Kümbet Mosque, aka The Church of 12 Apostles

Full of excitement, I rushed into Kümbet Mosque, a recommended site to visit while in the city of Kars. It was not until, I was on the way out that I felt great shame. You see, I had forgotten to cover my head with a scarf, and this is always requested of women entering mosques.

To be fair though, a majority of guidebooks do not call it Kümbet Mosque. They call it the Church of 12 Apostles, a name reflecting its Armenian history and exterior architecture. When it is constantly referred to as a church, it is easy to pale down its significance as a place of worship dedicated to Islam.

Kumbet Mosque

The mosque or church as it is commonly called has a turbulent history being passed from Christianity to Islam, back to Christianity and then being used as a museum before reverting back to a mosque. If that description has lost your thoughts, here is an easy timeline of its history.

Timeline of the Kumbet Mosque

  • It was constructed in 923 AD as a church
  • Converted into a mosque in 1064 AD, when the Seljuk Empire captured Kars.
  • From 1878 to 1921, it was converted back into a church when Russians ruled the city
  • From this date, it lay empty for many years with no purpose
  • From1969 to 1980, it was used a museum
  • In 1994, it opened as a mosque and was placed under preservation status.

Inside of the kumbet mosque

There are no chances of it being used as a Armenian church again, however it seems to be better known as that, attracting major interest from tourists. Its small size means that you can observe the whole building within ten minutes but it is the intricate details that are the most interesting.

Kars Church of apostles

Why it is called the 12 Apostles Church?

There is a simple answer to this question and it is because the stone figures of the apostles are engraved into the dome, permanently set in stone for life

12 apostles



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Hi. I'm Natalie, a freelance travel blogger and writer specializing in the country of Turkey. I love hot summer days, historical sites and coffee.

20 Responses

  1. Nat

    Hi Hye Girl,

    I have to disagree. Frank comments and attitude throughout the whole conversation were rude. I respect the fact that his elder generations went through torment but that does not give him the right to speak to other people in the manner that he does.

    Also, if I am to be honest with you, he is not the only Armenian that talks with such hatred and disrespect, towards people who have very little knowledge of what happened. The result is website owners think you are all spammers.

    While the story is gaining publicity (especially this month), in the past, very little about it was mentioned previously in mainstream media. As someone who was educated in European schools, I never heard of the events throughout my childhood. I came to Turkey in 2001, and still never heard about the events until I started digging into Ottoman history and the past timeline of Kars. That was nearly ten years later!

    In my attempts to research both sides of the story (because this is what any intelligent person with little knowledge would do) I have come across nothing but hostility from Armenians. The result is, a subject that I was extremely interested in, is now one that I don’t want to discuss because it is hard to find an Armenian who can answer questions and engage in open dialogue without insulting me.

    As for the Turks, it is my blog, I say what I want whether they comment on it or not, with exception to the current government. But general reaction from Turks is a shrug of the shoulders anyway. Infact many Turks have exactly the same knowledge as me about those times. Very little!

    Maybe you think I am Turkish because of my surname but I am British and my guess is that 80% of Brits who visit Turkey also have no knowledge of this whatsoever. People like Frank do damage to your cause, because it is like he is trying to belittle people who have no knowledge of these incidents through no fault of their own.

    Your comment is respectful, a personal story and informative. The first such comment that I have received from an Armenian. I realize you are angry but as I told Frank, if he is respectful towards me then I will return that respect. He couldn’t do it. You have and so I have altered the post. If you think there is anything else to be mentioned that you think will be of benefit, send it through.

    Thank you for discussing this in a adult manner.

  2. Hye Girl

    Natalie, Frank’s later comments were not rude. He was simply explaining what happened to our ancestors about 100 years ago. My grandmother Kardashian (yes, it’s the same family but that is beside the point) was born in Kars and came to the U.S. in 1913. I wonder if she ever went to this church. The family came to the U.S. because there were rumblings of further killings of Armenians, which did happen eventually and as you mentioned in your timeline, Kars then became Turkish.

    I very much appreciate the photos of the Church of 12 Apostles as it is breathtaking and has so much history. It is quite unfortunate that it is now a mosque. This is what happened to almost all of our Armenian churches in Turkey — they were either burned, destroyed, or turned into mosques. Almost all of the homes and belongings of Armenians were confiscated too. Much of the family on my father’s side were killed right in front of the other family members — the few who survived escaped and came to the U.S.

