Hasan Baba has stuck to the same daily routine for the past 23 years. When he wakes up in his little room at the information centre near Durupınar, he looks out through his window and sees the eternal snow cap of Mount Ararat. Then he makes tea. He tidies up the exhibition room, cleaning the modest collection that includes pictures, drawings, newspaper clippings, fossils and mysterious chunks which, according to the labels, are petrified wood dating from the time of the “Great Flood”. The elderly Kurd always stops in front of one framed letter. It came all the way from the United States. In it, David Fasold, the centre's founder, asks Hasan Baba how he is coping with the harsh winter of 1989.
Then the centre's guard sits and waits for visitors. Sometimes, nobody turns up. Durupınar is on Turkey's border with Iran, and Armenia is also only 30 km, or 18.6 miles, away. Barbed wire and army detachments now guard the peaks in this mountainous region that the Silk Road once passed through. One military unit is stationed at the Durupınar exit on route D100, which connects the border with the nearby city of Doğubeyazıt. The highways are punctuated with road blocks, which are not just there in anticipation of problems between NATO-member Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Located deep within Kurdistan, the region falls within the PKK's activity zone. Sometimes its members kidnap tourists who arrive to climb Big Ararat's 5,137 m, or 16,854 ft, high volcanic cone. Tourism authorities have attempted to solve the problem by introducing a complicated system for issuing mountain climbing permits, which take two months to obtain. Incidents are still occurring, however. This July, the PKK kidnapped three Germans on Ararat.
Hasan Baba is happy when visitors do arrive. With dignity worthy of his official role as the guardian of Noah's Ark, he leads tourists onto the panoramic terrace in front of the centre. From there, you can see what Fasold, Hasan Baba and many others claim to be the ship Noah used to save humans and animals from the Flood.
The huge stone mass in the form of a ship lies on the opposite side of a small ravine. Local authorities take it seriously enough to have placed an official sign for the attraction at the D100 exit: Nuhun Gemisi, or Noah's Ark. The place is also known as Durupınar, in honour of the Turkish military pilot İlhan Durupınar, who first noticed and photographed the strange object during a flight in 1959.
The whole story is rather muddled and shows the impact that a few lines published in an authoritative source can have.
The adventures of the righteous Noah and his ship filled with animals of every species and sex are told in Genesis 6-9. Unfortunately, however, the only information about where the saviours of humanity set foot on dry ground for the first time is rather vague. "The mountains of Ararat," says the Old Testament, offering no further details.
The mountain, with its two peaks known as Big and Little Ararat, has always made the shortlist. The setting is certainly dramatic enough for an event like the salvation of humanity. Ararat's snow-covered peaks, which are often hidden in clouds, rise above the plain like a gigantic pile of flour.
Now, of course, the landscape has changed to a certain extent. The plain is scattered with scanty vegetation. Roads crisscross it and cars travelling along them kick up long trails of dust. These roads lead to impoverished villages with stone houses and tin roofs. During the summer, the residents gather sheep dung, shape it into bricks and build towering manure pyramids in their yards. During the winter they use them for fuel.
The first famous pilgrim to come here in search of Noah's Ark was the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in the 7th Century. Centuries later Marco Polo provided the first description of the place when he stopped by on his way to China: "In the heart of Greater Armenia is a very high mountain shaped like a cube (or cup), on which Noah's Ark is said to have rested, whence it is called the Mountain of Noah's Ark. The mountain is so broad and long that it takes more than two days to go around it. On the summit the snow lies so deep all the year round that no one can ever climb it; this snow never entirely melts, but new snow is forever falling on the old, so that the level rises."
Real interest in Ararat developed only in the 19th Century, when the Ottoman Empire became more welcoming to foreign travellers. Groups of Christians set out for the mountain on foot – and a century later at least three pilgrims were convinced that they had seen the Ark. Their stories contradict each other, however. For example, US Sergeant Ed Davis claimed that during his 1943 visit the Ark was unreachable but clearly visible. He also reported that the hull was broken in two. Twenty years later David Duckworth reported that he had not only reached the Ark's remains, but had also helped himself to a few souvenirs.
The first "more reliable" evidence appeared in 1949, when the US Defence Intelligence Agency photographed a strange black object on Ararat. Its similarity to a ship is undeniable. Since then, the Ararat Anomaly, located at a height of 4,663 m, or 15,300 ft, continues to excite the imagination. Dozens of photos from the air and space made over the years have led geologists to claim that the anomaly is a "trick of nature". However, the fact that the place is unreachable to mountaineers and almost covered in a thick layer of glacial ice leaves the door open for hypotheses. Another part of the mountain, the so-called Ahora Gorge, is also a frequently cited candidate for the Ark's final landing place.
One of the most recent expeditions set out in 2007. The mixed Turkish-Hong Kong team found a sample of something it claimed was fossilised wood. It's more likely volcanic tuff, however.
So how does Durupınar fit into the picture? It's considerably lower than Ararat, at around 2,000 m, or 6,562 ft, above sea level. This contradicts the description in Genesis, which says that the Ark landed on the peak of the highest mountain.
Durupınar himself quickly admitted his error. In 1960 he took part in an excavation of the site financed by the Turkish government. All they found was debris and rocks. The researchers decided that the "ship" is simply a natural formation.
An article in Life magazine about the discovery, however, had already gone to press – and amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt read it that year. In 1977 he managed to make it to Durupınar. Wyatt brought along a tape measure.
