The church on a Lake Van island

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Festival: 15 August - feast day of St Mary (Meryemana)

Just off-shore on the southern side of Lake Van Akdamar was once the site of the palace and citadel of King Gagik Ardzruni built in the early 10th century by an architect known to us only as Manuel at a time when the surrounding area was part of the now obscure Armenian kingdom of Vasburagan.

Facing the palace stood a wonderful church whose exterior walls were thickly embossed with carvings depicting Bible stories and scenes from the life of the royal family.

Today there’s nothing left of the palace or even of the once large harbour. The church, however, has been completely, and pleasingly, restored, and now serves as the venue for a once-yearly Armenian Orthodox church service for the first time in living memory.

200 DSC01704Christian visitors will find it easy to “read” those parts of the walls that are adorned with Bible stories.

Adam and Eve appear, of course, and there is Jonah being regurgitated by the whale, and Daniel apparently being licked by lions in their den. There, too, are Sts George and Theodore with their dragons, but higher up on the wall it’s also possible to make out an image of King Gagik handing a model of the church to Jesus in an image which resembles a 3D version of similar scenes to be seen in the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in İstanbul.

One of the best things about the restoration of the church is that it has provided protection for the frescoes inside its circular nave.

Here again it’s possible to make out Bible stories, this time from the New Testament, with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. The newly installed altar looks a little cheap and tacky for its romantic setting but that’s a minor criticism when everything else has been done so well.200 DSC01674

Before catching the boat back to the mainland, take a stroll round the island to admire the many gravestones with their elaborate and frilly crosses (khatchkars).

Afterwards, you’ll be more than ready to tuck into a freshly baked trout at the Akdamar Camping and Restaurant facing the jetty.


There are no hotels near Akdamar although you can camp in the grounds of the Akdamar Restaurant facing the harbour.

Transport info

Most people visit the church on Akdamar Island while staying in Van although there’s nothing to stop those with cars using a visit to break up the run between the two towns.

Regular dolmuşes from Van (44km) travel to Gevaş, with a few continuing to the Akdamar landing stage. Alternatively you may be able to hop off a Van-Tatvan bus at the harbour at quieter times of year. 

Day trip destinations





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