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Khachkar Used as Pillar at Zorats Church

Khachkar Used as Pillar at Zorats Church


Armenian cross stones (khachkars) are vivid, sanguineous phenomena in medieval art. Crosses, carved on stelae long ago beginning from the 5-6th centuries, serving as memorial or exhortational monuments in Christian countries, were known to Egypt, Northern Caucasus, Europe and northern Russia. In Armenia, however, khachkars are embodied with an especially rich artistic content and are valuable achievements in Armenian monumental art.

Khachkars developed from cross monuments, originally wooden and later of stone. In the 4-th century, as Armenian historians tell, they were erected on pillars or columns on the sites of ancient destroyed pagan sanctuaries and were evidence of the victor of Christianity. Such memorials reflected the deep-rooted ancient traditions of one- or twocolumned memorial structures, well-known in Assyria, a neighbour of Armenia.

Later in the Middle Ages, the pillar or column was replaced by a high massive stylobate. The architectural nature of structures dominated the khachkar remained, in essence, a form of „minor architecture".

Khachkars were many-sided from the functional point of view. Their primary meaning was memorial. Later khachkars, in the form of stelae, were placed on roads to assist passers-by they served as kinds of talismans. In the 11th century and later, when khachkars had been formed and their composition become classic, they had various functions, preeminently memorial in nature. Khachkars were prepared to note different steps in the building and economic activities of secular and religious feudals, as well as outstanding events in the life of the state.

In this work, khachkars are classified chronologically and typologically: they are analysed according to their artistic elements and rich ornaments. This study is based on chronological principles which permit showing the gradual progress in the artistic content of khachkars.

Chapter I. Forerunners of khachkars were early medieval circular or octahedral columns or squares of pillared sections with crosses carved in them and crowned with bulky crosses placed freely. Such pillars of the 6-7th centuries were found at

Garnahovit, Akarak, Arich, Talin and Mren. The surface of the pillars is decorated with winding vines and dangling clusters of grapes. The sides of the pillars are often framed by 3/4 columns giving the pillar an architectural effect. The bulky crosses crowning the pillars are often larger in size and stand out for their laconic style and are very elaborated along generalized lines, which conform to the placing of such crosses on high columns or pillars. These crosses were usually decorated on the lower end there were wide, symmetrically cut palmetto leaves, gracefully curving and eaching the transversal arms of the cross

It was from such bulky crosses, i. e., crosses on stelae, that khachkars originated. That is evidenced by 9-10th century khachkars as the one in Khacharan of 898 and that of 952 from Ani, very laconic and almost identical with the free cross of Dvin.

Chapter II. The earliest khachkars of the 9-10th centuries, in the form of stelae and preserved near Talin, are varied and of different types. This is evidence of the fact that khachkars were just being formed.

A large, circular khachkar (diam. 1.8 m.) is most interesting for its high relief, tour-pointed cross with equal arms and wide split ends. The narrow hollow space between the arms of the cross are filled with palmetto leaves having folded ends the drawings of the palmetto leaves being of the 9th century. The circular form of the khachkar was undoubtedly well thought out and deeply symbolic, as everything connected with worship That shape, it may be thought, reflects the ancient east-Christian idea of the cosmic circle — the sky, heavenly sphere in the form of which, as early as at the dawn of the Middle Ages, the heavenly firmament was conceived, in the dome of the temple of which the church fathers wrote as early as in the 4-5th centuries. Circular khachkars were unknown later on.

There is a very unique khachkar in Haghartsin unlike the others the cross is completed with an elongated oval formed by thin palmetto leaves. At the upper end of the cross there is a presentation of the Almighty in a circle with two flying angels supporting him. That is a well-known, widespread early medieval composition of the Ascension of Christ. Just as this picture, so also the nature of the foliage show the date of the khachkar to be the 10th and beginning of the 11th centuries

At that time simpler khachkars of crosses with spreading ends are more frequently found. The space between some of tl:e crosses are filled with heavy clusters of grapes, overhung with vines growing from the upper and lower ends of the cross.

In the 10th century khachkars with a more complicated drawing appeared, the composition of which, clear-cut and elaborated, show how intensively the process of giving decorative forms to khachkars proceeded.

The structure of such khachkars was comparatively complex as if the khachkars were on the borderline of the following epoch, between the 10-11th centuries, when the composition of khachkars was finally established, becoming classic. In this respect the khachkar dated 996 from Noratus? is very interesting. The ornamented cross, vegetative sprouts surrounding the cross from above and below and ending with rosettes, form a regular rhombus in which the cross in carved. As for the external outline of this figure, it is an elongated oval. The vegetative decorations of the khachkar as a whole, keen and laconic, are penetrated by a unified, rigid rhythm and is very impressive.

Thus in the 10th century, the classic composition of the khachkar was formulated the features of its basic composition were clearly defined. The most essential of

these were graphic clarity, rigidness and compactness of decoration to which vegetative ornamentation is completely subjected, attaining geometricized features.

Chapter III. It was these features that developed further in the 11th century as a matter of fact this process was very intensive. Numerous khachkars are evidence of this fact, chiefly those in rich monasteries. Dated khachkars served as a starting point for analysis.

More characteristic of khachkar? are vertical orientation of geometricized foliage. Such khachkars are rather numerous their composition was formulated undoubtedly as early as the 11th century, but they became especially popular in the 12-13th centuries.

In all these khachkars, the crosses are placed under a semi-circular arch, i. e., in the portal with narrow semicolumns. Horizontally spread palmetto leaves are placed under the cross. Stylobates are presented under all the khachkars Three beautiful large khachkars of the 12th-beginning of the 13th centuries with this very same decorative composition are to be found in Odzun. The architectural interpretation of all such khachkars is very vivid later on they remained characteristic elements of khachkars.

Such a more widespread composition of khachkars was formulated in the 11th century and was completely adopted by masters of later centuries, the condensation and great use of ornaments became a more characteristic feature. The drawings of the lower (decorative) part of the cross acquired a geometrical nature and was more removed from the vegetative. Ornamentation and rigid graphic lines became inalienable features of the decoration. Later on, during the 12-13th centuries, these features developed even more. In addition the plasticity of fretwork developed more and more by means of deepening which led to a play of light and shade. The khachkar frame became wider, consisting of one or two vertical pillars, square or rectangular figures interlaced vertically or horizontally with ornamental carvings (mostly geometrical) or with palmetto leaves. In many khachkars their relations with architectural forms were underlined in the shape of portals with semi-circular completions, sometimes multi-spanned. In the 12-13th centuries, master-carvers continued to work out this artistic heritage.

Chapter IV. In the 12th century the art of carving khachkars entered a period of flourishment which continued till the 13th century. The number of khachkars created increased. They were placed everywhere, for the most varied reasons in the economic and political life. In addition the verious decorative elaborations of khachkars increased, becoming more and more unique, i. e., there took place that which occured in all the arts of Armenia (and not only Armenia) of that time. Prominent skilled masters appeared, fine carvers on stone some of them immortalized themselves by placing their names on khachkars.

A large number of khachkars of the 12-13th centuries have been preserved, which may be divided quite distinctly into a few groups, according to their composition.

Group 1 includes khachkars with a decorative cross, the lower part of which is framed with geometricized foliage in the form of bundles of stalks, straight or slightly bent towards the cross.

This composition was basically formed as early as the llth century and developed by the 12th century. A more interesting example of such khachkars was the

khachkar by Khachadur of Djrvezh, dated 1173. full of carvings. The new element here is the sphere on which the cross in hoisted.

The dominating quality of khachkars in the 12th century was their being replete with ornaments, which almost completely covered the stelae. The most outstanding in this respect, in the khachkar of Grigor Tudeort in Sanahin by master Mekhitar in 1184. A remarkable feature of this khachkar, not previously noticed, is the two- planed carvings its lower layer fills the deep background of the cross. Thus the play of light and shade and plasticity of the entire ornamentation of the khachkar is strengthened. The play of light and shade, in other words, the artistic beginnings in carving khachkars grew and developed, although simpler khachkars may be found in the 12th century with the same decorative structure, free of secondary details. Some khachkars of this group differ in that they are crowned by bird-peacocks (symbols of immortality) heraldically placed oppposite each other on one of the khachkars they are receiving wine from a high vessel.

Somewhat different are the series of khachkars in which the ends of the stalks in the lower space between crosses, slightly bent towards the cross, form not a strictly straight line but a curved one, which gives this type of khachkar a particular appearance. Khachkars of the same structure, without any changes, were to be found in the 14th century.

The art of khachkars was varied and many-sided. Besides the composition described, another one was worked out in the 11th century, with a different interpretation of the decorative part of the khachkar, i. e., occupying the lower space between crosses. Just such a structure was also very popular in the 12-3th centuries. Khachkars of that type are placed in the second group.

Group 2. The foliage of khachkars of this group is less geometricized. It has acquired the smooth curving lines of more or less grown, matured palmetto leaves, symmetrically placed in the lower space between crosses. This foliage is also decorative in nature but it is in drawings that such khachkars are differentiated, while as regards the other features such as ornaments, form of execution, frame, they are very close to khachkars of group one.

Among the khachkars of this group there are two similar masterpieces of 1211 and 1220 (probably created by the same master) on the tomb of the Ukanantz dynasty at Hakhpat. The crosses are placed in an 8-spanned arch, the spans of which seem to be inserted in a panel entirely covered with vegetative ornaments in the coiling of volutes and thin interlaced stalks. The second of these khachkars differs in that it has fine carving on a deep background, i. e., two-planed ornamentation generally characteristic of khachkars of the 13th century. A similar khachkar at Mshkavank is interesting in that it has portrayals on its base. In the triple portico there is a stocky figure in full face (perhaps Christ) under the central arch a smaller figure in the left and in the right, there are two miniature figures facing the central one (perhaps church wardens).

The composition of khachkars with stylicized foliage gracefully bending towards the cross seemed to be very popular in Armenia in the 12th century.

All khachkars from the same neighbourhood are very similar. They were probably all from the same monastery workshop in Hakhpat or Sanahin, where very likely, the composition described was worked out.

Later on, during the end of the 13th and 14th centuries, drawings of foliage in semipalmetlo leaves lost their previous gracefulness and previous rigidness, together with other ornamentation.

