Architecture

Architecture

Architecture is the richest part of Armenian cultural heritage. For over 4 millennia Armenians developed their architectural styles. During the period of Van’s kingdom (Urartu), which existed 9th-6th centuries BC, architecture in Armenian highland was noted for its high standards in city building (Tushpa-Van, Erebuni, Argishtikhinili, Teishebaini etc), including palatial complexes with thick stone walls and rich decorations of carvings and frescoes. Urban architectural traditions as well as other forms of art in pre-Christian Armenia were developed further during the Hellenistic period when Greek and Eastern cultures had several exchanges enriching each other. The only surviving pagan temple in Armenia is the temple of Garni, as the rest of temples and the entire pre-Christian heritage were destroyed after the adoption of Christianity. In 301 AD, when Armenia became the first officially Christian country in the world, Armenian architecture entered a new phase of long-lasting development, preserving older traditions. The Mother Cathedral of Holy Ejmiatsin was built in the 4th century AD and is the 1st state built church in the world. Ejmiatsin acts as the See of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Since the early Middle Ages (4th-7th centuries AD) many new churches and monasteries were built. During this period church architecture proceeded with the creation of several architectural plans and dimensional inventions, such as three-nave domed basilica, cruciform both from inside and outside, cruciform from inside and rectangular from outside, cruciform from interior and round from exterior, domed hall, central-domed and other types with 1,3 or 4 apses. Armenian architects used to repeat these amazing plans of St. Gayane, St. Hripsime, Zvartnots and other churches and cathedrals in the entire Armenia during the further centuries as well. Being invented in Armenia these church architecture types and plans were spread in Byzantium, Russia and European countries (e.g. San Satiro monastery in Milan) due to the Armenian architectural influence and the excellent work of invited Armenian architects. Thus Armenia had much contribution in the development of world architecture, too. During the 9th-14th centuries Armenian architecture continued the developmental path and created several churches and monasteries. One of the best amongst them is Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island of Lake Van (today in Turkey), which belongs to 10th century and is richly decorated with 6 levels of wonderful carvings. The 10th century capital of Armenia Ani (today in Turkey) was known as the city of 1001 churches, because of its numerous churches, mainly destroyed and derelict now.  Several other architectural masterpieces survived in the territory of nowadays Armenia, such as Tatev, Geghard, Haghpat, Sanahin, Noravank, Aghtamar, Marmashen, Haghartsin, Goshavank, Ohanavank, Harichavank and so on. Many of them are also adorned with carvings and engravings. The Polish-Austrian art historian Josef Strzygowsky claims to have traced the origins of Gothic architecture to Armenian architecture.

In almost all Armenian monasteries one can see a lot of cross-stones (khachkars), which is an outdoor, vertically erected steel with a carving of a cross on the western side accompanied by several floral, geometrical and other ornaments. The cross-stones could be erected for varieties of purposes. The tradition still continues with new khachkars being sculpted and installed mostly in cemeteries and memorials.

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