Akdamar Kilisesi

Top choice in Southeastern Anatolia

Perched on Akdamar Island, 3km out on Lake Van, Akdamar Kilisesi is one of the marvels of Armenian architecture. Built in 921 by the Armenian King of Vaspurkan, Gagik Artzruni, and originally part of a complex that also included a palace and monastery, the church's facade is covered with biblical relief carvings in superb condition that are considered among the masterworks of Armenian art. Inside, the church walls hold faded frescoes.

The facade's biblical scenes include depictions of Adam and Eve, Jonah and the whale (with the head of a dog), David and Goliath, Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, Daniel in the lions' den and Samson.

A liturgy is held here every September (on the first or second Sunday of the month), presided over by the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop.

Dolmuşes from Van run to Gevaş (₺7) six times per day. Most drivers will arrange for you to be transferred to another dolmuş from Gevaş to Akdamar Harbour (Akdamar İskelesi) for an additional ₺5. Timing-wise though it's usually a better idea to catch one of the hourly dolmuşes heading to Tatvan and ask to be let off at Akdamar Harbour. Make sure you're out on the highway flagging a bus back to Van by 4pm, as soon afterwards the traffic dries up and buses may be full.

Boats to Akdamar Island (per person ₺20) from Akdamar Harbour run as and when visitor numbers warrant the trip (minimum 15 people). From May to September, boats fill up on a regular basis. Weekends are the busiest times with minimal waiting time. During weekdays expect to wait up to one hour. Outside of the summer season, visitor numbers are much lower and you may need to charter your own boat (around ₺250).