Armenian Kingdom

Aghtamar City and  the Kingdom of Vaspurakan

In the Middle Ages, Van Region and the whole Eastern Anatolia was mostly under the control of powerful families, who were mainly influential on Armenian lineages.Over time, two of these families stood out. One of these was the Bagratuni Family from the city of Ani and the other was the Artzurini family who dominate dover the Rushtunis. In the beginning of the Middle Ages, Lake Van basin, which was named Vaspurakan belonged to the Rushtunis. The word Vaspurakan, is a name used to refer to the noblest class in the Sassanids. Ardzruni family took over and settled in a part of the Rushtuni land in the south of Lake Van; spread to all Vaspurakan land from Lake Urmiye in the east of Lake Van, to Mount Ararat in the north, and Zap River in the south.      

It is known that in the beginning of the Middle Ages, at the end of the struggle for domination on Van region between the Roman Empire, the Parthian and the Sassanid States, Eastern Rome was victorious and that the Eastern Roman armies, who would be named as Byzantium in the 4th century, took over Van.However, it is indicated that during this period of struggle, the armies of Islam came to the region in 641, during the leadership of Umar, as a third power over these lands. The region was dominated and became an emirate during the time of the Umayyad, Dvin being the centre. Governors sent for the administration of this place mostly dealt with tax affairs, and the internal affairs of the province was administered by Armenian nobles. Abbasids governed the region under the name of Armenia through these Armenian nobles whom they appointed as governors.      

During the Abbasid period, when the Islamic sovereignty was fully established, many rebellions broke out in the region due to the influence of Arabic governors. Turkish rulers were assigned to supress these rebellions. In 851, the disturbances provoked by Vaspurakan Prince Ashot in Van region was suppressed by the intervention of aTurkish commander, Boga Al-Kebir, and peace was restored. To prevent these Armenian rebellions and to overthrow the influence of the Byzantine Empire on Armenians,Ali B. Yahya, who was appointed as the governor of Armenia in year 862, gave Ashod B. Simbad of the Bagratuni family, the title of “Ishkan of Ishkans”.

During there in of Muhammad al-Afshin, who was appointed as the governor of Azerbaijan in890 and who is the founder of the Turkish reign called Sacogullari in the region, Simbat bin Ashot was in the Van region and was paying taxes to theAbbasids. When Simbad made an agreement with the Byzantine Emperor Leaon I Vagainst the Abbasids, Muhammad Al-Afshin and the Baratuni Dynasty grow away from each other. As a result of this, Al-Afshin approached the Ardzruni Dynastyand defeated the Bagratuni Dynasty.  

Lake Vanbasin was shared between the sons of the Vaspurakan Prince Grigor Derenik from the Arzurini dynasty, Ashot Sargis, Hacik Gagik and Gurgen, after his death.Afshin took advantage of these commotions and subjected all three sons to himself.    

In 908, Abbasid Caliph Muqtadir crowned the Ardzruni prince Gagik, who lived in the Vaspurakan region in the southeast of Lake Van, and granted him the title of kingdom. The word Vaspurakan means “the highest, the loblest class” in Sassanid language. Gevaş, which was formerly named Vostan became the centre. The principality was free in its internal affairs and dependent on the Abbasids in its foreign affairs.

During the peacetime after the Abbasid Caliph granted the title of kingdom to Gagik, the two brothers, Gagik and Gourgen began their large-scale constructions in Vostanand Aghtamar.  

The Armenian historian Thomas Ardzuni, who is from the same lineage as Prince Gagik, mentions of King Gagik as a hero. While he emphasises that he is a pacifist, compassionate and art-loving ruler, he tells about the great wealth of the kingdom during his reign. Again, according to Ardzuni, Gagik’s favourite buildings were the church, the palace, the monastery, the town, the marketplace and the port in Aghtamar Island and they were all designed by Gagik himself. Vaspurakan Kingdom, which was centred in Vostan, built many works ofart around Lake Van in this period. The construction of the Aghtamar Church of the Holy Cross began in year 915, seven years after Gagik started to reign and was completed in year 921.    

