The fortress of Tignis is about ten kilometres east of the small town of Akyaka in the province of Kars, at one end of a flat-topped hill overlooking the village of Kalkankale (formerly called Tignis). An alternative spelling and pronunciation of its name is Tiknis, and an alternative name in use during the 19th century was Kizilkule ("Red Tower" in Turkish). Kalkan is a Turkish word meaning shield or any upright barrier, and is probably a reference to the verticality of the fortress walls.

To the south of the fortress is an empty, almost perfectly flat plateau that, however, bares no visible traces of a settlement. The other sides of the fortress look out over a valley and are built at the edge of a steep slope. The view from the site is very impressive: Gyumri and all of the upper reaches of the Akhurian/Arpa river are clearly visible.


The history of the Tignis fortress is unknown: no medieval sources exist that mention it, and there are no surviving inscriptions on its walls. In the middle of the 19th century local Muslims are said to have removed stones from the site for building purposes, including some bearing Armenian inscriptions.

At the end of the 19th century the local population held a tradition that a daughter of King Hovhannes Smbat (1020-1042) had built the fortress. Others have placed it into an earlier period, writing that it was probably built in the second half of the ninth century to defend the nearby town of Shirakawan, located about two kilometres to the Southeast of Tignis. Shirakawan became the capital of the Bagratid kingdom under king Smbat 1st (890-914), but by the 19th century it had declined to an insignificant village called Başsüregel.

After the development of Ani, Tignis, like Magazberd, would also have served as part of a protective ring of fortresses around Ani. The fortress has suffered a determined attacked on at least one occasion in its history. Old photographs reveal that the Southeast tower was heavily scarred by the impact of the points of hundreds of arrows.

An 1878 archaeological report on the Kars region ¹ mentioned Tignis. As well as recording the existence of the fortress, the report said that there were two villages called Tignis. Old Tignis (today’s Kalkankale village) was an entirely Muslim village. In 1868 all of the Armenian inhabitants of old Tignis had decided to abandon their homes to escape persecution at the hands of local Muslims, and had founded a new village a short distance away which they also called Tignis. They had dismantled their church in old Tignis and transported its stone blocks to the new village where they had been used to construct a new church, dedicated to St. Minas. The new church had a wooden roof. The report also recorded that to the Northwest of old Tignis were the vestigial ruins of a monastery surrounded by an old cemetery, and to the Southwest of old Tignis was another old cemetery within which was a ruined church whose walls were still intact.

At the start of the 20th century most of the Tignis fortress was well preserved, with its towers and walls standing close to their original height but with some serious undermining due to stone robbing. The history of the monument after that period is unknown. An earthquake that shook Gyumri in 1926 may have affected the site. The Thierrys visited Tignis in 1959, but from their brief account ² it is not possible to gleam much information about the condition of the fortress at that time. There was another earthquake in this region in 1966, but again its effect on Tignis is unknown. The fortress had reached its current condition at least by the early 1980s (before the earthquake that struck Gyumri in 1988). The few surviving fragments of the fortress are currently in danger of complete collapse.


The appearance of the inner part of the fortress was reminiscent of that of a European donjon or keep from the high Middle Ages. The "keep" of Tignis was rectangular in plan and had eight cylindrical towers - one at each corner and one at the middle of each side. The walls and towers were strikingly tall, and were built of cut stone with a rubble concrete core. Inside the towers, the lowest level was solid and the space above was divided vertically into at least three vaulted chambers. There is no trace of any parapet, crenellations, or walkway at the top of the surviving walls or towers.

An outer circuit of lower walls, also with towers, surrounded the keep. This is now almost entirely destroyed. Based on what remains, the insides of the towers on the outer wall were divided vertically into two vaulted compartments. Between two partially surviving towers on the northern side of the fortress there are traces of a small postern gate. On the southern side of the fortress, beyond the outer walls, there is a ditch.

Inside the keep, along three of its sides, was a building with three floor levels. The lowest level had stone vaults that sprang from, and were embedded into, the walls of the fortress (indicating that the interior structures were constructed at the same time as the rest of the fortress). The rooms on the second level seem to have extended into several of the towers. The roof of the third level may have served as a walkway or platform for the defence of the walls - there are windows at that height. In the middle of the keep was an open courtyard.

The entire keep seems to have been constructed in one period, and shows no signs of being added to at a later date. This is in contrast to the walls of Ani, and may indicate that the construction of Tignis belongs to a later period than the ninth century.

The condition of Tignis in 2006

On the southern side of the fortress, the middle tower survives to about 2/3rds its original height, but is missing most of its facing stone. About half of the southwestern corner tower survives, together with the wall that links it to the middle tower. On the northern side, half of the northwestern corner tower survives, together with the curtain wall that linked it to the now completely destroyed middle tower of the north wall. Nothing at all survives of the eastern or western sides of the fortress, and only fragments remain of the outer wall.

1. The report is summarised in Monasteries, Churches, and Fortresses in the Region of Kars (The Status Quo in 1878) in Armenian Architecture: A Documented Photo-Archival Collection on Microfiche, volumes 6.
2. Michel and Nicole Thierry, Notes Sur des Monuments Arméniens en Turquie in Revue des Études Arméniennes, volume II, 1965, page 173.

1.   An old photograph showing the Tignis fortress seen from the south east - click for a larger photo

2.   Another old view, this time from the south west.

3.   Tignis today, seen from approximately the same position as photograph 2 - click for a larger photo

4.   The eastern side of the fortress, showing the upturned base of the southeastern corner tower

5.   An old photograph showing the
inside face of the (?) middle tower on
the eastern side of the fortress

6.   The northwestern corner tower
- click for a larger photo

7.   The inner face of the above tower and
the remains of vaulting belonging to the
interior structures - click for a larger photo

8.   The southwestern corner tower

9.   The interior face of the southwestern
corner tower and the adjacent wall

10.   The fortress of Tignis seen from Armenia