понедельник, 13 октября 2014 г.


O. Kh. Khalpakhchian – Architectural ensembles of Armenia
Photos: A. Alexandrov, A. and V. Kochar, from stocks of the History Museum of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR

Echmiadzin (known as Vagarshapat before 1945) was founded by King Vagarshak (117-140) in the place of Vardkesavan, an ancient settlement of the third-second centuries B.C. In view of the might of the town's fortifications - fortress walls, ramparts and moats - the Romans, upon the second destruction of Artashat in 163, transferred the capital of Armenia to Vagarshapat which, after Christianity was proclaimed the state religion in 301, became the country's religious centre as well.

Vagarshapat was repeatedly destroyed by enemies. In particular, it was left in ruins by Persian troops in 364-369. However, the improvement of economic welfare in the long periods between "wars made it possible to do extensive construction work and to erect in the town large structures which played an extraordinary role in the development of national architecture.

On the territory of Vagarshapat there have survived monuments of various periods of Armenia's history. Urartu arrows have been found in the temples of Zvartnots and Echmiadzin, and remnants of an ancient hearth of a heathen tabernacle - in the altar part of the latter. Greek and Latin epigraphic inscriptions, cut on tombstones, date back to the epoch of the Armenian Hellinistic culture. Architectural fragments, found by chance, such as an ornamented cornice in the masonry of the foundation of Ripsime church, are evidence of a high artistic standard of the structures of that time.

Echmiadzin cathedral was the main Christian temple of Vagarshapat. Gayane, Hripsimeh, Shogakat and other churches, built at various times in place of small and not too expressive fourth-century chapels, complement it from the point of view of architecture and layout. Situated relatively close to Echmiadzin cathedral, they are perceived as important components of a single architectural ensemble which changed after each new temple was built. The low residential structures all around set off to the best advantage the grandeur of these edifices and their domination in various parts of the city.

Echmiadzin cathedral ("the place where the homogeneous come together") is the most ancient Christian temple of Armenia. It was built in 301-303 by Grigor Lusagorich (Grigory the Enlightener), the founder of the Armenian Gregorian church, next to the king's palace, in place of a destroyed heathen basilica. The monastery which took shape around the cathedral is the residence of Katholikos, the head of the Armenian clergy.

Scientists' opinions as to the original appearance of Echmiadzin cathedral vary. According to T. Toramanian's hypothesis, the cathedral had the shape of a basilica at the beginning of the fourth century and, after reconstruction at the end of the fifth century, its plan became rectangular, with a four-apse cross and rectangular corner annexes fitted into it. The building had five domes. In the seventh century the apses were moved outside the limits of the rectangle, which gave the building the cross-cupola outside shape.

Proceeding from the material of excavations, however, A. Sainyan established that the basilical composition of the original temple was changed to cross-shaped one with the central dome in 483. What remained of the basilica were only small vari-coloured cubes in the altar apse (remnants of the stone and smalt mosaics, often gilded, which decorated it) and the bases of four pylons which were used as the inner abutments of the central-dome building. That was one of the most ancient Christian temples of that type, which played a tremendous role in shaping the concentric buildings of the early Christian period in Armenia and which makes it possible to ascertain the origin and classification of types.

At the beginning of the seventh century the building's wooden dome, probably octohedral and shaped like the roof of the Armenian peasant home (as the domes of Khaikavanke and Horashene churches in Van) was replaced by a stone one. This composition of the cathedral has come down to our day almost unchanged.

The cupola's abutments, cross-shaped in plan, are connected with each other and with the walls by arches underlying the vaults - cross-shaped in the corner sections and semi-circular in the middle sections; the apses are crowned with conchs. The arrangement of the ceilings at various levels causes the interior to taper off to the central dome. Harmonious proportions and sharpness of individual elements impart great artistic expressiveness to the interior whose shapes are simple and clear-cut. The building's outward appearance, which underwent certain changes in the 17th and subsequent centuries, was no less clear-cut.

In the 17th century (1653-1658), for instance, a new cupola and a three-tier belfry were built, the latter in front of the western entrance to the cathedral. The decoration of the cupola and, especially, of the belfry is in sharp contrast with the ascetic shapes of the ancient parts of the cathedral. In accordance with the artistic tastes of that epoch, they were decorated with abundant decorative carvings. The ornaments are not only geometrical, but floral as well, the latter taking up large spaces. The columns of the arcature of the cupola drum and of the lower tiers of the belfry are twisted. The representations of ox and snake heads are of symbolic significance. In the corners of the gables of the belfry's facades there are busts of clergymen; on the vaulted ceilings – six winged seraphs; and on the medallions of the tympans of the dome's arcature - saints.

