Shirakavan: The Forgotten Capital of the Bagratids in Armenia

In the annals of Armenian history, Shirakavan holds a significant yet often overlooked place. Serving as the capital of the Bagratid kingdom for four decades in the 9th century, this city bore witness to an era of resurgence and political maneuvering that eventually led to Armenia’s independence from the Arab Caliphate.

From the Arab Yoke to Independence

The 9th century marked a turning point for Armenia as the Bagratid dynasty, led by Ashot I Bagratuni, reclaimed control from the Arab Caliphate in 885. Recognized by both the caliph and the Byzantine emperor, the newly independent Armenian kingdom first established its capital in Bagaran before relocating it to Shirakavan. The city gained prominence when it hosted the coronation of King Smbat Bagratuni in 892. However, the capital was later moved to Kars in 928.

The Decline of Shirakavan

As centuries rolled on, the once-vibrant city slowly became deserted. By the end of the 19th century, it had diminished to a small village called Bashsuregel, now located within modern-day Turkey. Presently, parts of Shirakavan are submerged under the Akhuryan reservoir.

Architectural Heritage: Church of Surb Amenaprkich

A lasting remnant of its grand past, the Church of Surb Amenaprkich (All Savior), built in 897, still stands on the left bank of the Akhuryan River. Situated between the cities of Artik and Gyumri, this cathedral symbolizes the post-Arab revival of Christian culture in Armenia. The church was commissioned by Catholicos Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi and King Smbat I and was built adjacent to the royal palace.

The interior of the cathedral was described in great detail by the Catholicos, who emphasized the splendor of its decorations, including a golden tabernacle above the throne. Despite being damaged during the Seljuk invasion in 1064, the cathedral was restored, and inscriptions from 1228 and 1231 reveal that the city was exempted from taxation by Prince Ivan Zakarian and his nephew Shahinshah.

Subsequent Modifications and Destruction

Over time, the church underwent several architectural changes. During the late Middle Ages, windows and eastern niches were added, and walls were built over the corner areas, giving the cathedral a fortress-like appearance. Its dome was destroyed during the Russian-Turkish War of 1806-1812. Unfortunately, the cathedral was demolished in the 1950s.


Shirakavan serves as a reminder of Armenia’s rich history and resilience. Though now partially submerged and largely forgotten, its legacy endures through the remaining ruins and the Church of Surb Amenaprkich, testifying to a chapter of Armenian independence and cultural revival. As a historical site, it offers invaluable insights into Armenia’s past and warrants greater attention for its role in shaping the nation’s destiny.

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