Akdamar Island is the second largest island in Türkiye's Van Lake, located between the provinces of Van and Bitlis. Having a surface area of 70.000 square meters, the total coastal length of the island reaches up to 3 kilometres. Steep cliffs reaching up to 80 meters in height at the western ends of the island are its highest point, which is 1912 meters above sea level.
In the oldest sources, the name of the island is mentioned as Rştunik Island, referring to the Armenian Rştuni Dynasty that ruled in the Gevaş region. After Vard Rştuni was assassinated in 705 and the Rştuni Principality was revoked, the island and its region were conquered by the Ardzruni Dynasty, who previously ruled in Başkale, also known as Ağbak. In 908, Hacik Gagik Ardzruni I agreed with some Armenian and Muslim Beys and declared himself the King of Vaspuragan in Gevaş (Vostan). The king decided to have a church built on the island.
The Holy Cross Church on Akdamar Island was built by the Architect Bishop Manuel between the years of 915 and 921 by the order of King Gagik I to house a part of the Holy Cross, which is narrated to have been brought to the Van region in the 7th century after it was smuggled from Jerusalem to Iran. Built in the southeast of the island, the church is considered to be one of the most brilliant works of medieval Armenian art in terms of architecture. The exterior of the church is built of red andesite and adorned with rich plant and animal motifs in basso-relievo style and scenes from the Bible. With this feature, the church has a unique part in the history of Armenian architecture.
It is reported that the Armenian King Gagik brought architects and masters from the palaces of all the surrounding civilizations to have this church built. For this reason, he emphasizes that there are traces of Byzantine, Sassanid, Abbasid, and Turkish architecture in the Akdamar Church. Apart from religious subjects taken from the Bible and the Torah, earthly affairs, palace life, hunting scenes, and human and animal figures were depicted on the stone reliefs outside the building. In these reliefs, it is possible to see the effects of the 9th and 10th-century Abbasid art, which was intensely affected by Central Asian Turkish art. The inner surfaces of the church walls are adorned with religious frescoes, which are on the brink of dying out today. These wall paintings are of particular importance as they are the most extensive and earliest dated examples in the region.