The six-column rotundas on four-pillar bases, built at the beginning of the 18th century over the northern, eastern and southern apses, have given the cathedral a five-dome crowning. The interior murals, created by the Armenian painter Nagash Ovnatan in 1720, was restored and elaborated upon by his grandson, Ovnatan Ovnatanian, in 1782-1786. In 1955-1956, the interior murals of the cathedral and of the belfry were renewed by a group of Soviet artists under the leadership of L.A.Durnovo. This rich and variegated floral ornament - orange-red on the altar wall and lilac-blue in other places - is an outstanding work of the 18-century Armenian art. Ovnatan Ovnatanian also painted on canvas pictures on religious themes for Echmiadzin Cathedral (some of them are on display in Yerevan picture gallery). These early works of Armenian painting already show features of realism.

Rich gifts of church-plate and valuable works of applied art kept pouring into Echmiadzin as the residence of the Katholikos. Three premises, now housing the monastery's museum, were annexed to the eastern side of the cathedral in 1869 to keep these gifts in. The architectural elements of the annex - twin windows with transom bars, protruding lock plates and frontons - show the influence of Russian architecture of the second half of the 19th century.

Meriting special attention among the museum exhibits are gorgeous church attires embroidered with gold and pearls, printed curtains, embroidered coverlets, crosses, croziers, all kinds of ritual vessels of silver, gold, ivory, adorned with filigree work and jewels. Most of these articles date back to the T7th-i9th centuries. There are older works of art, too. A tenth-century crucifix of Avutstar monastery is one of the oldest wooden bas-reliefs in Armenia to have come down to this day. The plasticity of the naked body, the expressiveness of the faces and the tension of poses are conveyed most convincingly. In G.Ovsepian's opinion, the presence of beads in the ornament implies that there existed in Armenia metal crucifixes which have not survived. Of interest are the chairs of the 17th century Katholikoses decorated, besides mother-of-pearl and ivory incrustation, with a complicated geometrical and floral carving and wrought-iron heads and paws of lions. There are also rare ancient coins, various relics and ancient manuscripts with headpieces and miniatures.

The most valuable of Echmiadzin's manuscripts is the world famous "Echmiadzin Gospel" of 989, now in Matenadaran (Ancient Manuscript Research Institute of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, No. 2374), a copy of the ancient original made by scribe Ovanes in Bkheno-Noravank monastery, the summer residence of Syunik bishops. This is a monument of three stylistically different epochs. The end miniatures of the 6th~7th centuries, reflecting the influence of Hellinism, are close in their colour scheme and pastel technique to the encaustic icons of the 5th-6th centuries and, in the expressiveness of the typically Armenian faces, to the interior murals of Stepanos church in Lmbat (the early 7th century). In the "Adoration of the Magi" gold, in combination with dense and vibrant tones, makes for utter expressiveness. The national types of faces, with large features and intense look in their eyes, are also most expressive.

The opening miniatures of the late 10th century stand out for vivid colour, gracefulness and smoothness of ornament and realistic representation of birds and plants. In the galleries there are marble columns with magnificent capitals. The representation of Christ as a young man and the Apostles is quite unusual. They are shown in light-toned dresses. The monumentality and laconicism of style make these miniatures akin to the murals and bas-reliefs of the Church of the Cross (915-921) on Haghtamar island.

The ivory binding is a superb work of art by Byzantine carvers of the 6th-7th centuries. It is composed of relief plates showing scenes from the Gospel. At the top there are flying angels carrying a cross enframed in a wreath - a theme well known from Byzantine works of Constantinople, Ravenne and Alexandria and from earlier stone reliefs of Armenia such as those of Ptgni temple of the 6th century and from later khachkars, such as Amenaprkich in Haghpat (1273). The centre of the front part is taken up by a representation of the Holy Virgin with the infant; all around it there are various scenes from the Gospel.

Some of the exhibits of Echmiadzin monastery are put on display on the territory of the monastery's yard. Meriting attention are the khachkars - one of the Amenaprkich type of 1279, and the other from the old Dzhuga cemetery (the 17th century) covered with intricate floral and geometrical ornaments, pictures of birds and animals and various scenes featuring figures of men and saints.
On the monastery yard there are the buildings of the Katholikosat, a school, a winter and summer refectories, a hostel, Trdat's gate and other structures. They were built in the I7th-i9th centuries in place of earlier buildings.