Khachkars of the second group with ornamental interpretation of palmettoes bending towards the cross, are outstanding in that this motif, in essence, arises from the composition of early medieval bulky crosses with very harmonious drawings of lacy palmettoes. In the 12th century, the palmetto motif was again completely worked out and acquired an appearance purely decorative and ornamental, losing its connection with vegetative forms. Such was the tendency of Armenian monumental arts in the 12-13 centuries, receiving a vivid expression in the khachkars of that period.

Group 3. By the end of the 12th century, still another composition of khachkars was worked out, more complex, new in structure and more imbued with ornaments. These stelae reveal a new borderline in the artistic content of khachkars. What is new in their composition is that the space between crosses is filled with thick ornamentation, leaving only a narrow strip between them and the cross. It is a strip deeply cut out and therefore giving the cross more distinctness.

A remarkable example of this new composition is the Sanahin Khachkar created in 1187 and dedicated to Zakharia Dolgoruki, which is perfect in its carving. Not only is the composition of the khachkar new but the drawing of the ornamentation itself approaching volute-like sprouts and almond-like figures with palmetto leaves at the ends it is a motif formulated and very popular in the 13-14th centuries.

All khachkars with this advanced composition have difference which gives them originality. Among them, the 1233 khachkar of Grigor Proshian from Imirzek (at present in Echmiadzin) with 2-planed ornamentation, stands out for its fine mastery. The frame is decorated with 8-pointed stars and a deeply-carved background.

The khachkar is crowned with a portrayal of Deesis on the "peak" and in the lower part of the khachkar, a galloping horseman (to whom the khachkar was dedicated) is shown against the background of fine carving. This composition was traditionally preserved in the 14th century as well.

The full artistic content of khachkars of the third group is manifested by an abundance of ornamental carving, densely filling the upper and lower spaces between crosses. Their general composition, no matter how varied, is distinct and clear cut. Vegetative ornamentation in the form of a closely-spun spider web with winding and interlacing sprouts, carried out most skillfully, was elaborated by Armenian carvers very probably by the end of the 12th century. Since then it has become a favourite of Armenian monumental art.

Group 4. Finally the fourth group of khachkars is clearly different, being mostly spread in the 12-13th centuries up to the 16th century, though its development may be noted beginning from the 9-10th centuries. This refers to khachkars with three crosses of which the two smaller occupy the lower space between crosses. Together they form the threesectioned tree of life. The three crosses, however, was only a general feature uniting these khachkars rather large in number, since they themselves, especially in the 12-13th centuries, having the most varied motifs of decoration, are very different

Earlier such khachkars were of the 11th century as, for example, those in Kecharis and Odzun smaller crosses are held in the palms of hands. The Odzun khachkar is interesting in that there are two sacred bulls under it, pagan images adopted by the Christian church. (Bulls were frequently placed on facades of Armenian churches in the 13th century. They had. perhaps, definite heraldic significance as a kind of dynastic symbol of the Armenian princes.)

A large number of khachkars with two smaller crosses are of the 12-13th

centuries they are incomparably more elaborated. The upper space between crosses js occupied by heavy clusters of grapes. Such is the St. Karaglukh khachkar, famous for the probable figure of the church warden in front view with wide upper clothing, presented under the cross.

In the 13th century khachkars with smaller crosses often included elements of other compositions such as vegetative designs of winding stalks with almond-like figures filling the space between crosses, as in the khachkars of group three. Here this ornamentation occupies the upper space between crosses. On some 13-14th century khachkars, smaller crosses occupy not only the lower but also the upper spaces between crosses. Khachkars with assymmetric decorations may be noted as in the khachkar in Nor-Getik. (The left space between crosses is occupied by semi-palmetto leaves as in group two, while the right space consists of smaller crosses.) Assymmetry is one of the innermost qualities of medieval Armenian monumental art of the 12-13th centuries.

There Is a specific subgroup representing double khachkars of the 13-14th centuries, i. e., khachkars consisting of two large khachkars carved side by side.

Group 5. Finally in this special fifth group khachkars with figurative portrayal elements are separated as those of different evangelists, the Crucifixion, (Amenaprkich). Deesis, Ascension of Christ, George the dragon-slayer, as well as portrayal» of church wardens, and others. It must be stressed that such "fine art" khachkars are comparatively few in number, even rare. They were created almost without exception in the 13th century, some in the 14th century and rarely in the 15-16th centuries. Portrayals on khachkars are, in fact, additional elements, as if adding to compositions which have already been discussed.

This refers completely to the composition of Deesis (Christ in the centre, the Virgin on the left and John the Baptist on the right). A wonderful example of such bas-relief on the "peak" is found on the khachkar of Grigor Khakhbakian, 1233, in Echmiadzin, brought there from Imirzek. Another remarkable khachkar, 1308, with Deesis on the "peak" is from Noravank (created by Momik, the famous master of that time). There are other khachkars in Noravank which have similar portrayals. On one of them there is a bust of the apostles Peter and Paul above the frame of the khachkar and below it, there are the kneeling figures of church wardens Burtel and Bughda (?) in slight relief.

The composition of Deesis on the khachkar of paron(sir) Prosh, end of 13th century, is more complex. On the sides of Deesis, there are angels the entire composition Is framed by apostles. All these are placed against a background of fine geometrical ornamentation. The frame of the khachkar consists of a vertical row of apostles (only one being preserved) included In an eight-pointed star.

Khachkars presenting the Crucifixion are only from the second half of the 13th century. They are the so-called Soviour (Amenaprkich) khachkars. Some of them, especially two, stand out for their mastery. One of them, 1279, is from Djingula (now in Echmiadzin) and dedicated to paron Grigor and Mamkan, the father and mother of Mamikon. The lower part of the khachkar presents a galloping horseman (Mamikon) slaying a large beast with his spear. Similar horsemen-warriors are frequently found on other khachkars of the 13th century (from Khachen), not hunting but in a state of rest. On an interlaced background in the upper part of the khachkar, there are symbolic presentations of the sun (a human face with rays) on the back of a fantastic bird and the moon (a human face without rays) on the back of a sacred bull, remnants of ancient pre-Christian cosmic symbols.

The fact that the figures on the sides of the cross are placed absolutely assymmetrically is striking it was obviously done so for the purpose of giving extensiveness to the composition. (The larger figures are placed in the foreground below, while the smaller figures that seem to be farther from the spectator, are behind.)

Similar Amenaprkich khachkars of the end of the 13th century are known from other sites of Armenia.

Another remarkable Amenaprkich khachkar was created in 1273 at Hakhpat. A unique feature of the khachkar includes the portrayal of the twelve apostles, one under the other, thus forming the frame of the khachkar (similar to the Prosh khachkar). This khachkar is completed by a "peak" which presents a scene from the Ascension, significantly differing from that of the early medieval composition in the Hagharisin khachkar.

Some khachkars with scenes of the Crucifixion are interesting for their portrayal of church wardens as, for example, the khachkar in the narthex at Geghard. The figures with a staff are not large very similar to the relief figures on the slab spreading over the gavit at Haghartsin from the beginning of the 13th century. Such figures may also be found on many other 13th century khachkars. This was a significant phenomenon reflecting the stressing of the secular element in feudal Armenian art during its flourishment. The secular spirit penetrated Armenian art of that time. Along with carving on stone, it was equally vividly expressed in architecture and in miniature paintings as well.

Finally, the. numerous expressions of birds on khachkars must be noted, usually placed symmetrically on the sides of the cross. The bird is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, of immortality, In keeping with the significance of khachkars as memorials. Presentations of sunny, anthropomorphous birdsirens on 15-16th century khachkars are worth mentioning. They embodied the concept of the soul of the dead — an idea very popular all over the East, among Christians and Mohammedans.

These are the main groups of khachkars of the 12-13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries. Naturally this doesn't exhaust the artistic content of khachkars which are unlimitedly different almost each khachkar of that time is a unique creation in itself. Especially outstanding for its unusual mastery and fine carving is the khachkar on the northern side of the St. Grigor church, 1237, at the Nor-Getik monastery.

It was completed in 1291 by master Poghos. The khachkar, 3-planed and with fretwork, belongs to the third group.

The equally perfect khachkar in Noravank created by Momik in 1308 is much like this khachkar. It is also in 3-planed carving with seven 8-pointed stars on its framework and finely interlaced background.

Thus in the art of carving khachkars in the 12-13th centuries, all these regular phenomena were completely revealed, characteristic of Armenian art of that timefirst and foremost in architecture which was considered the main art. Khachkars were, in a way, "architectural miniatures". Their rather essential artistic qualities were quite regular.

1. The basic feature of most khachkars of the 12-13th centuries in their compositional structure, is their architectonic nature, their relation to architecture. Many

khachkars reproduce portals in a very clearcut manner, as arches on double, thin semi-columns. On many 13-14th century khachkars, the cross is placed under a multispanned arch, a purely decorative motif, genetically connected with architecture itself, with "earrings" popular at that time, encircling the upper triangular niches of church facades.

2. An intensifying of decorations is peculiar to 12-13th century khachkars and its role in their structure. Carvings became more abundant and perfect, especially skillful fretwork. The decoration of khachkars is distinguished for its plasticity, a quality which gradually intensified and developed further. This was expressed by deepening the background with 2-planed and later 3-planed carvings, in other words, intensifying light and shade and thus stressing the artistic beginning of carving khachkars. The most brilliant examples are the khachkars from Noravank.

3. These features elaborated in the field of monumental art, in architecture and thus being characteristic of it, were first of all transferred to khachkars. Such decorative elements as stars and rhombuses were transmitted from architecture to khachckars. This was likewise a specific architectural motif.

4. A more developed and expressive aspect in the decoration of 12-13th century khachkars is vegetative ornamentation in the form of volutes, curving stalks with thickening (petals close to the stalks) and with branches, as well as sprouts forming . almond-like figures. Such ornamentation is characteristic for all Armenian monumental carvings of the 12-13th centuries as well as for applied arts jewelry, miniatures, etc.). This ornamentation is very specific, it being formulated perhaps in Armenia itself. Its roots lie in antiquity.