The Kingdom of Vaspurakan started to weaken after Gagik’s death in 937. It ceased to be a kingdom with an agreement between the Byzantine King Basil II and King Senekerim in 1021 and became one of the eastern provinces of the ByzantineEmpire.  

King Gagik’s spectacular design

Aghtamar Palace

The palace, for which King Gagik also participated in the drafting works, was built on are rectangular foundation. It had a spectacular interior design and a gold-plated throne under gold bronze domes. This magnificent palace is described in history with the following words: “The palace that resembles a mass of a mixture of copper and lead with its three-feet-thick walls made of lime mortar and stone blocks, seems as if it rises from foundation up to the roof itself, with no bearing walls; this structure is indeed a miracle, it’s beyond imagination.Arched niches, corners, unbelievable passages are dazzling; golden ornaments shine brightly on the domes that are as steady as the skies,: those who would like to watch these domes must take off their hats as if paying their respects to a ruler; only then they can contemplate on this unique riot of colours until their necks get stiff. The architecture of the palace is so amazing and extraordinary that any educated person examining even one single room for hours, would leave the palace without realising what he saw. The golden throne that the prince sits with all his glory is surrounded by palace boys with sparkling eyes, arrays of musicians and groups of glamorous girls. The soldiers waiting with their swords unsheathed, warriors ready to fight anytime, lion sand other wild animals here and there, birds adorned with precious stones are also remarkable. If it is required to tell about everything there, one by one, both the narrator and the listener would be exhausted. The doors of this palace of beauty beyond imagination, are extremely elegant and finely embroidered as well; when these two-winged doors are open, a light breeze fills the room; all doors match with each other as if they derived from a single sample.”  

This magnificent structure unfortunately failed to survive to this day; there is not even a single trace of left of it. Only the church that was built in the vicinity of the palace managed to survive. Architect Manuel, according toThomas Ardzuni: “he was such a man that with his knowledge and talent, hemanaged to make the church an architectural masterpiece”.  

Indeed, this church, which is one of the most distinguished and significant works of the medieval Armenian art has survived until today; King Gagik and Monk Manuel have left us an invaluable historical and cultural heritage.

Armenian Kingdom

History of Aghtamar Church of the Holy Cross

Located on the southeast of Aghtamar Island, the Church of the Holy Cross was built from915 to 921 by the architect Manuel as the church of a palace complex, upon the order of Hacik Gagik Ardzruni I, who became the King of Vaspurakan in 908. In his book, describing the history of the Ardzruni Dynasty, Thomas Ardzruni explains in detail that the palaces, churches and walls of Aghtamar Island that Gagik himself designed and supervised during construction, were completed only in five years.

Vaspurakan Kingdom was abolished by Byzantine Emperor Basil II in 1021-1022 and the last king Senekerim was forced to emigrate to Sivas and partly to Kayseri with40,000 Armenians. With the annexation of the Vaspurakan Kingdom (12 castles,4400 villages, 115 monasteries), the Church of the Holy Cross on Aghtamar Island ceased to be a palace church and was converted into a monastery.

The main structure of the church, which consists of several building sections, was built by Vasagurakan King Gagik I, between years 915-921. The building sections were designed by the king himself and the implementation was carried out by monk and architect Manuel.

When the Vaspurakan Kingdom was abolished in 1021, various sections were added to the main structure in 1113. From this date until 1895 it became the centre of theArmenian Patriarchate in the region. At the end of the 12th century, several new building sections were added to the building which became a building complex. The Armenian monastery dedicated to the Holy Cross subsisted after the 16th century, when there was no civil settlement on the island. Until the end of the 19th century, around three hundred monks lived in the monastery, which was abandoned after the incidents of 1895 and 1915. When the island was abandoned in 1918, all the monastery buildings were completely demolished, and the church and other building parts were damaged.

The restoration work of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism started in 2005. Restoration of the main structure of the Aghtamar Church, the community hall section to the west of the church, the chapels located to the southeast and northeast of the church were completed. Scientific excavations conducted to reveal the complementary parts of the main structure located in south of the church were completed between 24.03.2006 and 25.08.2006. Excavations covered an area of​​approximately 3,435 m2 and revealed the section with cell room saligned around a courtyard, the service section, the cistern and the clergy school to the south of the church.

