Akdamar – A Name Carved Into History

Join me as we slip back to a time before (I had) a digital camera – it is Spring; the year is 2003 and we are aboard a small boat heading for the island of Akhtamar, or Akdamar that lies 3 kms out into Lake Van in Eastern Turkey.

First, a little background: Once, Akhtamar lay at the heart of the Kingdom of Armenia – here was built a royal complex that included palaces, gardens, parks and a monastery. King Gagik commissioned a church dedicated to the Holy Cross and employed the Armenian architect Trdat Mendet aka Manuel to oversee the work. Manuel had built the cathedral at Ani and had assisted in the repair of Hagia Sophia’s dome following an earthquake. Construction started in 915 and was completed by 921. What Manuel created was quite remarkable!

The Church of the Holy Cross was the seat of Armenian patriarchs from 1116 until 1895 when it was abandoned due to ‘difficulties’ between Armenians and the Ottoman Empire. The church fell into disrepair – in 1951 there was a concerted effort to demolish the complex – fortunately the total destruction was prevented by an observant military officer and an enlightened minister in Ankara. Today, all that remains is the church.

In 2005-6 the Turkish government carried out a programme of restoration and the church was opened as a museum in 2007. In 2010 the first mass in 95 years was celebrated and in the same year the cross was replaced on the dome.

When J and I paid our visit the restoration lay 2 years in the future and I was using my clapped-out Pentax 35mm film camera – digital cameras and Photoshop were something from a Star Trek script! So, here you have it courtesy of a scanne – my Akhtamar photo album . .

Akdamar in Springtime

 entrance to Akdamar church

Akdamar church interior detail

 Akdamar church interior detail

Akdamar church – David and Goliath relief

Akdamar church – front facade

 Akdamar church – detail

Akdamar church – detail

Akdamar church 2003 pre-restoration

J, ‘son’ and ‘daughter-in-law’ heading home

Sorry for the poor quality of the photos – old technology!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps The origin and meaning of the island’s name is based on an old Armenian legend. According to the tale, an Armenian princess named Tamar lived on the island and was in love with a commoner. This boy would swim from the mainland to the island each night, guided by a light she lit for him. Her father learned of the boy’s visits. One night, as she waited for her lover to arrive, he smashed her light, leaving the boy in the middle of the lake without a guide to indicate which direction to swim. His body washed ashore and, as the legend concludes, it appeared as if the words “Akh, Tamar” (Oh, Tamar) were frozen on his lips.

Isn’t that sweet?

16 thoughts on “Akdamar – A Name Carved Into History

    1. Why, thank you! Still have the old Pentax and my original Kodak Box and Kodak Bellows – gave away the Yashica Twin-lens reflex years ago.

    1. 😀 when you blog about it be careful not to use the Armenian name of Akhtamar in the title, it will get blocked and as I’ve learned, lead to countless hours of frustration. and cursing!

  1. Thanks so much for this post. We visited Akhtamar a couple of years ago and thought it was one of the most beautiful places we had been to in the east. We didn’t know much about what we were seeing so we’re glad we were able to learn more about it in your posting. The pictures are lovely – there’s something to be said for that old technology. Those old Armenians liked their grapes! (During that trip, we also visited the ancient city of Ani near Kars – another sight of the old Armenian Kingdom.)

    1. Ani is on my list for a post – as an aside, had real problems putting this post up, kept getting not found when I tried to navigate to it. My server in the US was being upgraded over the weekend and I laid the problem at their door. After a series of reloads and rewrites – all to no avail, I changed the title from Akhtamar to Akdamar and “Hey Presto!’ Tested the theory by changing back – blocked! Ahh! The freedom of the internet!

  2. Lovely photos of Akdamar, I lived in Elazig for 8 years and remember visiting there with my parents – not much has changed, brought some good memories. So glad finally to check your blog, will be visiting again : ) – will also give you a link at mine –

    1. Hello Ölem, and welcome to Archers! Thank you for the compliment – be a pleasure to link up, I will come over for a visit. J and I love Eastern Turkey and have explored a lot there – mostly off the beaten track.

  3. The details on the church are beautiful. It will make you think what’s on the mind of those who carved and painted the wall. The photos still look pretty. Not bad! 🙂

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