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Akdamar Kilisesi (Akdamar Church) or Church of the Holy Cross) is a ruined Armenian cathedral in Eastern Anatolia. Situated on a small island in the beautiful mountain setting of Lake Van, the Akdamar church dates from the 10th century and is famed for the fascinating reliefs carved on the exterior.

The name given to the island, Aght'amar, is explained by a local legend. A nobleman who fell in love with a beautiful girl named Tamara visited the island every night to see her. As he was crossing the lake one stormy night, his boat capsized and fighting the waves, he drowned uttering the words "Ach! Tamara". Tamara, awaiting the arrival of her loved one, grieved deeply upon hearing the news of his death and died soon after. Hence, the island was called "Ach Tamar" (Aght'amar - Akdamar) ever since. Local folklore also tells that the lake is enchanted and that angels go in and out of the water.

The Church of the Holy Cross was once an important Armenian cathedral. The seat of the Armenian Orthodox patriarch, the cathedral was founded by King Gagik between 915 and 921 as part of a royal complex that included a palace, monastery, streets, gardens and terraced parks. The church is all that remains today.

The church was designed by the Armenian architect Trdat Mendet (also known as Manuel), who also built the cathedral in nearby Ani and helped repair Hagia Sophia's dome when it collapsed after an earthquake. Upon the outside walls of the church are extremely beautiful but much weathered stone reliefs by Armenian master carvers. These reliefs depict Biblical scenes with Adam, Eve, Abraham, David and Goliath, and Jesus as well as earthly themes, such as life at 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 church.

The Church of the Holy Cross was the seat of an Armenian patriarch from 1116 to 1895, after which it was abandoned due to conflict between Armenia and the Ottoman Empire. The building fell into disrepair and was neglected throughout the 20th century.

The cathedral was restored by the Turkish government beginning in May 2005. The restoration cost $1.5 million and took 18 months to complete. At a ceremony on March 29, 2007, it was officially opened as a museum. The restoration project was seen as a diplomatic step by Turkey to improve relations with Armenia, which remain very tense.

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Additional Photos by Deniz Taskin (rigoletto) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3085 W: 400 N: 6725] (34279)
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