Despite its small geographical dimensions, Armenia used to be a cornerstone of historical developments, the eyewitnesses of which are hundreds of intangible and material cultural values that have passed down over centuries and reached our days. This is a country where centuries move in lockstep in the form of distinctive historico-cultural and architectural constructions, some of which are even acknowledged as a part of the World Heritage. Armenia joined the UNESCO in 1992 and replenished the well-known list with five cultural monuments including Cathedral and Churches of Etchmiadzin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots, Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley as a part of the material heritage.
The medieval complex of Sanahin is located in the homonymous village of Lori province. Sanahin was founded by Ashot III Voghormats in 966. The name of the complex is decoded as “ays nranic (Haghpat) hin e” which means that the complex is older than Haghpat.
The monastery of Sanahin was one of the most important cultural and educational complexes in the region, which had a school with a huge adjacent library. The general structure consists of St. Astvatsatsin and Amenaprkich churches, three churchyards, bell tower, library and St. Grigor chapel.
The oldest structure of this complex is the church of St. Astvatsatsin built from 928 to 944. There are several ancient frescoes inside the church that have been preserved till now.
The monastery complex of Haghpat was founded in 976 by Ashot III Voghormats. It lies on a plateau encircled by gorges. This complex was one of the largest cultural centers of medieval Armenia, where numerous manuscripts such as the “The Gospel of Haghpat” were written.
The general complex includes the monastery of St. Nshan, two churchyards, three chapels, refectory, bell tower, library, gravestones and khachkars. The oldest structure of the building is St. Nshan church, which was built from 976 to 991 by Ashot III’s wife – Khosrovanush. This church is one of the best examples of a new architectural direction adopted throughout the medieval period of Armenia.
The bell tower of Haghpat is a three-storey astoundingly symmetric building located on the eastern side of the complex, on the first two floors of which seven worship places are situated.
Also, it is worth noting that the monastery complex used to be rich in frescos, from which only the first layer of the chapel’s wall paintings has been preserved that depicts Jesus sitting on the throne.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and one of the best examples of Christian era architectural monuments. The latter was built in the early 4th century, right after Christianity was spread by Gregory the Illuminator and acknowledged as the state religion of Armenia.
According to the 5th century Armenian historians, the first Christian churches were built in the place of pagan temples, and Etchmiadzin is not an exception. Studies had shown that before the establishment of this cathedral there was a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis and the sacrifice altar found right under the Christian one comes to crystalize this claim.
The cathedral was reconstructed in the 7th century by Nerses II and Komitas patriarchs. The bell tower and the museum were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively. The museum is noted for its large collection of manuscripts and artworks of different periods which also includes collections of old Armenian coins, carpets, paintings, etc.
The altar of Etchmiadzin
It is no secret that one of the most important parts of every religious building is the altar where the liturgy is served. The excavations carried out in 1958 discovered a small 5th-century sanctuary was found which according to some historical sources was built by Vahan Mamikonyan. As a result of this finding, the columns, the base of the altar and the stage were opened to make the structure accessible for others.
Moreover, it is worth noting that as a result of further observation of the territory remnants of another altar were found. According to the researchers, this one was constructed before the 5th century by Gregory the Illuminator.
The temple of Zvarnots was built from 641 to 661 Nerses IIl Catholicos and is considered to be one of the distinctive examples of Armenian church building history. This was a three-storey cylindrical structure with gradually dwindling floors. The structure had five entries and was covered by sculptures of grapevines and statues of 32 well-known saints. Unfortunately, only 9 of them reached our days.
In 1989 the structure got included in the list of world heritage monuments by UNESCO.
This mesmerizing construction is situated three kilometers south of Vagharshapat. It is assumed the structure was destructed as a result of the Xth century earthquake. Studies have shown that before the construction of Zvartnots a pagan temple dedicated to the god Tir stood here. This claim can be backed by the cuneiform inscription left by the king Rusa, which was found as a result of excavations and stated the king’s aspirations to implant gardens, build new channels and offer sacrifices to gods.
After the discovery of this cathedral, to the south-west of it, a large catholicosate with its adjacent buildings, graves, and ruins of another church were found.
The monastery complex of Geghardavank is one of the oldest monasteries in Armenia, which, according to some historical records, was built by Gregory the Illuminator in the place of a pagan temple, immediately after the adoption of Christianity as a state religion. This is a complex of several structures partially carved out of the adjacent mountain. this architectural monument is situated to the south-east of Yerevan. The distance from the capital is 35 kilometers. The complex lies on the right bank of the Azat river, in the area of historic Geghardadzor which made it inaccessible and impregnable throughout the military actions.
The complex consists of the cathedral, two churches, and churchyards. According to the engraving which appears at the entrance the main Katoghike church was established in 1215. The oldest structure of this complex is a small chapel situated on the western side. The frescoes and cliffs that surround this monument convey an exceptional beauty to it.
Moreover, it is worth noting that besides being a religious center, this complex played a prominent role in the development of cultural and educational lives in Armenia. It had a school and a library. Additionally, Geghardavanq had a huge repository of manuscripts the majority of which are currently kept in Matenadaran.