History of Aghtamar Patriarchate of (921-2019)

Aghtamar Patriarchate Chronology

921 / Upon the insistence of King Gagik, who wanted to see Aghtamar as an autonomous bishopric, Catholic Kevork appointed his nephew Yeghishe as the archbishop of Aghtamar.
927 / After King Ashot Yerkat's (iron) attempts for Bagratouni and his rival AshotShapouhian to save the city of Dvin from the oppression of the Arab Emirate,the Patriarch's seat was transferred from Dvin to Aghtamar for safety reasons.
928 / II. After the death of Ashot Bagratouni, Gagik assumed the right to appoint the Patriarch.
943 / The seat of the Patriarch was transferred to the town of Argina near Ani.
966 /Bishop Stephen, who aimed to become the Patriarch of the whole northernArmenia, was exiled to Aghtamar.
1112 / After a long time without any sources or news, Patriarch Basil fled Ani andsought protection in Aghtamar, where he had the highest religious authority. He appointed fifteen-year-old Gregory as his successor.
1113 / Basil died and Bishop David who had the support of the five other priests, revolted against his decisions and declared himself Patriarch.
1114 / Ageneral priest and feudal assembly of at least 2,500 people excommunicated David, but failed to enforce their decisions, and David continued with his duty.
1165 /Stephen, who was convenient for assignment, was appointed as the Patriarch.
1200-1225 /The powerful feudal principalities of Sefedinian became the rulers of the Aghtamar region.
1227 /Patriarch II. Stephen Narekatsi died as described by a "Kackar" in the Resurrection Monastery near the village of Devaboynu on the shores of Lake Van.
1272 / The first son of King Sefedin III, Stephen Sefedinian was appointed as the Patriarch.
1276 / In the Vapurakan region, Patriarch Stephen and Queen Zabel’s son Leo was mentionedin a manuscript by the author Romanos.
1291 / Aninscription in the Church of the Resurrection in a village in the Metsop region mentioned the founder of the church Father Abraham, Patriarch Stephen and King Arghoun-Han.
1293 /Patriarch Stephen was also mentioned in a manuscript in Varag Monastery.
1293-1307 /During these years, Anavarza Gregory, in correspondence with the Cilician King Hetoum, tried to cancel the excommunication decision of the Patriarch of Aghtamar, issued by Patriarch Gregory. During this period, the Patriarch of Aghtamar was Zacearía.
1296 /Patriarch Zacearía was remembered for his friendly relationship with theSiounik capital Stephen Orbelian.
1297 /Patriarch Zacearía was mentioned in a Bible text copied in Aghtamar.
1303 /Historian David of Aghtamar wrote the history of the fall of the Artzruni Dynasty. Patriarch Zacearía and Stephen Orbelian were also mentioned.
1336 /Until 1336 in the Church of the Holy Cross in Patriarch Zacearía, there were two “gavits¹”, onefacing west and the other facing east. Zacearia can also be shown as the beginning of the construction ofS. George church and the other structures of the monastery in the island of Lim.
1336 /Probably in this year, Zacearía's nephew Stephen was appointed Patriarch.
1340 /Nerses Palients attacked Armenians and Aghtamar Patriarch in his writings; aboveall, he criticized the assignment of his successor although he was still alive, and criticized that he was required to be associated with the Artzruni Dynasty.
1345 /During a synod² held in the city of Cilicia, Patriarch Mkhitar «Archbishop»spoke disrespectfully about the Patriarch of Aghtamar. Even David, the historianfrom Tabriz called him an "anti-Patriarch."
1346 /Patriarch Zacearía died: his grave with the inscription is still on the island.At a time when the country was in great difficulty, his nephew David acceded tothe throne.
1369 /Zacearia, who would later be known as a "martyr", became the Patriarch.
1393 /Patriarch Zacearía becomes a martyr: the martyrdom was the subject of the poemof Gregory of Khlat, where he was portrayed as his successor's brother David: there is still a “kaçkar” in the island in memory of his parents.
1409 /Gregory of Tathev, a member of the Aghtamar Monastery community, later became afamous political figure and a famous man of letters and was not limited to this when he had to speak badly and excommunicate the Aghtamar Kattolikos.
