The Splendid Legacy of Armenian Architects of Cilicia

Cilicia, also known as Little Armenia, was a medieval kingdom that existed from the 11th to the 14th century in the southern part of Armenian Highland. It was founded by Armenian refugees who fled from the Seljuk invasion of their homeland and established a new state under the leadership of the Rubenid dynasty. Cilicia was a prosperous and culturally rich kingdom that had close ties with the Crusader states, the Byzantine Empire, and the Mongol Empire. It also witnessed many wars and invasions, which required the Armenians to build strong fortifications and military architecture to defend their lands and people.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Cilician Armenian culture was the skill and creativity of its architects, who designed and constructed impressive castles, churches, monasteries, palaces, and bridges. These buildings reflected the Armenian identity, history, and faith, as well as the influences of the neighboring civilizations. They also demonstrated the mastery of the Armenian architects in engineering, geometry, and aesthetics. In this article, we will explore some of the most outstanding examples of Cilician Armenian architecture, especially in the field of fortifications and military architecture, and the legacy they left behind.

The Castle of Anamur: A Masterpiece of Crusader and Armenian Architecture

The Castle of Anamur, also known as Mamure Castle, is located on a rocky peninsula on the Mediterranean coast, about 60 kilometers east of Mersin. It is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Turkey, covering an area of 23,500 square meters and having 39 towers and three courtyards. The castle was originally built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, and later expanded and renovated by the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Armenians, the Seljuks, the Karamanids, and the Ottomans.

The most significant contribution to the castle’s architecture was made by the Armenians, who ruled the castle from 1198 to 1221, and again from 1266 to 1337. According to T.S.R. Boase, an expert on Crusader buildings, the Castle of Anamur is the most outstanding example of Armenian fortifications in Cilicia1 The Armenians added many features to the castle, such as the innovative horse-shoe shaped towers, the crenellated walls, the arched windows, the vaulted chambers, the chapel, and the frescoes. The Armenians also improved the water supply system, the drainage system, and the defensive system of the castle. The Castle of Anamur was a formidable stronghold that resisted many attacks and sieges, and served as a strategic base for the Armenian kings and princes.

The Fortress of Lampron: The Ancestral Home of the Hethumid Dynasty

The Fortress of Lampron, also known as Namrun Castle, is situated on a limestone outcrop in the Taurus Mountains, near the town of Çamlıyayla in Mersin Province. It overlooks the roads that lead to Tarsus and the Cilician Gates, the main passageway between Anatolia and Cilicia. The fortress was originally a Byzantine site, but it was captured by the Armenians in the late 11th century, when Oshin, a lord of a fortress near Ganja, migrated to Cilicia and founded the House of Lampron, a branch of the Pahlavuni clan2 The fortress became the ancestral home of the Hethumid dynasty, which ruled the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia from 1226 to 1342.

The Fortress of Lampron covers an area of approximately 330 by 150 meters, and is divided into a lower ward and an upper ward. The lower ward contains the remains of various buildings, such as stables, storerooms, and workshops. The upper ward, which is accessible only through a narrow entrance passage and rock-cut stairs, contains six magnificent vaulted chambers, two of which are fitted with casemates and embrasured loopholes. These chambers are built with carefully cut ashlar masonry, and are considered to be among the finest examples of Armenian military architecture3 The fortress also has a small medieval bathhouse, located below the lower ward.

One of the most interesting features of the Fortress of Lampron is the circular openings that are carved on the walls of the upper ward. These openings are believed to be used for nocturnal signalling, a sort of optical telegraphy, that allowed the Armenians to communicate with other fortresses in the region, such as Sinap Castle, six kilometers to the northeast3 The Fortress of Lampron was a strategic and symbolic site for the Armenians, who defended it against many enemies, such as the Seljuks, the Mongols, the Mamluks, and the Ottomans. The fortress also witnessed many historical events, such as the revolt of Constantine of Lampron against King Hetum I in the 1240s, and the imprisonment of Henry II, the Lusignan King of Cyprus, in 1309-103

Avedik: The Famous Armenian Engineer of Siege Machinery

Avedik, also known as Avetik or Avedis, was a famous Armenian engineer and inventor, who lived in the 13th century. He was renowned for his knowledge and skill in designing and constructing siege machinery, such as catapults, trebuchets, battering rams, and scaling ladders. He served under the Armenian kings Hetum I and Levon II, and participated in many wars and campaigns against the Mongols, the Mamluks, and the Crusaders.

Avedik’s most notable achievement was the invention of the counterweight trebuchet, a powerful and accurate siege weapon that used a heavy weight to launch projectiles over long distances. Avedik’s trebuchet was first used in 1268, when King Hetum I and his Mongol allies besieged the Mamluk-held city of Jaffa. The trebuchet was so effective that it caused panic and terror among the defenders, who surrendered after a few days4 Avedik’s trebuchet was also used in 1271, when King Levon II and his Mongol allies besieged the Crusader-held city of Antioch. The trebuchet was able to breach the walls of the city, but the siege was lifted due to the arrival of a Mamluk army5

Avedik was not only a military engineer, but also a scholar and a writer. He wrote a treatise on siege warfare, titled “The Book of Siege Machinery”, which described the principles, methods, and techniques of building and operating various siege devices. He also wrote a biography of King Hetum I, titled “The Life of King Hetum”, which chronicled the events and achievements of the Armenian king. Avedik’s works are valuable sources of information and insight into the history and culture of Cilicia and the Middle East in the 13th century.


The Armenian architects of Cilicia were great experts on fortifications and military architecture, who left behind a splendid legacy of buildings and inventions that testify to their skill and creativity. The Castle of Anamur, the Fortress of Lampron, and the trebuchet of Avedik are some of the most outstanding examples of Cilician Armenian architecture, which combined the Armenian identity, history, and faith, with the influences of the neighboring civilizations. These examples also demonstrate the mastery of the Armenian architects in engineering, geometry, and aesthetics, as well as their contribution to the defense and development of Cilicia and the region.

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