5. The extensive complex of ornamentation of khachkars consists of geometrical ornaments they are verious rectangular and oblique-angled interiacings, quite veried in drawings, especially in the khachkar frames. This was undoubtedly borrowed from monumental architecture. Usually they had one or two vertical pillars on the sides of the cross, consisting of interlacing squares and rectangles filled with geometrical ornaments, sometimes with palmetto leaves in unrepeated drawings — a feature characteristic of Armenian art. Unrepeated drawings seem |o disturb the symmetry of the composition and bring about a peculiar kind of movement. This is one of the treasured qualities of Armenian (and not only Armenian) monumental art of a "new" style.

As may be noted, khachkars reflect the artistic achievements of the times in all their features. Thus they do not extend beyond the limits of regularities in Armenian monumental art of the Middle Ages. Khachkars seem to verify these regularities.

Chapter V The following period of the 14-17th centuries was a period of incessant enemy attacks on Armenia and a decline in the life of the country. Khachkars continued to be created in not small numbers, especially in Vayots Valley and Syunik, on the estates of the Orbelian and Proshian noble families which under the rule of the Mongols, had autonomy and independence to a certain degree. Undoubtedly this favoured the artistic creativity of Armenian architects and sculptors. Among them the outstanding master Momik created beautiful khachkars in the beginning of the 14th century at Noravank.

In referring to 14-15th century khachkars, tradition was very influential, to which Armenian carvers on stone of that time adhered. Their khachkars followed

old, established classic compositions (of group 1, 2, 3, 4 and the artistic 5th) while group 4 (with smaller crosses in the space between crosses) of the 14th century became especially widespread for its simplicity. Along with these, some deviations of this composition using carvings of different ornamental motifs must be mentioned. These khachkars seem to acquire a compiled effect which reveals a certain regress from artistic carvings. Khachkars may also be found on which the general composition with semipalmetto leaves bending towards the frame became a scheme far from the live, plastic drawings on 13th century khachkars.

A new element of additional small crosses appear on 14th century khachkars which began to be included in khachkar frames as well. In some such khachkars, they are found in great numbers. The beautiful khachkar in the village of Dsegh stands out for its fine carvings of winding volutes like stalks and almond-like figures. That was the reason it was called "sirun" (beautiful). This khachkar is imbued with carvings often found on other khachkars of the same time. The result is that separate elements of the composition seem to blend with the ornaments about thus the clearness of compositional structure of the khachkar is lost. In addition a reduction of the relief and its denseness is very characteristic for 14-15th century khachkars.

As it may be seen, 14th century khachkars added very little to the variety of compositional and decorative richness of khachkars from the period of the flourishment in Armenian art. Repetition of the past was, perhaps, more characteristic of Armenian artistic plasticity of that time. A brilliant exception of creative inspiration was the work of Momik and his school during the first half of the 14th century at the Vayots Valley monastery in Noravank. Momik's art and that of his school belonged, in essence, to 13th century art, too.

Khachkars of the 15-16th centuries are undoubtedly very interesting. They likewise, have their roots in traditional compositions and traditional ornamentation. Yet they do not lack uniqueness on the contrary, many khachkars are quite original. In many khachkars the ornamentation is not only arranged differently but is also given another stylistic form, differing from 12-13th century ornamentation. Some 15-16th century khachkars may be classified in group three. They are full of carvings, have wide frames in which crossses are included, blending with the ornamentation and not differing from it in any way.

Two khachkars in Kamo, created by masters Arakel and Melikset, are worth mentioning. On one of them, in the lower spaces between crosses, there are flourishing stalks from each side of which there appears a talisman in the form of a siren — an anthropomorphous girl-bird. This bird is sunny and heavenly, embodying the soul of the dead. Such an image was very popular in the Christian and Mohammedan East, especially during the 12-14th centuries, although its roots were early medieval. The siren was known in Armenia (Akhtamar church) beginning from the 10th century up to the 15-16th centuries.

As a whole late medieval khachkars which may be classified into groups two and three and have become traditional, clearly show that master-carvers of that period followed the old compositions only externally but departed from them, trying not to limit themselves in the choice and arrangements of ornaments. This is what gives 15-17th century khachkars a unique quality.

No less characteristic and symptomatic is another feature of khachkars of that time — being immensely imbued with ornaments, often subduing the compositional structure of khachkars, thus losing clearness and vividness. Its separate elements were dissolved. It is in that overloading with decorations that Armenian carvers of that time, it may be thought, expressed the richness of their works.

In the 15-16th century khachkars with a simpler composition, those with smaller crosses (group 4) were more popular. Many khachkars express this composition in a not-so-complex form. However each such khachkar has original features peculiar to it. A great number of late medieval khachkars of group four, similar to khachkars of group two and three, differ in that the smaller crosses are organically included in the ornamentation and blended with it. Five khachkars from Noratus of the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century by master Kiram are examples of this type two of those khachkars are dated 1582. Smaller crosses are held in the palms of the hands. All five khachkars of Kiram have some common features: extremely fine geometricized ornaments, completely covering the area of the khachkar without free spaces. Low reliefs, as a result of which clarity and vividness of composition is lost, is a feature distinguishing khachkars of the period of nourishment, that of the 12-13th centuries. The relief is expressed by only the basic crosses and stars.

Such a unique feature is also characteristic of many other late medieval khachkars (16-17th cent.) of group three and four.

Late medieval decorative khachkars are very interesting. They are few in number and mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. Among them, the 16th century khachkar at Kamo must be noted, which has a representation of Christ on the "peak" with secred animals beside him and anthropomorphous creatures behind there is a griffon on the right and a bird (probably a siren) on the left. The purpose of these images, connected with the heavens, is to serve as a talisman, protector.

The multi-sectioned khachkar at the monastery on the island of Sevan, 1653 (master Trdat) is extraordinarily imbued with presentations of the Crucifixion in the centre at the bottom of the cross there are kneeling church wardens, while below the cross there is a scene from "Descent into Hades". In the frame there are representations connected with the theme of the "Nativity".

Presentations are simplified and schematic. The figures are carried out in the tradition of Armenian monumental sculptures of the Middle Ages. As can be seen, however, they are the work of an untrained artist, since his work lacks the plasticity and mastery characteristic of khachkars of previous times and also its contemporaries.

In this respect, the 17th century khachkar in Echmiadzin is contrastingly different in the way it is executed. The khachkar consists of three parts. The main cross with two smaller ones is in the centre, above that there is a scene from the Nativity. There are church wardens on the base of the khachkar.

The reliefs of this khachkar are executed in a very traditional manner and don't go beyond the limits of such artistic standards worked out in 12-13th. century Armenian sculpture. The figures are presented in movement they are generalized yet very dynamic and expressive. These reliefs show how high the masters of that time evaluated their artistic heritage. Interestingly enough, secondary figures such as church wardens and shepherds are depicted in low relief.

Finally the very special and quite localized group of khachkars, 16th to the beginning of the 17th century, in old Djugha (on the Araks River in south Armenia) must be taken into consideration. Djugha's economic prosperity was due mainly to the flourishing silk trade with western Europe. In the cemetery of the now extinct town about 3500 khachkars have been preserved. They used and made variations of old traditional and more popular motifs in a unique way. These motifs, however, were basically elaborated. This refers to the composition of the khachkars themselves, like khachkars of group 2 and 4 and their proportions which were very elongated. The drawings of the carvings also changed they were more stylicized and higher in relief, rigid and exact.

The high relief of carvings brings about strong light and shade and thus the plasticity of khachkars. The rigidness of drawings imparted the Djugha khachkars a certain dryness but with that a vividly expressed peculiarity. That was the final concluding page in the history of khachkars.

That the Djugha masters bravely elaborated old motifs Is shown by certain khachkars. Compositional variations of Djugha khachkars with one cross or two, double-tiered (with 4 crosses) and with three niches in each tier are numerous. There are khachkars with pillared friezes.

Djugha ornamental khachkars are interesting in their presentation of Christ, kneeling church wardens below him, the Virgin and child, scenes from the Ascension. A horseman is depicted in the lower part of many khachkars and alongside him there are scenes of a feast with one to three figures seated cross-legged. They were probably the personages to whom the khachkar was dedicated.

In the upper part of khachkars there are often double presentations of anthropomorphous winged griffons, fused in their chests, with one head and dragon heads at the ends of their tails. They are apparently sacred images having the function of talismans. This image was deeply traditional, being known since the 11-12th centuries.

It is worth mentioning that the upper presentations (secred in content) were of high relief while the lower ones, secular in content (church wardens) were planed. The contents, It may be seen, corresponds to its artistic expression.

Such are these complex khachkars from Djugha imbued with carvings in (he form of traditional elements but stylistically elaborated in appearance. Khachkars are likewise plastic and artistic in their execution as were their outstanding forerunners of the 12-13 and beginning of the 14th century. These are, nevertheless, creations of a new, late medieval art, far from the Armenian monumental decorative classic style. In this lies the historical significance of the Djugha khachkars of the late Middle Ages. These khachkars are convincing evidence of the creative rise which appeared in that far corner of our country during the decline of Armenian medieval culture.

We have arrived at the end of our work. The purpose of our research was to study the formation and development of khachkars, to set up artistic groups and to follow their fate during many centuries from the 9-10 to the 17th centuries, when the history of khachkars came to an end. We tried to show how instructive, rich, varied and diverse in content was the material available, stressing its historical-artistic aspect. The material presented permits penetrating the nature of this form of "minor architecture" relations with which were never forgotten by Armenian master-carvers on stone and thus the relation with Armenian monumental art. Due to such features, khachkars are important in understanding the entire process in the development of Armenian medieval culture. The great, complicated path of this development is illuminated by khachkars with their bright, undying light.

Источник: А. Л. Якобсон. Армянские хачкары. Издательство «Айастан»1986 г.
Отсканировано: Микаел Яланузян
Распознавание: Андрей Максимов
Корректирование: Лина Камалян

Tatev Monastery: Its History and Where It Got Its Name

Tatev Monastery is an Armenian Apostolic monastery situated not far from Tatev, a village in Syunik, Armenia’s southernmost province. The monastery was built on a plateau on the edge of a deep gorge of the Vorotan River. Legend has it that the monastery derived its name from Saint Eustathius, one of the disciples of Saint Thaddaeus (known also as Saint Jude the Apostle). According to tradition, Saint Thaddaeus and Saint Bartholomew were the first to bring Christianity to Armenia. Saint Eustathius is believed to have accompanied his master to Armenia to spread Christianity, and was later martyred in the area of Tatev. During the 4th century AD, a shrine was built over the saint’s grave, drawing many pilgrims to the site. Eventually, the shrine was replaced by a monastery. As time passed, the name Eusthathius turned into Tatev.

