Beside the laughing lake of Van A little hamlet lies; Each night into the waves a man Leaps under darkened skies.
He cleaves the waves with mightly arm, Needing no raft or boat, And swims, disdaining risk and harm, Towards the isle remote.
On the dark island burns so bright A piercing, luring ray: There's lit a beacon every night To guide him on his way.
Upon the island is that fire Lit by Tamar the fair; Who waits, all burning with desire, Beneath the shelter there.
The lover's heart-how doth it beat! How beat the roaring waves! But, bold and scorning to retreat, The elements he braves.
And now Tamar the fair doth hear, With trembling heart aflame, The water splashing-oh, so near, And fire consumes her frame.
All quiet is on the shore around, And, black,there looms a shade: The darkness utters not a sound, The swimmer finds the maid.
The tide-waves ripple, lisp and splash And murmur, soft and low; They urge each other, mingle, clash, As, ebbing out, they go.
Flutter and rustle the dark waves. And with them every star Whispers how sinfully behaves The shameless maid Tamar;
Their whisper shakes her throbbing her This time, as was before! The youth into the waves doth dart, The maiden prays on shore.
But certain villains, full of spite, Against them did conspire, And on a hellish, mirky night Put out the guiding fire.
The luckless lover lost his way, And only from afar The wind is carrying in his sway The moans of:"Ah, Tamar!"
And through the night his voice is heard Upon the craggy shores, And, though it's muffled and blurred By the waves' rapid roars,
The words fly forward-faint they are- "Ah, Tamar!" And in the morn the splashing tide The hapless yough cast out,
Who,battling with the waters, died In an unequal bout; Cold lips are clenched, two words they bar: "Ah, Tamar!" And ever since, both near and far, They call the island Akhtamar
Here's a link to a film with some beautiful shots of the church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar. Armenia is the world's oldest Christian culture and the church architecture is sublime. The Europeans saw these buildings during the Crusades and it had an important influence on the development of gothic cathedrals.
It was constructed by King Gagik as his palatine church in 921 AD. The iconographical program on the sculpted exterior incorporates writhing beasties influenced by Sassanian (Persian) princely hunting motifs but a lot of the images show the influence of the medieval bestiary -- an amazing source of animal stories used as allegories for teaching the gospel to the illiterate Joe Sixpack Medieval guy. The film has some lovely shots of the vine scrolls which depict the labors of the months. The larger relief sculptures show Jonah and the whale and David and Goliath. You can also make out the Adam and Eve and the Naming of the Animals.
Here's a link to a beautiful slideshow that shows the lovely color of the stone. The is on my list of places I hope to visit before I die -- I figure I've got another 60 years. That and the 7-Eleven in Providence, RI. Oh, and I also want to attend the same party as Roberto Benigni and travel to India to get my hands hennaed. Am I asking too much?