1410 /Following in the footsteps of Gregory of Tathev, Patriarch James approved the excommunication of Aghtamar and excommunicated the Patriarch of Cilicia at the same time. However, Gregory of Tathev was unable to part the bishop of Kadchberouni from Aghtamar.
1431 /Kurdish Peri-bek conquered the island and the Aghtamar region. Patriarch David took refuge in the village of Ourants in the Mokk region for two years and returned to Aghtamar after the peace agreement.
1434 /David assigned his successor Zaccaria.
1441 / Patriarch of all Armenia Kirakos annulled the excommunication of the Patriarch of Aghtamar.
1459 / Patriarch Zaccaria, who was weakened by the oppression and the pillages of Ghlidj-Aslan, sought help from the Persian king Dchanshah, who managed to free the region and restore law and order.
1460-1461 / A great synod re-established Edchmiatzin as a seat of the Patriarch who was chosen as the Kirakos of Virap, fighting against the wishes of Makrak Gregory. After replacing Kirakos himself, by virtue of the great gifts he received from King Dchahanshah, Patriarch Zaccaria earned the right to become the Patriarch of both Edchmiatzin, where he exiled Gregory, and Aghtamar.
1460-1500 / According to information from a very reliable source, we know that the Patriarch of Aghtamar briefly held Edchmiatzin's jurisdiction.
1461 / That year there was a conflict between King Dchanshah and the Sultan of Khlat (Ahlat) Dchahangir. Dchanshah conquered Khlat and prepared to march against Baghesh (Bitlis), Sason and Taron, but Zaccaria feared a catastrophe, assigned himself as a mediator, and persuaded Dchanshah to return to his own land.
In December, Dchahanshah marched against Shiraz and Kerman to suppress severallocal rebellions. His son Hasen-AI] plotted against Zaccaria to take him hostage to use Edchmiatzin's treasures as ransom: Zaccaria learned about the plot and fled to Van with the treasures and sought for shelter in the vicinityof Mahmat-Bek. Dchahanshah's brother-in-law accompanied him to Aghtamar.
1462 / Zaccaria left the treasures at Aghtamar Monastery and then returned to Edchmiatzin with his nephew Stephen, who would later be assigned as the archbishop of the city.
1464 / Patriarch Zaccaria was poisoned in Edchmiatzin and succeeded by Stephen in Aghtamar and Aristakes in Edchmiatzin.
1466 / Patriarch Stephen's cousin Smbat became the King of the Vapurakan with the help of Dchahanshah; but his reign never had a political significance.
1467 / Stephen managed to conquer the Edchmiatzin Patriarch for a short time, but later reaffirmed its independence. In this year, King Dchahanshah died; his son Hasan Bek adopted a very negative political stance against Aghtamar: the small Vapurakan reign was actually abolished.
1473 / From this date onwards a new era of wars, disasters and political struggles began. Persian, Mesopotamian, Azerbaijani and Armenian king Ouzoun-Hasan Agh-Ghoyanllou was overwhelmed by the Ottomans near the city of Derchan.
1489 / Patriarch Stephen died and Zaccaria, son of the King of Smbat succeeded him.
1490-1495 / Throughout this period, the nephew of King Uzun Hasan, who would later rule as Shah Ismail, was a guest in Aghtamar together with Sheikh Haydar, who miraculously rescued the king's nephew from the massacre.
1491 / Emir Sofi of Tabriz failed in his attempt to conquer Aghtamar.
1496 / This was probably the date that Patriarch Stephen died and succeeded by Atom.
1499 / The Kurds in the region, taking advantage of the lake to be covered with ice, invaded Aghtamar Monastery and its vicinity, and expelled and massacred numerous Turks and Armenians.
1500 / King Shah Ismail conquered many regions, including the Vapurakan Region. The disorder that started in 1473 came to an end that year.
1510 / In this short period, John and then Gregory became the Patriarch; Gregory remained the leader of the church for almost thirty years and left behind the fruits of his outstanding literary activity among others.
1512 / In a Bible organized by author Joseph, King Shah Ismail and Patriarch John were mentioned.
1534 / At the end of the long wars against the Persian king Shah Tahmasp, the Ottoman Turks conquered the whole of Armenia and also the Vapurakan Region.
1544 / Gregory II became the Patriarch of Aghtamar that year and reigned for nearly forty years.