According to another legend, Tatev was not named after a saint, but after a miracle that occurred at the time when the monastery was built. In the legend, when the master builder had completed constructing monastery, he asked for two wooden chips. He took the wooden chips and prayed to God, saying “ogni Surb ta tev”, which is Armenian for “May the Holy Spirit send down the wings.” When he had finished his prayer, the master builder threw himself into the gorge. As he was falling, wings grew on his back, and he flew away. Thus, the monastery was named Tatev, which translates to mean “give wings”.

Legends aside, the site of Tatev Monastery was already a religious site even before the arrival of Christianity, and was originally used for pagan worship. The first church is recorded to have been built during the 9th century AD. In 844 AD, Philip, the prince of Syunik, commissioned the building of the Saint Gregory Church. Several decades later, another church, the Saints Paul and Peter Church, was built at the site. The construction of this church began in 895 AD and was completed 11 years later. The church was built during the time of Bishop Hovhannes, and received the support of the princes of Syunik.

Sanahin Monastery

The architectural complexes of Sanahin and Haghpat are among the outstanding works of medieval Armenian architecture. In their artistic merits they transcend the limits of national culture.

The monasteries are situated in the north of Armenia, in the Tumanian district. Sanahin is now within the limits of Alaverdi city, and Haghpat is to the north-east of it, in the village of the same name. Standing on a high plateau, amidst low structures, they rise sharp against the background of steep forest-grown slopes of Bazum ridge. The ensembles are complemented by small churches built near them.

The exact date of the foundation of Sanahin and Haghpat is unknown. Documentary evidence and monuments of material culture suggest that these structures date back to the middle of the 10th century. The formation of Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom of the Kyurikids in 979 and the great attention paid to Sanahin and Haghpat by various rulers of Armenia and their vassals favored the construction of many religious and civil structures there. In these monasteries, especially in Sanahin, humanitarian sciences and medicine were studied, scientific treatises written and paintings, most miniatures, created.

Built in the monasteries over three centuries were more than 20 various churches and chapels, four annexes, sepulchers, bell-towers, the building of the Academy, book depositories, refectories, galleries, bridges and other monumental structures, to say nothing of numerous dwelling and service premises.

The main monastery buildings are grouped around their chief temples, forming integral architectural organisms. They are asymmetrical relative to their main axes, which lends them picturesqueness. Compactness and harmonious balancing of the complexes are achieved owing to the fact that each subsequent architect proceeded from the state of the ensemble that already existed and coordinated the shape and layout of his own buildings with it.

What Sanahin and Haghpat complexes have in common is not only the compositional features of various structures. The architectural details and decoration of the monuments, which belong to the same epoch, have much in common and are even exactly alike in some cases, which gives us ground to presume that they were created by craftsmen of the same school.

Most of the religious structures are of the cross-winged dome type and have annexes in four corners, or of the cupola hall type. The structures of the fist type are: in Haghpat, St. Grigory church (1005), which lost its dome during the reconstruction in 1211 in Sanahin. St. Hakob church (the 9th century), St. Astvatsatsin church, built some time between 928 and 944. and Amenaprkich church, completed in 966.

Standing out among these churches is Amenaprkich built by Khosrovanuish, the wife of Ashot III Bagratuni. This majestic structure with a transversally-oriented interior crowned with a huge dome in the center, has two-tier annexes. The altar apse and the dome drum were decorated with graceful arcatures which went well with the patchily ornamented window and door platbands accentuating the smooth spaces of the facades. The severe and majestic eastern facade is crowned in its gable with a monumental sculptural group of Kings Kyurike and Smbat. Chronologically, this is the first high-relief representation of human figures with a model of a church, which gives it great importance in Armenian art.

After the institution of the bishops throne in Sanahin in 979, the eastern, facade of Amenaprkich church, and the parts of the southern and northern facades adjacent to it were decorated with arcatures which enriched the outward appearance of the building. The triple and twin semi-columns with variously ornamented flat capitals and representations of fantastic creatures at the bases, imparted plasticity to the arcature and added to its artistic expressiveness. As a result of earthquakes. reconstructions and numerous repairs, the high dome was replaced by a low one. The internal abutments, reinforced by pilasters and wall arches, became heavier. The arcature of the altar apse was destroyed. The building lost some of its former grandeur. Nevertheless, its size and decoration are still quite impressive.

The most important of the cupola-hall type buildings is Nshana church in Haghpat, founded by Khosrovanuish in 976 and completed in 991. It is distinguished by its compactness and harmoniously balanced shapes crowned with a tremendous dome. In the interior, the fancy shape of the high cupola abutments, protruding to the center, is smoothly combined with high arches, resting on them and changing over from the semicircular to the pointed shape. The decoration, particularly ornamental carving, is very modest. A sculptural group of Smbat and Kyurike kings with a model of the temple in hands, a replica of that in Sanahin, is in a higher relief, which brings it closer to a three-dimensional sculpture fitted into a wall niche. This method of using sculpture also occurs in later monuments, for instance in the main temple of Harich monastery (1201).

The interiors of Astvatsatsin and Amenaprkich churches in Sanahin and Nshana in Haghpat, just as those of some other churches, were decorated with frescoes which are almost totally lost by now. The altar apse of Nshana church was decorated with frescoes twice, the last time in the second half of the 13th century. Probably the whole of the interior was covered with frescoes, of which only the representation of Paron Khurlu-bugi on the southern wall is relatively well preserved. In its stylistic features — color tone soft multi-layer treatment of the picture, etc. the technique of portraiture and of the murals of Kobayr and Haghtala monasteries is close to that of Georgian mural painting which was highly developed in the 12th century.

The infiltration of secular themes shows n the miniatures created by the artist Markare for the Haghpat Gospel of 1211. These miniatures are interesting not only for their artistic features, such as the intense and somewhat darkish color scheme, but also for the artists new attitude to the world. The miniature "The Entry into Jerusalem" shows a fragment of the city, a rich house and its owner. The khorans are decorated with men’s figures in secular costumes of those times. Of interest are the representations of standing men in expensive costumes, one with a jar and the other with a fish on a stick, and of a “gusan’’ musician sitting in the shade of a fruit tree.

The church of Harutyun in Sanahin, dating back to the early 13th century, is interesting from the point of view of its composition. Its interior is distinguished by two identical altar apses.

Grigory chapel, of the same church is a miniature concentric domed structure of the late 10th century. Its plan is circular on the outside, and four-petal inside, with horseshoe-shaped apses which impart plasticity to the interior. A high three-step stylobate imparts a certain amount of grandeur to the small chapel. Previously the chapel was engirdled with a graceful arcature with eight arches and unusual capitals and archivolts the triangular niches and the framings of the openings were subordinated to its rhythm. The fine ornamental carving of the door tympan is of interest.

The small churches and chapels of Haghpat and Sanahin are ordinary vaulted or domed structures differing from each other in size, details of composition and decorative features. Haghpat’s Astvatsatsin church of 1025, for instance, has quiet proportions and a low dome, while Kusanats anapat (nunnery) of the early 13th century has more dynamic proportions — the fractional bulk and a higher octahedral cupola decorated with an arcature composed of trefoil arches.

Annex are the largest structures of Sanahin and Haghpat, interesting monuments of medieval Armenian architecture. They were intended for morning and evening services. Parishioners for whom there was no room left in the temple stood there. The annex also served as sepulchers for outstanding figures and for the aristocracy. The annex (jhamatuns) were added to churches, hut there were also jhamatuns of the same type which stood separately from the church, sometimes next to it. In this case the jhamatuns did not only discharge their regular functions as annex but also served as places of meetings and councils of secular and church notables of the appropriate principality.

The annex of Amenaprkich church in Sanahin belongs to the four-pillar type. It was built in 1181 by the architect Jhamhair at the expense of Father Superior Ovanes and the prince’s family. This is an early example of the widespread buildings of this type based on the composition of the Armenian peasant home with four internal pillars. The artistically expressive columns which harmoniously divide the interior into separate parts predominate in the strictly centric interior. The bases and capitals of the columns are decorated with carvings and relief representations of the heads of the animals, which are of symbolic significance of stylized fruit and jars. The rectangular portal of the northern entrance is emphasized by a geometrical ornament.

The vestry of Astvatsatsin church in Sanahin, erected by Prince Vache Vachutian in 1211, is of a different type. It is a three-nave hall covered with vaults and steep two-slope roofs. The arrangement of the naves emphasizes the lateral axis of the complex. The columns of the interior are similar, differing only in the shape of the bases, shafts, capitals and in their ornamentation. The grandeur and monumentality of heavy arcades, of the low arches and of the high vaults which seem to draw the walls apart give the interior an integral and expressive character. The western facade with its six high archways is extremely picturesque.

Vestries and galleries, as well as special structures, served as sepulchers for members of aristocracy. There are several such structures in Sanahin and Haghpat. They differed from each other in their architectural composition, which is evidence of the great creative ingenuity of their architects. The most ancient of them is the sepulcher of Kyurike and David Kyurikids in Sanahin which consisted of two vaulted cells, isolated from each other, one built at the end of the 10th century, and the other in the middle of the 11th century.

The sepulcher of Zakharid princes in Sanahin is more complicated, its eastern part of the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century is a basement crypt with a vault on wall arches and with chapels rising above it, of which the middle one is rectangular in the plan, and the side ones are round and double-storeyed. The latter are of a type stylistically close to St. Grigory chapel from which they differ by their miniature size and by the gracefulness of their architecture. Built in 1189, the western part is simpler — it is a premise rectangular in the plan with an original large ornamented portal.

The bell-towers of Sanahin and Haghpat are the earliest examples of structures serving this purpose. These are tall three-floor towers with small annexes at various levels and a many-column rotund belfry on top. Sanahin’s bell-tower, built between 1211 and 1235, is of severe and laconic appearance. The bell-tower is crowned with a light rotunda, which became a characteristic feature of later separate bell-towers of Armenia. The smart western facade is singled out by a large ornamented cross of dark-red stone in a heavily shaped frame. The asymmetrically shaped windows, khachkars and carved spheres of yellow sandstone give the facade a picturesque and appealing look.

