Lake Van & Akdamar Island: When All Is Not Quite What You Envisaged

Tourism posters for Turkey; we’ve all seen them: Ölüdeniz from above with its deserted lagoon and golden sands, the pristine white travertines of Pamukkale and not a soul to be seen, the Library of Celsus at Ephesus and not a soul to be seen, hot air balloons gliding silently over the enchanting rock formations of Cappadocia and not a soul to be seen…and the lonely ruins of the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross; a view from above with the island stretching out into the waters of Van Gölü, the snow-capped mountains and spring wildflowers in the distance…and not a soul to be seen.

Gevaş, Lake Van

Waiting for the boat at Gevaş – a beautifully turquoise Lake Van

And we all know how, well, it’s not really like that is it? People; there’s always people around the real life versions of these iconic sights and I don’t know why I thought Van and the island of Akdamar would be any different; especially on a Sunday. Sunday is when people all over Turkey play out…and they play out in Van, too.

So the dolmuş drops us off at a stony car park in Gevaş and the driver points to where we need to wait for the boat. Now, if you remember from our journey from Patnos to Lake Van, I am absolutely bursting to go to the loo. It’s not just a case of crossing my legs and being a tad on the uncomfortable side. I’m at the point where I’m thinking I’m not going to be able to get off the dolmuş without being able to hold on any longer. And I’m thinking there’ll be no loo anywhere because we’re in a remote corner of Turkey.

So, imagine our surprise when we see scores of seats, a small bufe selling snacks, a bar – you can get a beer here, people, while you wait for your boat…and a long row of wooden cabins fitted with showers, changing rooms and pristinely clean toilets! Oh my life. Poor Barry was abandoned; left standing with rucksacks, laptops, tablet, camera as I hurtled towards the toilets. The WC gods were definitely on my side that day!

Lake Van To Akdamar Island

Scenes along the shores of Van Gölü as we cross to Akdamar Island

There’s a good sized crowd of us waiting for the boat and people are in good spirits. A sunny day quickly turns cloudy but no one seems to mind; and we’re now realising that this little trip is quite a popular one to do. We’ve passed shiny new hotels en route and it seems people camp here in warmer weather, too, hence the showers and WC. There’s a ‘feel good’ feeling in the air.

Van Gölü is very calm as we chug along on the 30 minute journey to Akdamar. The clouds roll in and the scenery becomes brooding – it’s beautiful. I can’t quite believe we’re here. To have seen Ishak Paşa Sarayı, the Armenian ruins at Ani and now Akdamar. What a whirlwind. And really, that’s why we’re still doing these blog posts, one year on from our trip. Just so much to take in and think about.

Akdamar Island and the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross

Akdamar Island and the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross

And then we get our first sight of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross as the boat approaches the jetty. We see lots of moving dots, too. People. My lonely island image, that I’ve seen so many times in the tourist board posters, crushed. Ah well, real life and all that. Ignore me.This is blissful scenery, the rain has started to fall, we’ve got backpacks with us (we’re on our way back to Fethiye) and we really don’t care. Look at this place!

Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Akdamar, Lake Van, East Turkey

Cathedral of the Holy Cross

People are picnicking, taking photographs, entering the cathedral, wandering…and we do the same. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross was built in the early 10th Century by Armenian architect, Trdat Mendet (known also as Manuel). Apparently, he also built the cathedral at Ani – you can see the resemblance. Inside the tiny cathedral, there are faded frescoes but it’s very dark and my camera at the time didn’t have the capability of capturing decent photos.

Fortunately, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is more famous for the carvings of biblical scenes in the stonework of the exterior walls. This is the reason most people come to visit here – and it’s these we find ourselves trying to decipher. Middle right photo – we worked out David with his sling and Goliath standing over him. We were a bit stumped after that…but apparently, there are scenes of Adam and Eve and Jonah with the whale.

Although The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is now a museum, it is still a sacred site and many people take the time to stop and light candles (top middle photo).

Gravestones, Akdamar Island, Van, East Turkey

Gravestones on Akdamar Island

There are also still many gravestones dotted about the grounds of the cathedral – even though there are lots of people around on this damp, cloudy Sunday, it’s still tranquil. A place for quiet reflection…

Lake Van Views From Akdamar Island

Views across Van Gölü from Akdamar Island

Well, when this is your setting, it’s no difficult task losing yourself in all that’s around you. There’s a steep hill to climb – the hill that would give us the views seen in the tourist board posters. I want that photo – I want to see that scene in real life – but this is real life – we’ve got luggage – the rain is now falling steady and hard – we’ve had 17 days travelling first to Eskişehir, then to Ankara. We took an overnight train from Ankara to Erzurum (an amazing journey) and there began our East Turkey adventure. It’s time to get ourselves back to Van and get ready to go to the airport for our journey back home to Fethiye…

Akdamar Island – Useful Information

  • We travelled to Akdamar Island in spring; apparently, the best time to visit this area of East Turkey because of the wildflowers and greenery.
  • Boats sail from Gevaş to Akdamar regularly and the crossing takes around 30 minutes.
  • Entrance to the island was 3 TL (May 2013) or free with a Müzekart.
  • There is a regular dolmuş from Van to Gevaş and also from Tatvan to Gevaş. We went from Van to Gevaş and the journey was around 40 minutes.

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Comments

  1. . . and to think it came within an ace of being flattened back in the 1980s! Those frescos are pretty amazing.

  2. Hooray for clean toilets! They always make my day too. 🙂

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