1586 / From that date onwards, the Patriarch Gregory III, who was named Gregory the Little, reigned probably until 1612.
1606-1660 / There was no remarkable historical event during this period. Based on a letter from the Patriarch of Cilicia (Sis), we know that an important relationship was established between the Patriarch of Aghtamar and Edchmiatzin throughout these years. Edchmiatzin Patriarch Phillip (1632-1655) was able to widen his influence to the Patriarch of Aghtamar.
1661-2 / Taking advantage of the turmoil of the Turkish-Persian war, the Patriarch of Aghtamar Martiros turned to Fatih Sultan Mehmet Han asking for the ask for the bishopric regions of Van, Berkri, Ardjesh, Khlat, Baghesh, Moush and Hoshap to be taken away from Edchmiatzin and to be granted to Aghtamar. However, the sultan, who was also interrupted by the Patriarch of Edchmiatzin, issued a decree in favour of the latter.
1669 / Patriarch John Toutioundchi undertook restoration work at Varag Monastery, which was destroyed in the earthquake.
1670 / The date of the death of Patriarch Peter was engraved on his tomb at the Aghtamar cemetery.
1671 / Stephen, the successor of Patriarch Peter, was reminded in a Bible bearing this date.
1677 / In a Bible prepared in the church of the village of Dasht in the Mokk Region, Karapet was mentioned as the successor of Patriarch Phillip.
1681 / Although he was not officially appointed, Thomas was the Patriarch of Aghtamar.
1682 / In that year, Patriarch Thomas was recognised by the Edchmiatzin Patriarch Yeghiazar and approved as the Patriarch of Aghtamar.
1696 / Edchmiatzin Patriarch Nahapet dismissed Aghtamar Patriarch Thomas because of the personal resentment between them and assigned Bishop Avetis.
1697 / Patriarch Thomas responded with the help of Dursun Pasha and regained the bishopric of Van by appointing Sahak Artsketsi as his successor, contrary to the wishes of the Patriarch of Edchmiatzin.
1698 / Sahak Artzketsi died only four months after he was appointed.
1699 / John Ketzouk became the Patriarch until 1704.
1705 / John was followed by Patriarch Hayrapet I, but ruled only for two years.
1707 / Patriarch Hayrapet died and Gregory succeeded him until 1711.
1720 John Hayots-Dzoretsi was assigned as the Patriarch.
1725 / In a book written in Arberd Monastery, it was reminded that the Patriarch of Hizan Gregory created numerous architectural works, especially in the Akhavank Monastery.
1736 / Nicholas of Sparakert was appointed as the Patriarch. After coming to power, he gave great support to the cultural life of the monastery.
1743 / Patriarch Nicholas began to re-expand the religious influence of the monastery and the Patriarch of Aghtamar. For this reason, he sent father Alexander to Istanbul, to get a decree from the sultan for Van, Baghesh and Moush  bishoprics to be reassigned to the area of authority of Aghtamar.  Father Alexander, who received the decree, confiscated all the goods and taxes that had already been collected in this bishopric and all the goods and taxes to be delivered to the representative of Edchmiatzin Monastery.
1746 / Edchmiatzin Monastery's response was not delayed. Patriarch Lazzarus vigorously protested against the Istanbul court and received a new decree assigning him as the Patriarch of Edchmiatzin, with the help of the city's Armenian Patriarch James. Aghtamar Patriarch Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned.
1747 / All members of Aghtamar Monastery and many other religious authorities in the region went to Patriarch Lazzarus to ask for mercy for the imprisoned Patriarch. Lazzarus was convinced to release him, but in return he included Aghtamar Monastery and its area of influence to Edchmiatzin. Patriarch Nicholas was also obliged to give all goods from taxes, duties, donations and all goods from other income to the rival monastery.
1751 / Nicholas died and his successor declared his independence in complete violation of the agreements with Edchmiatzin.
1761 / Thomas became the Patriarch of Aghtamar; he declared that he is still independent, but after a difficult economic situation, he had to go to Edchmiatzin to the renew old agreements with Patriarch James to get economic support.
1764 / In accordance with the treaties envisaged by Edchmiatzin Monastery, Patriarch Thomas prepared a text that regulates the future relations between the two institutions.