Sanahin Academy is an original work of civil architecture built in two stages at the end of the 10th century and at the beginning of the 11th century. This structure, rectangular in the plan, is roofed over numerous closely spaced arches resting on pillars attached to the church walls. The spaces between pillars are decorated with deep arched niches, presumable intended for the audience. The harmonious coordination between the heavy abutments and the arches gives the small premise a monumental appearance. Numerous and closely spaced divisions and the darkened niches make the interior look longer.

The book depositories of Haghpat and Sanahin are unique buildings illustrating the high level of development of civil architecture in the 11th—13th-century Armenia. Such buildings were erected, as a rule, away from the main churches of the monastery. They were square-shaped in plan and had a niche for keeping manuscripts in. Special attention was paid to the design of the roof which gave the book depositories a distinctive appearance.

The interior of Sanahin’s book depository, built in 1063, looks different. Its distinguishing feature is a huge octahedral tent roof resting on diagonally-arranged arches resting on intricate abutments in the middle of the walls. The facets of the tent-roof are made as overlapping bands, which makes it look like the tent-roofs of Armenian peasant homes. The wall niches and the wall-attached abutments vary in their shapes, sizes and ornamentation. Thanks to the curvilinear shape of their cross-sections, the abutments fit in snugly with the walls. The abutments are decorated with openwork and graceful carvings. Their decoration is complemented by that of the niches, the overall impression being that of a harmonious artistic whole. The composition of the interior makes Sanahin’s hook depository a unique work of medieval Armenian architecture. Its influence shows in various architectural forms of Armenia’s civil buildings.

Small structure over water springs, which are still in use, are of special interest among the monastery buildings. Their architectural composition, based on the principle of symmetry, is simple and laconic. These are vaulted premises. rectangular in the plan, with arched openings or the main, longitudinal, facade. The 1831 structure over a water spring in the yard of Sanahin monastery is a single-arched one: a village structure of this kind in Sanahin, dating back to the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, is twin-arched, and the 1258 structure in Haghpat is triple-arched, with the middle arch larger than the side ones and emphasizing the central axis of the structure. There are stone troughs stretching along the back wall of the structure for watering the village cattle, and also a water reservoir used by local residents. The vaulted composition was prompted by the climate of the country. The cool and damp air inside is a good protection against the scorching midsummer sun. The inner spaces, almost totally open in front, enrich the outer appearance of these purely utilitarian structures.

Sanahin bridge across the Debet river (1192) stands out among all the bridges found within the confines of the monasteries. This engineering structure of high artistic merits, integrity and perfect harmony is in a class by itself among the numerous bridges of the Transcaucasus. A single-span bridge, it has an original composition prompted by the local terrain: its right side is horizontal, and its left side terraces down to the bank. The parapets of the bridge are decorated with tiny spiked helmets at the edges and with the roughly hewn figures of lying wild cats in the central part.

Sanahin and Haghpat complexes are especially rich in khachkars (more than 8o of them have survived), which were intended not only as memorials. Some of them were installed to mark various events: in Sanahin, one was put up on the occasion of building a bridge in 1192, another one, of building an inn in 1205, and others are Tepagir (1011), Tsiranavor (1222), etc. In Haghpat, khachkars were built to perpetuate philanthropic activities of the persons whose names are inscribed on them (Amenaprkich, 1273). Some of the khachkars are quite sizeable. and their pedestals are high and fancy-shaped.

Most of the khachkar have the traditional shape of a cross which germinated out of a grain, with branches on its sides. In the khachkars of the 10th—11th century the framing of the cross was simpler than that of the 12th—13th century khachkars which developed new stylistic features. Ornamentation, which imparts picturesqueness to the general appearance of the khachkar and which covers the whole of the slab is mainly geometrical, consisting of stylized floral motives, squares which never repeat each other in their delineation and rosettes — some in the forefront, other in the background, and still others sometimes in between. The lacy patterns and their intricate interweavings on Sanahin’s Grigor Tudevordi khachkar (1184) or Sarkis khachkar (1215) are truly amazing for the ultimate skill of their execution. As distinct from them, Amenaprkich khachkar in Haghpat (1273) stands out for a great number of realistically depicted human figures fitted into the unique composition of the decor. Sophisticated ornamental compositions and their very high artistic level put the khachkars of Sanahin and Haghpat among outstanding works of Armenian art.

The ensembles of Sanahin and Haghpat stand out not only for the original architecture of religious and especially civil buildings. They are also most instructive as samples of town building art which show high skill of Armenian architects. Marked by the unity and compactness of their asymmetrical layout, they had a tremendous influence on the development of medieval Armenian architecture.

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The fortress walls surrounding the complex were built in the 17th–18th centuries.

S. Astvatsatsin

The nearest and grandest church is the Astvatsatsin (“Mother of God”), also called Burtelashen (“Burtel-built”) in honor of Prince Burtel Orbelian, its financer, is situated to the south-east of and at an angle to St. Karapet church and its gavit. The church, completed in 1339, is said to be the masterpiece of the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik, who designed it, and was also his last work. Near the church there is his tomb khachkar, small and modestly decorated, dated the same year. In recent times the fallen roof had been covered with a plain hipped roof, but in 1997 the drum and conical roof were rebuilt to reflect the original glory still attested by battered fragments. The ground floor contained elaborate tombs of Burtel and his family. Narrow steps projecting from the west façade lead up to the entrance to the church/oratory. Note the fine relief sculpture over the doors, Christ flanked by Peter and Paul.

Burtelashen is a highly artistic monument reminiscent of the tower-like burial structures of the first years of Christianity in Armenia. It is a memorial church. Its ground floor, rectangular in the plan, was a family burial vault, and the first floor (second to Americans), cross-shaped in the plan, was a memorial temple crownedwith a multi-column rotunda.

Burtelashen temple is the architecturally dominant structure of Noravank. An original three-tier composition of the building is based on the increasing height of the tiers and the combination of the heavy bottom with the divided middle and the semi-open top. Accordingly, decoration is more modest at the bottom and richer at the top. Employed here as elements of interior decoration are columns, small arches, profiled braces forming crosses of various shapes, medallions, window and door platbands.

The western portal is decorated with special splendor. An important role in its decoration is played by cantilever stairs leading to the first (second to Americans) storey across the ground-storey facade, with profiled butts of the steps. The doors are framed in broad rectangular platbands, with ledges in the upper part, with columns, fillets and strips of various, mostly geometrical, fine and intricate patterns. Between the outer plathand and the arched framing of the openings there are representations of doves and sirens with women's crowned heads. Such heraldic reliefs were widely used in fourteenth-century Armenian art and in earlier times in architecture, miniatures and works of applied art, on various vessels and bowls. The door tyrnpanums are decorated with high reliefs showing, in the ground storey, the Holy Virgin with the Child and Archangels Gabriel and Michael at her sides and, in the upper storey, a half-length representation of Christ and figures of the Apostles Peter and Paul. As distinct from the reliefs of Noravank's vestry, these ones are carved on a plain surface, which gives them greater independence. The figures are distinguished by plasticity of form, softness of modeling and accentuation of certain details of clothing.

A group of the founders of Burtelashen is depicted on three columns of the western part of its rotunda. The picture consisted of relief figures of the Holy Virgin with the Child, sitting on a throne, and two standing men in rich attire, one of them holding a model of the temple.

S. Karapet Church

The second church is the S. Karapet, a cross within square design with restored drum and dome built in 1216–1227, just N of the ruins of the original S. Karapet, destroyed in an earthquake. The church was built by the decree of Prince Liparit Orbelian.

In 1340 an earthquake destroyed the dome of the church which in 1361 was reconstructed by the architect Siranes. In 1931 the dome was damaged during another earthquake. In 1949, the roof and the walls of the church were repaired and finally completely renovated in 1998 with the aid of a Armenian-Canadian family.

Forming the western antechamber is an impressive gavit of 1261, decorated with splendid khachkars and with a series of inscribed gravestones in the floor. Note the famous carvings over the outside lintel. The church houses Prince Smbat Orbelian's mausoleum. The gavit was probably a four-pillar one. In 1321 the building, probably destroyed by an earthquake, was covered with a new roof in the shape of an enormous stone tent with horizontal divisions, imitating the wooden roof of the hazarashen—type peasant home. This made the structure quite different from other Armenian monuments of the same kind. The ceiling has four rows of brackets forming stalactite vaulting with a square lighting aperture at the top. A broad protruding girth over the half-columns, the deep niches with khachkars and the low tent-like ceiling almost devoid of decoration give the dimly lit interior a gloomy look.

The exterior decoration focus' mainly on the western facade where the entrance to the building is. Framed in two rows of trefoils and an inscription, the semi-circular tympanum of the door is filled with an ornament and with a representation of the Holy Virgin seated on a rug with the Child and flanked by two saints. The ornament also has large letters interlaced by shoots with leaves and flowers. The Holy Virgin is sitting in the Oriental way with Child. The pattern of the rug is visible with drooping tassels. It should be noted that in Syunik temples of the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries the cult of the Holy Virgin was widely spread. She was depicted in relief, and many churches were dedicated to her.

The pointed tympanum of the twin window over the door is decorated with a unique relief representation of the large-headed and bearded God the Father with large almond shaped eyes blessing the Crucifix with his right hand and holding in his left hand the head of Adam, with a dove — the Holy Spirit — above it. In the right corner of the tympanum there is a seraph dove the space between it and the figure of the Father is filled with an inscription.

S. Grigor Chapel

The side chapel of S. Grigor was added by the architect Siranes to the northern wall of S. Karapet church in 1275. The chapel contains more Orbelian family tombs, including a splendid carved lion/human tombstone dated 1300, covering the grave of Elikum son of Prince Tarsayich Orbelian. The modest structure has a rectangular plan, with a semi-circular altar and a vaulted ceiling on a wall arch. The entrance with an arched tympanum is decorated with columns, and the altar apse is flanked with khachkars and representations of doves in relief.


