To find Hosap Kale in the village of Guzelsu, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Van, Turkey”. From the centre of Van, follow the road south for about 20 kms to Gurpinar. You are now on the main road from Tatvan and Bitlis in the west to Baskale and Hakkari in the south-east and the south respectively. Follow the road toward Baskale and Hakkari. Hosap is about 40 kms east of Gurpinar. Public transport is frequent between Van and Guzelsu. Every minibus to Baskale, Hakkari or Yuksekova passes through Guzelsu, but there are also minibuses from Van that go only as far as Guzelsu.
Hosap Kale stands on a rocky outcrop high above the village of Guzelsu. The south-facing wall of the castle crowns a high vertical cliff overlooking the road. At the foot of the vertical cliff is a river, and the river is crossed by a three-arched bridge built with courses of black and white stone, apart from the balustrades and a few courses to the right and the left of the two outer arches. Because of the smaller width and height of the two end arches you might expect the middle arch to be hump-backed, but it is not. Instead it is almost level with its neighbours. Sinclair writes that:
“The bridge’s style belongs to that of some Ottoman buildings in the district and in upper Mesopotamia, and it was built by a Kurdish emir of Hosap, Zaynal Bey, in 1671.”
I crossed the bridge to ascend a dirt road, which, in the past, was the only way to access the castle (there is now an asphalt road that ascends to the castle entrance from the south-east corner of the rocky outcrop). The ascent leads into a part of Guzelsu where old houses are common, and where remnants of fortifications and mud walls reveal that the village has much more to enjoy than the castle alone. This was confirmed once I was inside the castle itself because, as I looked down on Guzelsu with panoramic views in every direction, I saw turbes (tombs) and at least one medrese (seminary for training mullahs or hocas).
From the north-west, the castle looks even larger than when viewed from below the vertical cliff. Hosap Kale is not as large as the castle in Bayburt (Bayburt Kale is Turkey’s largest castle), nor is it as remarkable a structure as Crac des Chevaliers in neighbouring Syria (Crac des Chevaliers is probably the most fascinating castle on the globe), but, in my estimation at least, it is one of the dozen finest castles still in existence, intact or in ruin.
Sinclair writes that:
“A single wall runs above the cliff and above the cliff descending on the south-east from the south, the highest, corner. The easier ground spreading downwards in the angle between the two walls is defended by three separate lines of wall. The inner of these is really part of a sort of oval keep which crowns the southerly end of the south-west side of the rock…
“The way (to the castle) leads, over the north-west extension of the castle rock, round the castle, to the bulky entrance tower on the north-east, whose door looks north along the wall. Above the door here are two lions either side of a tear drop, and, below, an inscription panel inside a frame of partly honeycomb patterns. The inscription shows that the entrance tower was built, probably with several other parts of the castle, by an emir of Hosap, Suleyman, in 1649. Two blind arches, one inside the other, enclose both the black and white frame surrounding these and the door below.
“One goes through a dark entrance chamber, turning two right angles, and climbs up a long covered way. The path then doubles back in order to go through the gate in the middle wall. Above again stands the keep, whose shape is managed by means of a series of straight stretches of wall. Its most rounded end is toward the north. The whole of the interior looks to have been covered by a roof on wooden rafters. Many of the inner wall surfaces have kept their plaster. Two very slim semi-circular towers stand in the wall overlooking the village. The southerly of these turns out to resemble, on the inside, a dovecote, but the holes are apparently for watching the road. Between the two round towers is a solid tower projecting inwards only. There are some remains of buildings (a mosque, hamam, store and others) below the keep on the side overlooking the village (south-west)…
“Keep. The floor of its upper storey was just below a series of triangular niches which project inside. In these niches are small slits for rifles and small holes in the floor (machicolation)… There are then three storeys below these, the one immediately below having, at the north-west, two levels of windows…
“Intermediate wall. The easterly stretch, facing away from the road, has relatively small towers, and the layout, but probably not the present masonry, may well be that of a medieval Armenian original.”
When I arrived at the entrance tower, the heavy iron gate, one of considerable age, was locked, so a man got out of a car parked nearby to let me in. I reached for my wallet, but was advised that entry was free. Remarkable. From the moment you examine the finely carved stone on the entrance tower you know you are about to experience something very special, and that sense of specialness persists throughout the visit. Hosap Kale proved one of the trip’s most rewarding excursions. Although I shall never forget the views from the keep and the walls, or the entrance tower, the entrance chamber, the covered pathway or the remarkable wall and towers that crown the vertical cliff, something much more modest made almost as big an impression. As Sinclair notes, “many of the inner wall surfaces (of the keep) have kept their plaster.” What he does not say is that some of the plaster moulding survives, as does some of the paintwork on the plaster.
I descended to the main road along the new asphalt road leading to and from the castle entrance to examine a small mosque, a medrese and three turbes, all of which benefit from a light-coloured brown stone similar to the stone used to construct the castle. These monuments exist in a part of Guzelsu which is quite widely dispersed. Some old houses survive, as does an old Muslim cemetery in front of the medrese where the gravestones are simple slabs of rock tilting every which way. As far as I could tell, none of the gravestones are inscribed or decorated, which suggests that they mark the final resting place of very humble people.