1783 / Upon the death of Patriarch, Karapet directly adopted a negative attitude towards Edchmiatzin's seat, but managed to get Patriarch Luke's approval.
1788 / However, after the other defences of Patriarch Karapet, Luke relinquished his positive attitude and appointed Mark as the Patriarch of Aghtamar.
1792-1794 / For these two years, Theodor was the Patriarch of Aghtamar.
1796 / Patriarch Michael, who was supposed to succeed Karapet, became the symbol of many religious music.
1803 Khatchatour Vanetsi became the Patriarch: by virtue of his deeds he was later called the “miraculous and perfect”.
1804 / Patriarch Karapet died of a heart attack and was buried in the Aghtamar cemetery.
1823 / Haroutioun died and John of Shatakh succeeded him.
1843 / After the death of John, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul tried to prevent the assignment of the a Patriarch at any cost under the pretext that Aghtamar's chair was directly connected to the city of Istanbul. Despite the strong opposition, Khatchatour Mokatsi, a member of the monastery, declared himself Patriarch: but soon the Sultan of Istanbul, following the wishes of the patriarchs, exiled the rebellious Patriarch to Nicopoli (Sebinkarahisar).
1846 / After a period of three years, Khatchatour was able to return to Aghtamar Monastery on the condition that he would not participate in any political activity.
1854 Gabriel, who refused the position a few years ago, died. He was replaced by Abbot Vardapet Khatchatour.
1858 / Finally, an agreement was reached between Istanbul Patriarchate and Aghtamar Monastery; however, life in the monastery was still not fully peaceful, because endless power struggles (one of the most violent ones was carried out by Hakob Yedesatsi) hindered the work of Patriarch Peter Piuolpioul.
1864 / Khatchatour Shiroyan plotted against Patriarch Peter, eventually killed him and became Patriarch himself.
1868 / Khatchatour Shiroyan failed to avoid the scandalous news; he was invited to Istanbul Court and stood trial for the murder of Patriarch Peter, but he was cleared of blame. He was able to return to Aghtamar to continue his duty as the Patriarch.
1876 Khatchatour was given the Mecidiye medal by the Ottoman Sultan.
1895 / Patriarch Khatchatour died, and the bishopric of Aghtamar was indisputably connected to the Patriarchate of Istanbul.
1900 / Aghtamar became an ordinary monastery, leaded by a priest in all 193 churches and 41 monasteries, connected to the Uvaash, Shatakh, Nortouz and Mokk regions. The city of Khizan and the surrounding villages (109 churches and 17 monasteries) saw Aghtamar Monastery as their religious centre.
1917 / The Monestry stopped its activities and was evacuated due to adverse political conditions.
1951 / The demolition of the Church was prevented by the support of Yaşar Kemal and a group in his company.
2005 / Restoration works started.
2007 / It was inaugurated as a ‘Monumental Museum’ with an international ceremony.
2010 / The first religious ceremony was held, which is organised once a year with a special permission.
2019 / It is preserved as one of the rare works of the hidden monuments of Anatolia.

¹A gavit or zhamatun is adjacent to the west of the church in a medieval Armenian monastery. The narthex is positioned as a shrineand assembly room.
²Consile, is the congregation of clergy toresolve religious or administrative disputes in Christianity. The term is derived from the Latin version of concilium of the Greek word sinodos meaning“meeting”, “council”.

In the Middle Ages, the Van Region and all of Eastern Anatolia were mostly under the control of powerful families that had an influence on the feudal Armenian lineages. Artzurini family was dominant in the Van region.

View the Architectural Details

Architectural Details

Aghtamar Church is remarkable fo its exceptionally rich stone reliefs that get their stories from the Bible and the Torah. In this respect, it has a special place in the East-West Christian art.


Architectural sections of Aghtamar Church from the past to the present



The most prominent ornaments in the history of Armenian Architecture.



The most extensive mural paintings of its era


Detailed architectural drawings of Akdamar Church



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