The complex has several surviving khachkars. The most intricate of them all is a 1308 khachkar by Momik. Standing out against the carved background are a large cross over a shield-shaped rosette and salient eight-pointed stars vertically arranged on its sides. The top of the khachkar shows a Deesis scene framed in cinquefoil arches symbolizing a pergola as suggested by the background ornament of flowers, fruit and vine leaves.

Ancient Architectural Miracles of Armenia

Some consider Armenia a museum in the open air due to the country’s rich culture, architecture, and sights. Monasteries and temples are an integral part of its culture.

There are more than 2,000 churches on the territory of the modern Republic of Armenia. Unfortunately, some of them are partially destroyed or left to their own fate.

Here, we have 10 outstandingly beautiful and important structures, which at one time served as religious and culture centers of whole villages and cities. Mostly, their names are forgotten by now.

The Tatev Desert Monastery

This monastery is located near the Tatev village in the Syunik Province, Armenia. It was built in the 17th century after the degradation of the Kharants desert. The main building of the complex is the Surb Astvatsatsin church, which is a three-nave basilica with a portico on its western side.

The year “1663” is inscribed above the entrance of the church, which is probably the year the monastic complex was built in. A small covered crypt is located in the northern parts of the building.

The Tatev Desert Monastery is one of the most notable and important complexes of the late medieval Armenian architecture. The complex was used as an outpost during the liberation movement organized by David Bek in the 18th century. Although the complex was damaged by an earthquake in 1930, it is quite well-preserved today.

The Khuchap Monastery

The Khuchap Monastery is located near the Privolnoye village of the Lori Province. It was built in the 13th century. The main building of the complex, the dome church, was constructed with felsic tuff stones.

To the sides of the church’s apse are two-story chapels. Their top stories were used as caches, which had secret passages as well. The right chapel has preserved old frescos. Unfortunately, the monastery is now abandoned.

The Kobayr Monastery

Kobayr is yet another medieval Armenian monastery located not too far away from the city of Tumanyan of the Lori Province. The complex is positioned on a slope of a mountain above the canyon of the Debed River. The 11th-century monastery includes one central cathedral, two chapels, a belt tower-burial vault, a refectory, and a cemetery. The main entrance of the complex is an open hall with round towers forming a tunnel.

In the light of historical events, the complex at some point was passed to the neighboring Georgian Bagratid kingdom.

The Kobayr Monastery is a prominent example of Armenian medieval architecture. Despite the current half-ruined condition, the monastery has preserved Armenian and Georgian frescos.

The Zorats Tachar Temple

Zorats Tachar is the widely accepted name of the 13th-century Surb Stepanos temple. It is located west of the Yeghegis village of the Vayots Dzor Province.

The architectural appearance of the temple is quite unique for the Armenian architectonics. One reason for that is that it only has one apse. Besides, the prayers were standing out in the open during services.

It is noteworthy that the Armenian soldiers took an oath exactly here before their battles. The territory of the temple is rich in khachkars as well.

The Tsaghats Kar Monastery

This abandoned monastery is located in the same area as the Zorats Tachar temple. This 10th-century complex has two buildings, the Surb Hovhannes and Surb Karapet Churches.

The wall of the main entrance is decorated with images of pomegranates and grapes. The interior of the churches has well-preserved frescos. Tsaghats Kar once was a local cultural center. Today, the complex is half ruined and needs some restoration works.

The Arakelots Monastery

The Arakelots Monastery is located on a picturesque hill near the village of Ajakurt of the Tavush Province. Little to no information about the monastery has reached us. It is only known that it was built in the 13th century.

The monastic complex includes one small and one bigger church. Besides, several buildings on the territory of the monastery testify that the Arakelots temple has once been in a center of a densely populated area. There are numerous khachkars here as well.

The Kirants Monastery

Within easy reach of the Arakelots Monastery is another one named Kirants, which is located in the village of the same name. Like its neighbor, the Kirants Monastery was built in the 13th century.

The complex is comprised of three brick churches. The main church has dome construction. To the sides of its altar are chapels. The vertical drum is ornamented with colorful glazed tiles with images of stars and the moon. Two smaller churches adjoin the main building from the north and south. The interior of the main church and the refectory is decorated with frescos.

The Kakavaberd Fortress

Also known as Geghi Berd, Kakavaberd is a fortress located on a ridge with a view of the canyon of the Azat River in the Khosrov Forest State Reserve. The fortress was mentioned for the first time by Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi in the 9th-10th centuries. According to him, the fortress belonged to the Bagratuni dynasty.

The rugged terrain makes the Kakavaberd Fortress inaccessible from three sides. To get to the fortress, one would need to drive and then walk for quite a long time.

The Artavazik Church

1km west of the Byurakan village in the Aragatsotn Province is the Artavazik Church, which was built in the 7th century. The church is of crossed-dome architectural style. Its eastern wing is semicircular while the rest are rectangular.

There is a small chapel in the northeastern corner of the church. In the 13th century, a bell tower was attached to the western side of the church’s roof. A huge 13th-century khachkar is located nearby. Today, the church is partially ruined.

The Akhtala Monastery

The Akhtala monastic complex and fortress is located in the canyon of the Debed River at the foothills of the Lalvar Mount. The complex was constructed in the 10th century and was mostly used as one of the outposts of the Kingdom of Tashir-Dzoraget. Before the 14th century, the complex was known as Pghindzavank (Armenian: Պղնձավանք, English: Coppermine Monastery). The main temple has frescos in a quite good condition. Above the altar is an image of the Mother of God with her Child.

Top 13 Things to Do in Armenia

Ironically, with all its wonderful places, Armenia still fails to be the first thing a tourist would want to explore. However, here are some of the most interesting things to do in Armenia that will make Armenia unforgettable and tempting for you! Here are the top 14 things to do in Armenia:

1. Treat Your Palate With Local Cuisine

Armenian cuisines have a sharp influence of European and Levantine cuisines. It reflects the history and tradition of the country too. The most striking difference from the Armenian cuisines to other cuisines is that it relies more on freshness of ingredients rather than the spices used. Different kinds of wheat forms are used with herbs, legumes, dry fruits, dairy, vegetables or meats to prepare the typical dishes like dzhash (stew), Morash. Kyufta, Lavash et al are wonderful local food choices. You can try such signature dishes at any café or restaurant in Armenia.

Cost: For any dish at any local restaurant, the cost would come around INR 700/-.

2. Explore The Pink City, Yerevan

It is called the ‘Pink City’ because its buildings are made of the volcanic rocks that have different hues of pink. This city boasts its magnificent architecture and also portrays several cultural centres, monuments and museums as the key sights. Even though it is called the ‘City of Stones’ for its old structures made out of stones only, its modern architecture is just an alluring one to appeal all.

Best Places to Visit: Some of the major sites include, Genocide Memorial, Mother Armenia Monument, Republic Square and Vernissage Art Market amongst others are must-visit places.

3. Try Out The Armenian Wines

Being the oldest country in the world to be producing wines, Armenia is a place that can turn you into a wine person! It has several valleys like the one in the Mount Arafat where high quality of grapes is grown. From the traditional red wine to different fruit flavoured ones from pomegranate and apricot, wines here come in innumerable varieties.

Cost: It ranges from INR 2100/- to INR 8000/-.

4. Visit The Noratus Cemetery

The cemetery is a beautiful collection of Khachkars or cross-stones that date back to at least a 1,000 years. They are well preserved and have very unique and interesting carvings on them. The carvings portray the stories that will leave anyone enticed. One such Khachkar depicts a celebratory wedding scene which tries to show how happiness can help to overcome death.

Location: Gegharkunik province of Armenia, near the town of Gavar.

5. Explore The Age-Old Churches

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity and that’s why it has several churches from a very long time ago. Some of them are dating back to even 301 AD. These churches and monasteries are renovated and restored periodically to keep their charm intact. There are many ruins in the major locations of Armenia as well that will give you a glimpse into its rich history. Some of these ancient churches are the ones that you must visit for an experience for the lifetime.

The famous Geghard Monastery is one of them. Entire monastery and church have been carved into a mountain. The Zorats Karer is an ideal ruin to be mystified as this peculiar prehistoric site has large stones with holes arranged in a circle. It is popularly known as the ‘Armenian Stonehedge.’

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6. Go Cafe Hopping

Armenians are their own people and add their local flavour to everything. Even their coffee is completely distinguishable from any other coffee you would drink anywhere else in the world. And, the magic lies in their preparation. They crush their coffee beans, add some water to that and heat in special pots that have a narrow top. They leave the residue on the bottom and enjoy a thick sugar–free coffee. It is a must-try indeed!

7. Discover The Pagan Culture At Garni Temple

The Garni Temple is the last Pagan Temple in Armenia and it is well–preserved till date. It is so beautiful that it was left alone while the other Pagan temples were being destroyed to be replaced by the churches.

Location: ‎Garni, Kotayk Province‎, Armenia.

8. Witness Lake Sevan And Explore Its Surroundings

Also called as the black lake, Lake Sevan is an enormous lake. It almost takes up to 5% of Armenia. It is a freshwater lake situated at a high altitude of 2000 meters above the Sea level. You can go boating and swimming here or take a cool dip.

Location: ‎Gegharkunik Province, Armenia

9. Go Skiing At Tsaghkadzor

There are several ski stations in Tsaghkadzor which is the most popular tourist place in Armenia to go skiing or snowboarding. You can also rent the equipment here. You can commute between the ski stations through a ski lift. There is also a ropeway here that makes for a spectacular view for a top.

Cost: It is quite cheaper and usually cost about INR 1000/- per person.

10. Hike At The Khosrov Forest State Reserve

The Khosrov Forest State Reserve is the perfect place for outdoor activities for the nature lovers. It is not just rich in nature but is also a cultural heritage. It has a wide variety of wildlife with about 9000 species of flora and 283 species of fauna. Expect to spot a Caspian Snowcock or an Armenian Viber or a Bezoar Goat while hiking its beautiful routes.

Location: Ararat Province in south-western Armenia

11. Learn The Historicity At Museums

Armenia has lots of museum and each of them is dedicated to one thing. At the Museum of Modern Art explore the 2,300 artefacts depict the evolution of modern art in Armenia. At the Museum of Folk Art you are amazed by seeing the wide collection of folk art that represents the different eras of Armenian culture and traditions.

