Armenian Legends and Poems  at sacred-texts.com
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THE FOUNDING OF VAN
AND after these things Semiramis, having remained in the plain called Aïrarat after Ara, went into the hill country towards the south. For it was summer time and she wished to disport herself in the valleys and the flowery plains. And seeing the beauty of the land and the purity of the air, the clearness of the fountains and the murmuring of the gliding rivers, she said, "It is needful that we build for ourselves a city and palaces in this balmy clime and beautiful country, by the side of these pure waters; so that we may spend the fourth part of the year, which is the summer season, with enjoyment in the land of Armenia; and the three cool seasons of the year we will spend in Nineveh."
And passing over many places she came to the eastern shore of the salt lake. And on the shore of the lake she saw a long hill lying towards the setting sun. And south of the hill was a wide valley like unto a plain, which came down from the eastern flank of the hill unto the shore of the lake, spacious and of goodly shape. And the rills of sweet water descending from the mountains ran down the ravines, and meeting around the spurs of the hills they hastened to join the river. And there were not a few buildings erected in the valley on the right and left banks of the waters. And she selected a small hill on the eastern side. After gazing thence for a while that evil and hard-hearted woman Semiramis commanded that twelve thousand unskilled workmen and six thousand of her chosen men skilled in all manner of wood, stone, copper, and iron work should be brought from Assyria and all other lands to the desired place. And it was done according to her command. And immediately a great multitude of diverse workmen were brought, and of wise and gifted workers in all the arts. And she commanded first to make the dyke of the river, of boulders and great rocks cemented together with clay, of great width and height; the which it is said remains firm until this day, so that in the clefts of these dykes pirates and exiles do fortify themselves as in the caves of the mountains, none being able to wrench even one stone from the dyke.
[paragraph continues] And when one looked upon the cement it appeared like a torrent of fat. Thus having taken the dyke round over much ground she brought it unto the intended site of the city. There she commanded the multitude of the workers to be divided into diverse sections, placing over each section a chosen master of the arts. And under such oppression did she keep them that after a few years the wondrous rampart with its gates of wrought copper was completed. And she made beautiful buildings in the city, and palaces of different stones decorated with colours, two stories and three stories high. For each one she did build summer-houses, separating the various quarters of the town from each other by beautiful streets. She built also wondrous baths in the midst of the city for the use of the people, and divided the water passing through the town into two parts, one for watering the fragrant orchards and flower-gardens, and the other for the drinking water of the city and its surroundings. On the east, north, and south of the city she built pleasure houses, and planted orchards with leafy trees that bore diverse kinds of fruit and foliage; she also planted many vines. The whole city she surrounded with stately ramparts, and caused great multitudes to dwell therein.
But concerning the far end of the city, and the miraculous works that were done there, it surpasseth the power of a man to tell, neither can they be understood by man. For there, surrounded by fortifications, she did construct the Royal Palace, in great mystery. For the entrances were hard, and the passages leading out of it like those of hell. Concerning the manner of its making we have never read a true description, neither do we propose to weave it into our history; but we only say that of all royal works it is, as we have heard, esteemed the first and greatest. And on the west side of the rock--whereon no man can now make any impression, even with iron--in this adamantine substance she constructed many temples, bed-chambers, and treasure-houses; and great trenches, so that none knoweth for what manner of things she made these marvellous preparations. And smoothing the face of the rock as one would smooth wax with a pen, she wrote many inscriptions thereon; so that even to look at it causeth a man to be amazed.