The church of Akdamar in Lake Van is one of the finest surviving examples of Armenian religious architecture in Turkey from the first millennia. It was build by the architect Bishop Manuel between the time frame of 915 and 921 AD. It was constructed during the reign of the Armenian King Gagik Ardzrouni of the Vaspurakan dynasty. Close archeological observations have shown that in this island there was a palace complex which included streets, gardens and terraced parks. The construction of the church is a cruciform plan (cross-shaped) with a conical dome covering the central apse. The building is made of red colored tufa stone brought to the island from about 30 km north of Van. Interesting part of these stones that at different times of the day they tend to reflect different colors from reddish green to gray. Also it is nice to know that this Lake Van is about 1600 meters above sea level.
The outside of the walls show an immense craftsmanship of the builders. You can see from the photos that the walls are covered with the scenes of Adam and Eve, Abraham, David and Goliath, and Jesus from the Old and the new Testaments. In addition you can see figures carved into the stone form the daily life, such as the hunting scenes and human and animal figures. In particular the grapes give the idea that there were many vineyards in the area. In addition the presence of Pomegranate Tree or the Tree of Life from the much earliest times which is common in the Persian and Arabic cultures.
Some would suggest the influence of Turkic art on the walls of Ahtamar, unfortunately that would be stretching the imagination. If one refers solely on the Pomegranate Tree or the Tree of Life one should first think of the immediate cultures neighboring Lake Van area. However the relational continuity of this particular tree can possibly be traced through its migration over the centuries much before the Turks we now know have ever set foot into Anatolia. I will grant that the Pomegranate is spelled as ‘Nar’ in Turksih and very similarly in Armenian as ‘Noor’ or ‘Nur’ (phonetic transliteration) Yet another example is from Kazakh language the transliteration is ‘Anar’ or ‘Anar Agasi’ for the tree which is very akin to present Turkish. However these examples do not give much explanation in terms of the direction nor do they imply any Turkic influence on the exterior decorations Ahtamar Island Church.
I believe, instead, one should notice the fact that very presence of this church with its architectural intricacies that reflects the wealth and the peaceful times of the era. Nevertheless, this is one of the fine examples of Van’s heritage still standing for almost a thousand years…. Enjoy…