The Holy Cross Church is located in the southeast of Aghtamar Island. It was built by the Vaspurakan King, I. Hacik Gagik Ardzruni, between 915 and 921 AD. Architect Manuel planned the church as part of a palace complex. Thomas Ardzrunireports in detail that Gakik personally designed and supervised the construction on Aghtamar Island in his work, which tells the history of the theArdzruni Dynasty. The palace, church, and city walls were completed in a short period of five years.
Vaspurakan Kingdom was abolished by the Byzantine Emperor Basil in 1021-1022. The last king Senekerim was forced to immigrate to Sivas and partly around Kayseri along with 40,000 Armenians. 12 castles, 4400 villages, 115 monasteries were annexed from the Vaspurakan Kingdom to the Romans. The Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar Island was converted into a monastery from an Imperial Church. Various sections were added to the main structure between 1113 and 1895. It became the center of the Armenian Patriarchate in the region. No civilian settlement was seen after the 16th Century but the holy Cross continued to exist on the island. Three hundred monks lived in the monastery until the end of the 19th Century. The Church of the Holy Cross of the Armenians was abandoned after the terrible events that took place between 1895 and 1915. The island was totally abandoned in 1918 and unfortunately, the structures were left alone to their fate.
The restoration works were started by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2005 on the island. The main structure of the Aghtamar Church, the jamatun section to the west of the church, and the restoration works of the chapels in the southeast and northeast of the church were completed in March 2006. Scientific excavations were completed between March 2006 and August 2006 in order to reveal the complementary parts of the main space located just south of the church. The excavations carried out cover an area of approximately 3,435 m2. During the excavations, the cell rooms, the service section, the cistern, and the clergy school section, which were arranged around the courtyard to the south of the church, were unearthed. The Church of the Holy Cross of Aghtamar Island was officially opened by Turkish and Armenian people on March 29, 2007. Today, Aghtamar Island is accessible with a 10-minute boat trip from a dock on the way to Van city from Bitlis and it is the highlight of our Eastern Turkey tours.
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