right. It should be in front of this lot that the bus appears and waits.
Just note that there is no signage anywhere at all. And in my case, I arrived at around 8:45 am and found nothing. Even after waiting around for 20 minutes, no bus appeared.
I finally went back over to Doğuş Hotel to ask the staff if I was indeed in the right area. They said yes, and were kind enough to bring me some tea as I waited for a bus to show up. Finally, around 9:20 or so, one did.
While I didn’t stay at Doğuş Hotel, their staff were incredibly helpful and kind and I’d definitely consider staying there on a future visit.
Unfortunately, my difficulties didn’t end when the bus showed up. The bus simply wouldn’t leave. I ended up waiting another 30 minutes or so and the bus still wouldn’t depart.
After wasting over an hour in total waiting for this bus, I lost my patience and took a taxi. (I was hoping to get my visit out of the way early enough to make the bus to Van that afternoon.)
I paid 25 TL, or about $3.50 at the time. This was just one way, and the taxi driver will give you his card so you can call him when you’re done. This is a good system, as you don’t have to worry about the time as you explore.
But as mentioned above, I decided to go to the Noah’s Ark location at the last minute. I went in another taxi for that excursion which was arranged by the friendly staff member at the palace.
I paid 180 TL which, looking back, I think was a little too much. The driver, at least, dropped me off at my hotel on the way back. And as mentioned, I got a free English-speaking guide to accompany me during the trip.
The palace staff member was even kind enough to help me find the bus stand and book my ticket for Van.
I stayed at a place called Star Apart Hotel. I walked in without a reservation and they ended up having a room available. Actually, it was an entire multi-room apartment and it only cost me 90 TL ($12 or $13 at the time).
The staff were kind and helpful and I’d recommend it to others. Strangely, though, all of the water was piping hot, including what came out of the sink.
I think it has to do with the property being connected with a public bathhouse, but it was a strange issue I’d never experienced before (normally having only cold water is the problem!)
As mentioned above, I also recommend Doğuş Hotel. While I didn’t stay there, I received great hospitality and kindness simply upon walking in to ask them a question.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.