AKDAMAR ISLAND (Turkish : AKDAMAR ADASI), also known as AGHTAMAR or AKHTAMAR, is the 2nd largest of the four islands in LAKE VAN, in Eastern Turkey.
The origin and meaning of the island’s name is unknown, but a folk etymology explanation exists, based on an old Armenian legend. An Armenian Princess, named TAMAR, lived on the island and was in love with a commoner. Her lover would swim from the shore to the island each night, guided by a light she lit for him. One night, as she waited for her lover, his boat capsized and he drowned. His body washed ashore and, as the legend concludes, it appeared as if the words AKH TAMAR (Oh Tamar) were frozen on his lips. The legend was the inspiration for a well-known 1891 poem by HOVHANNES TUMANYAN.
AKDAMAR (meaning “white vein” in Turkish) is the official name of the island, which was determined by the Turkish Government sometime after the modern republic was established as part of the Turkish government’s policy of changing indigenous place-names into Turkish ones (a policy known as TURKIFICATION). Turkish journalist, CENGIZ CANDAR, claims that the main intention is to hide the Armenian Heritage.
During his reign, King GAGIK -1 ARTSRUNI of the Armenian kingdom of VASPURAKAN, chose the island as one of his residences. He founded a settlement and erected a large square palace richly decorated with frescoes, built a dock noted for its complex hydro-technical engineering, laid out streets, gardens and orchards and planted trees and designed areas of recreation for himself and his court. The only surviving structure from that period is the PALATINE Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which was built of red volcanic tuff by the architect-monk Manuel during the years 915 – 921 with an interior measuring 14.80m x 11.5m and the dome reaching 20.40m above the ground. In later centuries and until 1915, it formed part of a monastic complex, the ruins of which can still be seen to the south of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral on AKDAMAR island was constructed with a “cruciform plan” (cross-shaped) and a conical roof domed on the inside. On the outside walls are extremely beautiful but much-weathered stone reliefs by Armenian master carvers. These reliefs depict Biblical scenes —— Adam & Eve, Abraham, David & Goliath and Jesus as well as earthly themes such as life in the palace, hunting scenes and human and animal figures. A remarkable design of vines interspersed with animals carved in high relief encircles the exterior of the Cathedral.
An intriguing matter which few people know about LAKE VAN is that, at 1,670m above sea level, it is a “salt lake”.