Ripsime church, one of the finest works of Armenian architecture of the classical period, a variant of the concentrical domed composition, stands on a slight elevation, at the eastern edge of Echmiadzin. This kind of composition is characteristic only of the Christian countries of the Transcaucasus. Its expressive silhouette, seen from afar, stands up sharply against the background of an emerald-green valley dominated by the snow-capped Mt. Ararat.

St. Hripsimeh church, completed in 618, is a vivid example of a structure distinguished by the unity of layout and decoration in which the central-dome system is brought to perfection. The interior layout is subordinated to the vertical axis of the under cupola space, which makes it crystal-clear and solemnly monumental.

The plan is basically a square with the semi-circles of apses at the sides. The corners of the central crossing are premises, three-quarter in the plan, which serve as passages to the square annexes complementing the plan of the building to a rectangle stretched out from west to east. This is achieved through increasing the depth of the appropriate apses. The cupola, which covers a substantial proportion of the floor area, subordinates all the interior space of the church.

The building of the three-quarter (in the plan) passages to the annexes was made necessary by the need to distribute the weight of the cupola over more abutments which, for greater strength, are made organic parts of the massive walls. The leading constructive role of the wall, characteristic of Armenian architecture, shows most clearly here. The transition from the square base of the plan to the circumference of the cupola drum is effected through a system of complicated large stepped and small trompes which create a certain rhythm of the transition from the interior proper to the cupola crowning it. The millings intensifying the cupola's sphere make the upper part of the interior very imposing. The church interior is distinguished by its laconicism. The compositional combination of its individual elements emphasizes the integrity and concentricity of the domed edifice.

The outward appearance of the church is also clean-cut. As distinct from its predecessor - the cathedral in Avan (589-609), Hripsimeh church clearly reflects the inner structure in its outward monumental and, at the same time, simple image. The twin deep trapeziform niches, as high as the facades, emphasize the inner layout of the building on the outside and impart special expressiveness to it. At the same time they make the stone masonry between the apses and the annexes look lighter. By dividing the walls, the niches, crowned by thin cornices, add plasticity to the outward appearance of the building. The outside niches, which appeared in Hripsimeh church for the first time, presently became a characteristic feature of Armenian architecture in the feudal epoch.

The sixteen-facet cupola is commensurable with the main part of the building. Its size and proportions emphasize the dominating importance of the under-cupola space in the structure's interior. The round towers at the base of the cupola do not only strengthen its weak places structurally, but visually dovetail its multihedral shape with the rectangular building it crowns. By emphasizing the rhythm of vertical divisions, created by the facade niches, and lightening the building's top, the towers reveal its dimensions. The harmonious combination of individual components imparts monumentality and grandeur to Hripsimeh church which is relatively small.

The decoration of the building is extremely modest, and actually limited to the unpretentiously-shaped cornices, rosettes of concentric circles on the inner surface of the cupola, multi-petal ornaments on the smaller trompes and varied but chiefly geometrical motifs on the window edges.

St. Hripsimeh church is among outstanding works of Armenian architecture. Its type was repeatedly reproduced in other structures of the Transcaucasus. The simplicity and clarity of the concept, the laconic shapes and the interior layout had a decisive influence on the subsequent development of Armenian architecture.

Later, the church underwent certain changes; in particular, the western and southern entrance porticos were pulled down, and the side windows of the altar apse were walled up. In 1790, a two-tier bell-tower with an eight-column belfry was added to it.

As far as the church's furnishing is concerned, of interest is the inlaid mother-of-pearl altar piece of 1741 which indicates a high level of Armenian applied art of the 18th century. The composition of the ornament, made up of framed interwoven branches with stylized leaves and various fruit and blooms, arranged around an encircled Greek cross, is most original.

Gayane church, built in 630 (according to a chronicle), belongs to another architectural type also worked out in the epoch of early Christianity in Armenia. This is a domed basilica with an octahedral drum resting on four internal pillars which divide the interior of the structure into three naves. A semi-circular apse with two annexes, rectangular in the plan, on its sides is fitted into the clear-cut outline of the building. The middle sections of the side naves are elevated slightly over the corner ones and roofed with vaults across the building, forming a transversal nave. The outward appearance of the structure is completed with a cross cupola emphasized on all the four facades by large gables.

