Akdamar – A Name Carved Into History

ak1Join 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!

Aghtamar_1923The 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.

akdamar2In 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 scanner – my Akhtamar photo album . .

Akdemar in Spring
 entrance to Akdamar church
Akdamar church interior detail


Akdamar church – David and Goliath relief
Akdamar church – front facade
Akdamar church – detail


Akdamar church 2003 pre-restoration
J, our ‘son’ and ‘daughter-in-law’ heading home

Sorry for the poor quality of the photos – old technology! Here is a more recent photo after restoration work:

restored and once again used for worship

Alan in Okçular

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?

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