At Matenadaran, which houses 23000 manuscripts and ancient printed books, you get in touch with the roots of the Armenian history, heritage and culture. Many such museums and galleries in Armenia are there that have exquisite collections. The wonderful architecture of these museums equally leave you charmed.

12. Visit Old Khndzoresk Cave Village

The old Khndzoresk cave village is the largest network of natural and man-made caves. It is situated on the slope of a hill that also has three schools and a few churches. It is not uninhabited. You will also get to cross a 160-meter long bridge that would shake at your every step. It really is the perfect place to have your adrenaline pumping.
Location: Old Khndzoresk, Syunik Province, Armenia.

13. Fly At the Wings Of Tatev

The Wings of Tatev is an aerial tramway that runs across the culturally and historically significant places as well as the natural treasures in the Syunik province. It is a 12-minute ride that soars about 320 meters above. The views are absolutely worth it!

Cost: It starts with INR 1000/-

Armenia is indeed one of the best places that offer you the best avenues for a varied number of activities to do and have a good time. Add the above-listed things to do in Armenia in your itinerary to spend your Asian holiday exploring its natural beauties, immersing in its culture and soaking up its history!

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Khachkar Used as Pillar at Zorats Church - History

The histories of Georgia and Armenia are closely intertwined and relations between the two nations date back centuries. More than 200,000 Armenians currently live in Georgia, (400.000, according to unofficial data) concentrated mainly in Tbilisi, Javakhk, Kvemo Kartli, Batumi, Telavi, Surami, Gori, Bolnis-Khachen and other places.

The mass migration of Armenians to Georgia began in the 11th century after the fall of the Armenian kingdom of Bagratuni and its capital Ani. Georgia became a pillar for Armenian patriots in the struggle for the liberation of the homeland. The city of Gori was established for the residence of a large number of Armenians who moved from Ani.

In the eighteenth century, a sizable group of Armenian merchants started to settle in Tbilisi (at the time called Tiflis) where they built churches and educational facilities.

By the nineteenth century, Armenians made up a sizable portion of the population. At this time, an Armenian commercial bourgeoisie was formed, (consisting of the famous Mantashev, Aramyants, and Gukasov families) who owned around 60% of the industrial enterprises and trading houses of Tbilisi. The city became the economic, cultural, and political center of Eastern Armenia, giving rise to some of the most prolific figures in Armenian history.

Among them were the poet Sayat Nova who was born in the Tiflis, artists Stepanos Nersisyan, Gevorg Bashinjaghian, the Hovnatanyan family &ndash Mkrtum, Hakob and Aghaton, painter Gayane Khachaturian, film director Rouben Mamoulian, world-famous composer Aram Khachaturian, and visionary artist and filmmaker Sergei Parajanov.

The Armenian Theater, on Havlabari&rsquos main square, dates back to 1858. The original building was demolished and its reconstruction is expected to be completed in 2020.

The city played a central role in the development of Armenian literature. Writers Ghazaros Aghayan, Gabriel Sundukian, and Nar-Dos were born there, while literally giants Raffi and Hovhannes Tumanyan spent the majority of their lives there. In 1899, Tumanyan established the Vernatun literary club with Avetik Isahakyan, Derenik Demirjian, Levon Shant, and others. The Tumanyan House opened in 2017, retraces its history.

Armenian-language press in Georgia has had a remarkably rich history. More than 260 Armenian periodicals were published here at different times. The Armenian newspaper Vrastan, founded in 1920, is the oldest newspaper in Georgia that is still in circulation.

The Nersesian Seminary, opened in 1824, is one of the largest Armenian educational establishments in the world. The writers Khachatur Abovyan, Perch Proshyan, as well as political figures like Soghomon Tehlirian and Anastas Mikoyan, all studied there. In 1911, the seminary moved to a new building on Arsenal Hill it was built entirely out of tuff imported from Armenia. It closed down in 1924 and today the building is used by the Caucasus University. Currently, there are 154 Armenian schools and schools with mixed education in Georgia, including 8 in Tbilisi, 115 in Samtskhe&ndashJavakheti, 29 in Shida (Inner) Kartli.

Georgia, and especially the city of Tbilisi were also central to Armenian political developments. In 1880, Mikhail Loris Melikov, was named Minister of the Interior of the Russian Empire. Just 10 years after the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) was founded in Tbilisi in 1890. Furthermore, representatives of the Armenian community have held senior positions in the country&rsquos governing bodies, for example, Tbilisi has had more than 40 Armenian mayors.

Throughout the 7th to 19th centuries, Armenians built more than 600 churches in the territory of Georgia, and the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church was formed. Despite the rich religious history, many of the churches were destroyed during the Soviet Era. Nowadays, of the many Armenian Churches only the Saint George&rsquos Church (the seat) and the Ejmiatsin Church (Ejmiatsnetsots St. Gevorg in Havlabar) are functioning in Tbilisi, the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church &ndash in Akhaltsikhe, the Surb Khach (The Holy Cross) Church &ndash in Akhalkalaki and the Saint Sarkis Church &ndash in Ninotsminda. Of special significance is the Armenian Pantheon of Tbilisi (Khojivank), where great Armenian rulers, high-ranking clergymen, notable figures of literature and culture are buried. The Pantheon was once formed around Khojivank (built in 1780), which was demolished in the 1930s, and many of the tombs were destroyed.

In the south of the country, the region of Javakhk (Javakheti in Georgian) was incorporated into the Russian Empire after the Russian-Turkish War (1828-1829), and its Armenian population grew substantially with the arrival of refugees from Western Armenia (mainly from Karin, now known as Erzurum). Since the end of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of Javakhk&rsquos population has been made up of Armenians it&rsquos currently estimated that Armenians make up more than 90% of the population. In 1921 when Georgia came fully under Soviet control Javakhk was formally incorporated in the Georgian SSR.

Javakhk&rsquos capital Akhalkalak is a small Armenian town of about 13,000 people. The Church of the Holy Cross (Surb Khach) was inaugurated in 1856. In the church compound, the statue of Bagratuni Karapet appears to be watching over the town. Sometimes called Karapet Srpazan, this priest from Erzurum led thousands of Armenian refugees toward Javakhk during the Russo-Turkish war. A statue of Mesrop Mashtots was also erected in a square in the center of town.

The second largest town in Javakhk, Ninotsminda has about 6,000 residents. In a peaceful neighborhood in the north of the town, St. Sarkis Church dates back to the nineteenth century. Even further north, a memorial pays tribute to Soviet Armenian soldiers who died during the Second World War. The Armenian Genocide memorial is located behind the Georgian Armenian Friendship Park.

There are dozens of small villages in the region, many populated entirely by Armenians. Some villages are Armenian Catholic and have their own schools and small churches. The Church of the Holy Mother of God in Hestia is considered to be the spiritual center of their community.

An ethnographic Museum of Javakhk Armenians was opened in 2019 in the village of Satkhe, and the village of Gandza is home to the Vahan Teryan House-Museum. The Jivani Museum, dedicated to the Armenian poet, is located in the village of Kartsakhi, about five kilometers from the Turkish border.

Not far from Javakhk, the town of Akhaltsikhe (&ldquoAkhaltskha&rdquo in Armenian) was also predominantly Armenian during the Soviet era. The Armenian Catholic Cardinal Grigor Petros XV Agagianian, one of the forerunners for the papacy during the conclave of 1958, as well as Michael Aznavourian, the father of Charles Aznavour, are natives of Akhaltsikhe.

On the coast of the Black Sea, the beach resort of Batumi has been home to an Armenian community since the nineteenth century. The Church of the Holy Saviour (Surb Amenaprkitch) was built in 1887. In 2010, a khachkar was put into the church&rsquos courtyard. The Armenian Catholic church is in ruins. About 10,000 Armenians live in Adjara.

Currently, there are also a number of Armenian community organizations operating in Georgia, such as the Javakhk People's Movement, Parvana, the Union of Georgian Armenians, the Union of Armenians of Adjara, and the Youth Union of Adjara. etc.

Secrets of Armenia Duration-10 days, 9 nights|Archaeological Tour|Meal Plan-HB|Accommodation-4* Hotels|

Archaeological Tour 10 Days from 1032 USD

This unique and exceptional tour will allow you to ‘touch’ the sources of human civilization. Moreover, it may inspire you to re-consider and re-write the history of humankind. The 6000 year old city, discovered in a mountain forest, will open for you its curtains hiding numerous secrets of the past, share with you unique power of healing cosmic energy and, of course, exceptionally beautiful landscape. You will see the world’s oldest observatory Zorats Karer, also called Karahunj, which is about 7500 years old, as well as the ancient “City of Knowledge”, cave cities Goris and Khndzoresk, magnificent temples and monasteries and most important, the Swinging column (Syun) - the 8th Wonder of the World. This eight meter multi-ton octahedral pillar was constructed using pivoting-base technique, which allows at the mere touch of a human hand to tilt and then return to its initial position. This “Heaven compass” points to the Orion constellation and Sirius star during the days of Navasard (Ancient Armenian New Year on 11th of August).

Day1: Arrival. Free day

Arrival to Yerevan international Airport Zvartnots. Transfer to the hotel. Check in.

Day 2: Yerevan City Tour

Breakfast at the hotel. You will start your tour with panoramic city tour of Yerevan. Along the way you will see the Sports and Concert complex, Kievyan Bridge, Baghramyan Avenue, the Presidential Palace, Academy of Sciences, National Parliament and the Opera House. Also you will visit History Museum and Brandy factory with tasting of 3 types of famous Armenian cognac. Lunch during the tour.Back to the hotel.Dinner at a traditional Armenian Restaurant. Overnight in Yerevan.

Day 3: Yerevan – Echmiatsin – Zvartnots–Metsamor - Yerevan

Breakfast at the hotel. Start your tour with a visit of Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the first official Christian church in the world, built in 301 A.D. Lunch during the tour. Depart from Etchmiadzin to Zvartonts, 7th Century centrally planned aisled tetra conch type Armenian cathedral built by the order of Catholicos Nerses the Builder from 643-652. Now in ruins. Measurements of energy fields. Then continue the tour to the excavations of Metsamor. An ancient observatory and center of ancient metallurgy, visit the History Museum of Metsamor and the fortress of Argishti Khinili – an amazing stone chronicle.Dinner.Back to the Hotel. Overnight in Yerevan.