Characteristic of Gayane church, just as of similar temples in Odzoon, Bagavan and other places, is the laconicism of architectural and structural shapes and their harmonious unity. In itself, the irreproachable smoothness of the stone surfaces of the arches, vaults and trompes is an artistic merit of the structure. The interior and the outward appearance of the church are distinguished by balanced composition, graceful proportions which emphasize the height of the structure. The same is true of architectural details – the frames of the doors and windows, cornices and shelves livened up by carved floral ornaments.

In 1652 the church underwent capital reconstruction, and in 1683 a gallery - a sepulchre for the prominent figures of the Armenian church - was added to its western facade. This is a five-span gallery. Its three central spans with large arched openings are roofed with domes, and the side ones, which are slightly lower, vaulted and blank, with graceful six-column belfries. The architectural features of the gallery, typical of the 17th century, do not contrast with the overall artistic image of Gayane church.

Zvartnots, a complex of structures erected in the middle of the 7th century near Echmiadzin, is of extreme architectural value.

The complex consisted of St. George temple or Zvartnots ("vigil forces", "celestial angels") and the palace of Katho-likos Nerses III, known as "Builder".

Zvartnots, built as Armenia's main cathedral in 641-661, was to suppress Echmiadzin cathedral by its grandeur. This purpose was served by the original architectural composition of the building which is an example of a central-dome temple different in its appearance from the antique and Byzantine structures of this kind. The plan of Zvartnots is based on the composition of the central nucleus of Armenia's cross-winged, dome-type structures of the previous times, that is the Greek cross. However, this cross is harmoniously fitted into a circle rather than into a square.

Zvartnots' architecture was supposed to impress the onlooker by its extraordinary artistic splendour. This determined the size of the temple, its layout and spatial arrangement, its structural features and its decoration which emphasized the central axis of the building and its upward sweep.

According to Stepanos Taronatsi, an Armenian historian of the late ioth and the early nth centuries, (Stepanos of Taron, known as Asokhik), Zvartnots lay in ruins as early as in the tenth century. He does not mention the cause of destruction. The remnants of Zvartnots, even in ruins, are a majestic sight. There survived only the lower parts of the walls and individual fragments, and scientists' reconstructions of the temple's original look vary. The best known reconstruction is that by T. Toromanian.

According to this reconstruction, the building consisted of three polyhedrons, the lower one being 32-hedral, and the upper one 16-hedral and crowned with a cone-shaped cupola. The central part of the interior had the shape of a tetraconch in the plan. In the joints between the apses there were mighty pylons which supported the drum of the cupola by means of spherical pendentives. Beyond the pylons there were columns arranged on the radial axis. They and the tops of the tetraconch's semicircles buttressed the arches which served as the basis for the middle polyhedron. The tetraconch was surrounded by a two-storey gallery fenced on the outer side by a circular wall with closely spaced windows and, on the inner side, by an open arcade of the apses. The altar apse was blank. The heaviness of the cupola and of the middle polyhedron was conveyed by arches and vaults of double curvature to the pylons and columns of the apses.

The decoration of Zvartnots temple followed the principle, common in the Armenian architecture of the 5th-7th centuries, of bringing out the basic architectural details: columns, door and window openings, cornices and archivolts. The outer surfaces of the polyhedrons, especially of the lower one, were ornamented with a rich arcature. The twin semi-columns were crowned with capitols with palmettes and acanthuses. On the whole, the motif of sculptural ornamentation, cut in high relief, was floral (a vine, stylized leaves, branches of pomegranate with fruit, etc.). The ornamental patterns are clear-cut, expressive, varied and unconstrainedly rhythmical. Standing out among them were interior column capitols of an original composition, shaped as wicker baskets with volutes and a cross or a monogram (with letters standing for "Nerses" and "Katholikos") between them and decorated with the figures of rampant eagles which seemed to support the cupola - a symbol of the firmament.

In the spandrels of the outer decorative arcature of the bottom polyhedron there were half-length representations of men with building tools in their hands. Some researchers believe them to be portraits of builders (the name of "Ioann" is cut near one, presumably the main of them, on the archivolt), and others maintain these are the portraits of the founders of the temple. The portraits are distinguished by a realistic depiction of faces and clothes and by the individual features of the figures shown in various postures.