When he saw the results of the measurements, he was astonished. The "trick of nature" was exactly as long as Noah's Ark!
Without paying attention to the tiny detail that the Durupınar formation was quite a bit wider than the Old Testament ship, Wyatt dedicated the remainder of his life to popularising the place.
At first nobody paid any attention. But in 1985 he met a kindred soul – a former officer in the US Merchant Marine, David Fasold. Uniting their efforts, the two even discovered Noah's stone anchors in one of the nearby villages.
On the Internet, you'll find claims that the place is called Kazan. Hasan Baba, however, will point you towards Sağlıksuyu. It's located on a dirt road that turns off the D975 from Doğubeyazıt to the city of Iğdir. When you arrive, just ask for Nuhun Taş, or Noah's rocks. As a foreigner, you'll immediately be an object of enormous curiosity, so sooner or later you'll find what you're looking for.
Get ready for a surreal sight. Gigantic stones are sticking up or lying down, scattered in artistic disarray among the humble houses – if something that looks like randomly slapped-together metal sheets can be called a "house".
The dust has been trampled down by herds of goats and sheep, and the village children use the stones as their playground. They clamber over them and slide down their sloping sides. In the distance you can see Big Ararat. Some of the stones have huge circular holes at the top. According to Fasold and Wyatt, that's where Noah tied the ropes that connected them to the Ark. Crosses have been carved into all of them.
The truth, however, is different - you are standing in a graveyard.
Three thousand years ago, when this region was part of the Kingdom of Urartu – a name quite similar to Ararat – the stones were worshipped as idols. In 301, Armenia, which occupied these lands after the disintegration of Alexander the Great's empire, adopted Christianity. The old stones became something of an embarrassment, so they decided to “baptise” them as well. They cut crosses into their surfaces, removed them from the sacred places where the Urartians had set them and used them as gravestones.
When faith speaks, however, facts must be silent. During the 1990s Fasold accepted geologists' opinions that Durupınar was a natural formation. Wyatt, however, clung to his beliefs until his death in 1999.
Hasan Baba also wholeheartedly believes that he is guarding Noah's Ark. If you ask him, he'll even lead you to Durupınar so you can touch the ship that Noah used to save humanity and the animals from the flood.
How To Get There
Doğubeyazıt is in the easternmost part of Turkey. However, since it lies along the busy international motorway D100 (imagine a present-day Silk Road), you can easily take it from Ankara without worrying about getting lost. You'll find more tourists on the road to Durupınar. Leave Doğubeyazıt and head towards the border with Iran. As you drive, look for a sign to the right – facing the opposite direction from you. Why all the signs marking Nuhun Gemisi can only be read if you're coming from Iran and not from Doğubeyazıt remains a mystery.
10 Things To Do Around Ararat
Peer into The Crater. This deep hole is almost on the border to Iran. To find it, follow signs reading Meteor Çukuru, which start appearing shortly before the border checkpoint. Make sure you have your passport ready – it'll be checked at least twice.
Get your first impressions of Iran – through the barbed wire fence you can see only hills and pillars crowned with turbans. But at least it's a start.
Continue gathering impressions as you pass by the army base in Doğubeyazıt. No photography allowed.
Discover the only reason to go to Doğubeyazıt – the palace of the Kurdish warlord Ishak Pasha on one of the nearby hills. Ararat is visible from the WC.
Find the best place to admire the palace – the little restaurant on the neighbouring hill. Talk to the restaurant owner. He's known by the nickname Parashut Baba, or Uncle Parachute. He participated in the 2007 search for Noah's Ark and makes excellent kebabs.
Wake up and see Ishak Pasha at your feet. This is possible only if you stay the night at Parachute's – or more precisely, in the room where the restaurant bouncers sleep. Basic, but not bad for $1 a person.
Make the kids in the nearby impoverished villages happy. You'd never imagine you could make someone so overjoyed by giving them a pen or a piece of candy. Sad, but true.
Pick up some souvenirs. Volcanic rocks that Ararat spewed out in the past still cover the entire region.
See all of Ararat when its peak isn't hidden by clouds. It happens rarely, but is worth the wait.
Find Noah's face in the snow on the mountain.
Before and After
Noah wasn't the first to save humanity from a flood. The Sumerian Utnapishtim had already done that back in 2900 BC, while an Indian king and the Greek hero Deukalion also performed similar feats.
But none of the others were ordered to build a gigantic ship and to rescue humanity after celebrating their 600th birthday. Genesis describes how God was furious with sinful humans and decided to wipe them out and start over again from scratch. Noah was righteous, however, so God changed his plan. He ordered Noah to build a ship that would hold his wife, his three sons and their wives, and various land animals – seven of each "clean" variety and two each of "unclean" species.
Noah's Ark was ready. The "Great Flood" began and continued for 40 days and nights. The water submerged even the highest mountains and after 150 days it finally receded enough for the ark to land on the "the mountains of Ararat". After a long time the other peaks nearby began to show. Noah sent a raven over the earth, but the bird returned without having found dry land. A dove sent out on the same mission returned emptybeaked once, but after seven days it returned from a second foray carrying an olive branch. Noah understood that after 300 days on the ark they could finally set foot on dry land.
Noah immediately gave thanks to God for their salvation, by offering a sacrifice. God was so pleased that He officially promised not to drown humanity again. As a sign of His covenant, God decorated the sky with the first rainbow in history.