Then continue the tour to the excavations of Metsamor. An ancient observatory and center of ancient metallurgy, visit the History Museum of Metsamor and the fortress of Argishti Khinili – an amazing stone chronicle. Dinner. Back to the Hotel. Overnight in Yerevan.

Day 4: Yerevan – Agarak - Garni – Geghard - Yerevan

Breakfast at the hotel in Yerevan. Trip to the magnificent complex Agarak - ancient settlement with numerous mysteries and secrets. It is A Prehistoric Plateau, located in the foothills of Mount Aragats (the highest in Armenia) and has a unique energy that has a therapeutic effect on people. Excavations, ancient burial chambers, places of worship. Visit Garni, the only pagan temple in Armenia. Also see the magnificent canyon and organ-like vertical cliffs. Take part at a traditional lavash making ceremony. Lunch during the tour.

Visit a magnificent Christian Monastery Geghard, carved in the rocks. The monastery has an amazing architecture, energy and stunning acoustics. Back to Yerevan. Dinner. Overnight.

Day 5: Yerevan – Dvin – Noravank – Goris

Breakfast at the hotel in Yerevan, check-out. Depart from Yerevan to Goris (250km far from Yerevan). On the way to Goris visit Pyramid of Dvin discovered by our research group. Continue the trip to Noravank Monastery. Lunch. A magnificent monument of medieval Armenian architecture, surrounded with gorgeous red rocks. An amazing architecture, polygonal masonry walls and dome are continuity of time, eyes on a hanging column in the church, symbols of torsion fields. Arrive Goris. Check in the hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Goris.

Day 6: Goris - Ukhtasar - Goris

Breakfast at the hotel in Goris. Ughtasar Petroglyphs are petroglyphs found in Armenia. There are dozens of rock carvings, known as "Itsagir", found in the territory of Armenia. Reproductions of the petroglyphs, or rock engravings, of Ughtasar can be found all over Yerevan they are inscribed onto silver jewelry, painted onto coffee cups, traced into hand-made pottery, and they adorn the walls of cafes.

Located in mountain range about 20 miles from Sisian, the petroglyphs can only be accessed by an uphill climb in a Soviet-era 4×4 UAZ (3 hour drive from the highway for round trip). Over 2,000 decorated rock fragments extend to the foot of the mountain. The petro glyphs, some believed to date back to the Paleolithic Era, are carved onto dark brownish-black volcanic stones left behind by an extinct volcano. Although the site was discovered in the early 20th century, it is still not fully understood today. Lunch and dinner. Drive back to hotel. Overnight in Goris.

Day 7: Goris - Khndzoresk – Qarahunj – Goris

Breakfast at the hotel in Goris. Excursion to Khndzoresk. Which is located at a distance of 8 km from Goris. Khndzoresk is widely famous for its canyon with picturesque rock formations and ancient cave settlement. The artificial caves, some of which are currently used as stables and warehouses, used to be inhabited till the 1950s. Then visit the oldest (12000 years old) observatory Zorats Qarer, also called Qarahunj (prototype of Stonehenge).

Day 8: Goris - Tatev Monastery – Ditaket - ‘City of Knowledge’ - Goris

Breakfast at the hotel in Goris.Trip to Tatev Monastery by the longest cable car in the world. Here is the 8th Wonder of World, the swinging pole –pointing to the constellation of Orion. There are millions of columns, pillars, obelisks in the world, but only in Tatev a multi-ton pillar can swing at a mere touch of a hand! Using their fundamental knowledge in the field of astronomy, mathematics, physics,chemistry, philosophy, architecture and construction, our ancestors established this unique pillar, where the mysteries of the universe, the mysteries of that time, the secrets of the calendar have been encrypted.

Lunch during the tour in the forest on the edge of deep gorge of breathtaking beauty. On the way back a stop at the observation deck of the river gorge Vorotan. City of Knowedge. Exploration of middle plateau. The ruins of houses, architectural details ancient burial ground. Return to Goris. Dinner. Overnight in Goris.

Day 9: Goris – Vardenyats Pass – Caravanserai – Noratus – Sevan - Erevan

Breakfast at the hotel – check out. On the way cross through Orbelian's Caravanserai, one of the most famous parts of ancient great Silk Roads. You can trace the Silk Road in Armenia by following its caravanserai, or inns medieval stopping points where caravan riders and their pack animals spent the night. The Orbelian's Caravanserai in Vardenyats Pass is a valuable example of these inns along the Armenian Silk Road.

Continue to Noratus which is truly considered to be forest of khachkars, displays hundreds of khachkars, the most stunning of which are the so called ''embroidered'' ones typical to the 13th-14th centuries. Transfer to visit Lake Sevan. Which is the second highest fresh water lake in the world (1900 Meters above the sea). The lake is also famous for its peninsula and medieval Sevanavank monastery complex built in 874.You can enjoy the beautiful landscape and crystal water as well as fresh air. Lunch during the tour. Drive back to Yerevan. Check-in to hotel. Farewell Dinner. Overnight.

Day 10: Depart Yerevan.

Free day. Transfer to the airport. Departure.

Rates are quoted in USD per person in DBL sharing and SGL rooms on HB basis:

Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan was the starting point for our exploration of Armenia and Georgia and in early March it was chilly, with snow on the ground and freezing fog obscuring our view most mornings, but pretty much every afternoon the sun broke through and we enjoyed its mixture of old and new buildings, public parks and lots of art.

The St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral looked very atmospheric in the snow and fog. It was consecrated in 2001 having been built to celebrate 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia.

In the 1920s there was a grand plan to redesign Yerevan, it took a few years to be completed but Republic Square was the centre of that plan and today is the focal point of the city. Around its sides are impressive government buildings in the pink tufa stone characteristic of Yerevan, and in the centre is a pedestrianised square which is supposedly paved to look like a traditional Armenian carpet from above. I’m not sure that it manages to look like a carpet, but in the summer I’m sure it’s bustling with crowds watching the musical fountains whose pools were still empty after the winter when we visited.

Government offices and the History Museum of Armenia (right) flank the ‘carpet’ section of Republic Square

At the northern edge of the city centre is the Cafesjian Art Centre, also known as the Cascade due to its stepped appearance and fountains (also not working in March)

The Cafesjian Art Centre is a modern art space unlike anything we’ve seen before. Housed in a huge staircase with fountains, called the Cascade, it houses sculptures beside the escalators which run between the levels and an external sculpture park in the gardens at the front and on the building’s terraces with a funky range of modern art. On each internal level are galleries including two permanent exhibitions with huge pieces commissioned specifically for the museum – a mural of the History of Armenia by Grigor Khanjyan and a relief carving of the epic David of Sassoon.

Cafesjian Art Centre (clockwise from left): escalators run inside the building ‘The Knot’ by Stephen Kettle is made of Welsh slate ‘Gendrd I’ by Barry Flanagan is situated in the external sculpture garden

Following the steps above the Cascade building we came out at Victory Park which contains a fun fair and a large statue representing Mother Armenia

We also visited a couple of smaller art museums including the excellent museum dedicated to Yervand Kochar, a contemporary of Picasso, whose 4D sculptures were unlike anything we’ve seen before – rotating pieces of curved metal, slotted together and painted on all sides to create something not quite like a painting or a sculpture – Kochar called them “Painting in Space”.

Several of Kochar’s more traditional sculptures are placed around the city including the statue of 5th century military leader Vardan Mamikonyan in the Circular Park, notable for all four of the horse’s feet being off the ground

We visited a LOT of churches and monasteries during our weeks in Armenia and Georgia but on our first afternoon in Yerevan we had one of those serendipitous moments that remind us why we travel. We’d read about a small church surrounded by apartment blocks and as we approached at 5pm its bells were ringing. We entered just as a service started and sat quietly at the back watching people come and go while priests chanted, candles were lit and incense pervaded the air.

The Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church doesn’t look so remarkable from the outside, but inside it felt other worldly

As we exited the museum a Russian delegation was visiting the monument and laying flowers so we had to wait for them to leave before we could approach the eternal flame

To the west of the city centre there’s a former railway tunnel that runs down the hill to the park beside the Hrazdan river. It’s been converted for pedestrian use and is full of graffiti, nevertheless it probably wouldn’t be all that interesting were it not for the unusual zig-zag lighting which makes for a great photo.

In front of the Matenadaran is a statue of Mesrop Mashtots the creator of Armenia’s alphabet

Consequently our Armenian vocabularly is about 50% food words and when we finally visited the large GUM market we recognised a lot of what we saw. In the summer months I think the fresh produce would play more of a starring role but in the winter there were nuts and preserved fruit galore alongside the butchers, greengrocers, spice stalls and clothes sellers and a fabulous second-hand “junk shop” like corner of the upper level which is where we agreed we would find the furnishings for our Yerevan apartment if we lived here!

One corner if the market hall is devoted to the huge Armenian flatbreads called lavash

No sooner had we entered the market than the dried fruit and nut sellers started to bombard us with samples and start off on their spiel at breakneck speed (usually in Russian). This was a little intimidating and we were wandering along trying to keep our heads down when an enthusiastic vendor started thrusting spices under our nose and feeding us samples of his barberries. We politely agreed that they smelt wonderful but thank you we don’t want any, undeterred he took us to his store room at the side of the market hall and started plying us with samples of pomegranate wine and apricot vodka (we refused the latter as it was 10.30am but it smelt wonderful). We gave in and bought a litre of the pomegranate wine and he decanted from the large container into an old Coke bottle before we made our escape!

Yerevan’s GUM market (clockwise from top left): orderly displays of dried fruit and nuts salad and herbs go on, pretend you don’t want to delve into this lot for treasure there was a lot of locally produced honey for sale

On our final afternoon in the city we took a tour of one of the city’s two brandy factories, the Noy Brandy Company. Originally set up in the 19th century it closed down and fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th century. It’s now been renovated and reopened complete with cellars full of old wine barrels (though they only produce brandy here now). During the Soviet era Armenian brandy was prized across the USSR and Noy are proud that they are still the official brandy supplier to the Kremlin.

Watch the video: Zvartnots Cathedral, Armenia (December 2021).