    Natalie, I am sure if your great-grandparents had gone through horrible persecution, torture, and murder of their other family members, you would understand why Frank feels the way he does. I see you have Turks commenting on your blog so perhaps you are afraid to say anything. But at least it would be nice to mentioned that it is/was an Armenian church.

    Thank you.

  3. No Frank – communication is a two way street. It is impossible to have a productive conversation if one party is rude and hostile like yourself. Also the Turkish government can not conceal that Armenians lived and still do live here. It is a fact of history!! No-one can change it.

    Re people wondering why churches would be converted into mosques – read up – it has and still is happening all over the country!

    Re the genocide, people with open minds who seek knowledge and information do know about it! For the people that don’t, changing your attitude which is rude and hostile will have a major effect. People don’t want to listen to people like you because you refuse to improve your communications skills.

    Now enough. If you can have a conversation like an adult – go and hassle someone else. Your next comment unless it is polite, will not be approved.

  4. Frank

    The burden of “communication skills” relies on you. It’s your blog, not mine. This means being able to fully connect with your audience and readership in a legible and comprehensive manner. That’s not something you are doing. You’re continuing to conceal the fact that this is an Armenian church. “Armenian” is just one word, why not add it? Are you afraid of using that term? This blog is similar to how the current Turkish government conceals the fact that Armenians used to live on these lands. This blog is no different. My comment, whether it be in caps lock or not, shouldn’t really matter because the point I made is crystal clear. I’m sure there’s many people here wondering why in the hell would a church be converted to a mosque? There should be some historical reasoning behind it, right? Well the historical reason is clear. There was a genocide, the like of which the world had yet to have known. Armenians were annihilated, their churches destroyed, ransacked, and converted into mosques. The only remnants of these people are their memory, and people like you are destroying that as well. Whether you like to admit it or not, by concealing and denying the fact that a genocide occurred, you’re ultimately repeating one.

  5. Nat

    Right Frank – Stop speaking to me like I am a child. If you want me to add that it is an Armenian Church, this could have been done ages ago had you asked in an adult manner. This is called communication skills. Something you need to learn

  6. Frank

    There’s a difference in calling this just a “church” than an “Armenian church”. You’re hiding invaluable information to your readers on the basis of ethnic and racial guidelines. Armenians didn’t build this church just so you can turn it into a mosque. Have some respect.

  7. Read the article. I already said it was a church and next time, be polite in your comments, or I will just delete them. Just found the rest of your comments in the Spam bin. THERE IS NO NEED TO EMPHASIS SHOUTING BY USING CAPITAL LETTERS. That is why the system thinks you are a spammer!

  8. Frank


  9. Glad you liked it NT – it certainly has an impressive history

  10. loving that timeline–perfect summary of history. I’ve learned something new today 🙂

    – Maria Alexandra

  11. Will publish as soon as it is ready Inka. Also have a story about two wooden mosques that are interesting because of the colors they are painted in. Until I started looking into the history of this mosque/church, I never quite realised the amount of buildings like this. Find it all fascinating. Out of history, art and architecture, it is the history that attracts me the most

  12. inka

    Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about Trabzon’s Hagia Sofia. Due to Turkey’s history, there are so many church/mosques around. What matters is the history, the art and architecture, not the current religion.

  13. Sounds like you loved as much as I did Ozlem. Magnificent place.

  14. Will look out for the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon – been there over 10 years ago, it would be lovely to refresh the memories : )

  15. If you liked this story Ozlem, then you will the story of the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon as well. THink I will publish that this month so keep watching

  16. I suppose it does not really matter in the grand scheme of things. It is not the typical mosque architecture though, which either makes it rather unique or an oddball, depending on which way you look at it

  17. Beautiful photos as always Natalie, Kumbet looks fascinating, would love to go and visit. It feels like in the category of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for me, changed so many hands throughout the history. Shame that it can’t be a museum but I agree with Alan, that now we can visit and enjoy the site, and it’s alive with folks.

  18. Alan

    . . in truth, why does it matter? I feel the same about old churches elsewhere, as long as we are able to enjoy the architecture, religion can go fly its kite with the fairies.

  19. I can see your point Pat. Obviously there was no money in the budget to open it up for tourism as a church, and they had to turn it into a mosque to get funding. Sounds like unnecessary red tape to me

  20. Actually, I was quite irritated that it had been turned into a mosque, given the size of the mosque right beside it. Discussed it with imam who was very sweet and said that turning into a mosque had meant it could be open. Frankly, I think it would have been enough to provide a custodian. I’m happy for old churches in areas with no mosque to be converted but this seemed quite unnecessary.