The rich and extraordinary interior decoration of the temple is evidenced, apart from the reliefs, by the pieces of vari-coloured smalt and tufa mosaic ornaments and fragments of murals which survived on remnants of plaster. These were found during the excavations of the altar part.

Before the construction of Zvartnots was completed, its architectural and artistic concept was embodied, by the selfsame Nerses III in the initially concentric temple in Ishkhan built in 652-659. Presumably, the architect of Zvartnots knew the Syrian and Byzantine architectural structures of the same kind. Zvartnots stands out for an unusual composition which differed from that of these structures. Syria and Byzantium had no structures of this type. This is confirmed by Movses Kalankatvatsi, a 10th century Armenian historian, who wrote about the intention of Emperor Constantine of Byzantium, who had been present at the consecration of Zvartnots when it was nearing completion in 652, to build a similar structure in his own capital. This intention failed to materialize due to the architect's death on his way to Constantinople.

Zvartnots is a monument which embodies the centuries-old traditions of Armenian architects. In its artistic image and daring spatial arrangement, formed by an intricate combination of arches and buttresses, Zvartnots is an outstanding monument of world architecture, an evidence of the high level of the development of the artistic and engineering thought in the 7th-century Armenia. Its architectural idea later became widely spread and developed in new shapes and new artistic compositions.

To the south-west of the temple there was the Katholikos' palace which has also come down to us in ruins. It was a complex of capitally-built and regularly laid-out presence-chambers, dwelling, auxiliary and service premises. The scale, as well as the architectural and artistic features of the palace were coordinated with those of the temple.

The palace building consisted of two parts arranged at an angle to each other and divided by a corridor. The western part comprised small premises and two halls. The big summer hall, where reception ceremonies and conferences were held, was divided by columns into three naves and communicated with the dividing corridor by an arcade. The second, slightly smaller hall, which served as a refectory and, possibly, as a throne-room, was of a more intimate character. The projections on its lateral walls reduced the span of the vaulted roofing reinforced by wall arches. The projections formed arched niches which lended artistic expressiveness to the interior.

The eastern part included dwelling and service premises, such as storerooms and a bathroom. The latter consisted of two sections, the bigger one intended for common, and the smaller one for privileged visitors. The bathroom was equipped similarly to that of Garni. Adjoining it on the southern side was a small hall-type church of the 5th-6th centuries, south of which there was a large wine-press.
The plan of the palace is almost a square. The small size and skylight of most of the rooms show that they had wooden roofings of the kind used in Armenian peasant homes. The open gallery with an arcade on the northern side of the eastern part and flat roofs gave this structure of a severe composition the appearance of a southern-type building. The massive arches of the arcade resting on buttresses, cross-shaped in the plan, concealed the divisions between the premises behind it. It did not only decorate the square in front of the palace, but connected its architecture with that of the temple. The palace of Nerses III was the biggest of all the known civil structures of the 7th-century Armenia.

Shogakat church is a later monument of Echmiadzin's architectural complex. It was built in 1694 near Hripsimeh church, on its western side, in place of an ancient structure to which it obviously owes its size and the composition of the type of the domed hall common in Armenia in the 6th-7th centuries.

The interior of the building was distinguished by the la-conicism of its layout and spatial arrangement which was fully perceived upon entry through the only western door. The high octohedral cupola, resting on wallside abutments, emphasizes the main and the best illuminated part of the interior. Architectural details and decoration, which are rather modest, add to the sharpness of the building's spatial arrangement.

In it, there are no open galleries common in the 17th-18th centuries. The vaulted gallery on the western side, built simultaneously with the church, is a closed premise crowned by a six-column rotund belfry in the middle. The horizontal orientation of the gallery and the open-work architecture of the low-placed belfry create the impression of the church's interior expanding from the entrance to the top of the cupola and make it look very tall.

The entranceway is a large arched opening in an ornamented frame. The windows and individual parts of the western facade are also ornamented. The ornament is mostly geometrical, sometimes thoroughly detailed and unusual pattern of interlaced band frames, rosettes and khachkars. This ornamentation has much in common with similar carvings of the bell-towers of St. Hripsimeh Church and Echmiadzin temple, which makes the decoration of all these structures stylistically akin.

The 19th-century dwelling houses of Echmiadzin are of artistic value. They are distinguished by unusual layout and appearance. The open-work carving of wooden street balconies and yard galleries is a superb piece of folk craftsmanship. The carving motifs are stylistically connected with the ornamentation of the religious buildings of Echmiadzin of the 17th-18th centuries.

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