Armenian architecture mainly comprises of medieval churches as they are the signature of the country. The masters of modern Armenian architecture are S.Gurzadyan, S. Kalashyan, L. Khristaforyan, R. Asratyan etc.
Most of Armenia’s architecture was created in regions of the Armenian Highlands. Most of Armenian architecture is medieval churches, Soviet and post-Soviet modern buildings.
Medieval churches are considered Armenian architecture’s greatest achievements. This aspect of the culture receives more attention than music, dance, art and literature combined.
With a history that’s richer than Croesus, art historians have always singled out Armenian architecture for its uniqueness. Continuing the legacy of history, modern Armenian architecture continues to decorate the country and take our breath away.
How did medieval churches become an integral part of modern Armenian architecture?
When Christianity was adopted as the state religion in early 4th century, it allowed new changes in Armenian architecture.
Early Armenian churches were built on top of pagan churches. These imitated some aspects of pre-Christian Armenian architecture. These were ordered by Saint Gregory the Illuminator.
Medieval Armenian churches have distinctive features and characteristics that are thought to be the first national style of church buildings: The characteristics are:
- Stone-built, usually volcanic tuff or basalt.
- Ceilings vaulted with stones.
- Tall, narrow windows.
- Vertical emphasis of the structure. The height often exceeds the length of a church.
- Composite roofs that are composed of tuff shingles.
- Frescoes and carving. These have swirling intertwining grapevines and foliage.
- Tall structural arches. These are built for supporting the cupola as a part of the drum, the stone vaulted ceilings and vertical walls.
- Pointy domes. These are created to recreate the volcanic cone of Greater Ararat. The pointed domes are mounted over the vaulted ceilings on a cylindrical drum.
- Intersecting roofs to provide support for the dome. These are typical of both basilicas and centrally-planned churches.
- Sculptures on the external walls, including religious figures to provide decoration.
Churches of Armenian architecture, whether medieval or modern, have classifications
Prominent Armenian architect and architectural historian, Toros Toramanian distinguished classical styles of churches.
The father of Armenian architectural historiography studied the classification of Armenian churches.
He singled out the following classical styles:
- Basilica (Բազիլիկ)
- Domed Basilica (Գմբեթակիր բազիլիկ)
- Cruciform (Էջմիածնատիպ)
- Vertical-emphasis rectangular (Ուղղագիծ քառանկյուն)
- Radial (Շառավիղային)
- Circular (Զվարթնոցատիպ)
- Yererouk is an example of a basilica. It is one of the earliest surviving Christian monuments in Armenia.
It is one of the biggest Armenian churches of its period (4-5th century). The building has three aisles that are structured with thick lateral walls. It has arcades on all sides except for the east and two chapels near the apse.
Yererouk was a martyrial sanctuary. There’s an inscription on the pilaster saying: “martyrion of the Precursor and the Protomartyr”, that are Saint John Baptist and Saint Stephen.
- An example of domed basilica is the Church of Saint Sarkis in Tekor, also known as the Tekor Basilica.
The 5th-century Armenian church was built in historical Armenia.
Tekor used to be a three-aisled domed basilica, but was severely damaged by the 1912 and 1936 earthquakes. Only the lower parts of the rubble and concrete core of the walls exist now.
The oldest known writing in the Armenian language is the inscription dating the building to the 480s.
- The Etchmiadzin Cathedral belongs to the cruciform classical style.
The cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Etchmiadzin is considered the oldest cathedral in the world and was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia.
The original church, built in the early 4th century, replaced a pre-existing temple. This symbolized the conversion from paganism to Christianity. It is the main shrine of religious Armenian Christians. It is one of the most visited places in Armenia.
- Saint Gayane Church belongs to the vertical-emphasis rectangular class.
The medieval church is walking distance away from Etchmiadzin. St. Gayane was built in 630 AD.
Although renovations of the dome and ceilings have been implemented, the design remains the same. It was named after an abbess, Gayane, who was martyred with other nuns by Tiridates III of Armenia.
- An example of medieval radial Armenian architecture is Saint Hripsime Church.
The 7th-century church is situated in the city of Vagharshapat and is also one of the oldest surviving churches in Armenia. The church is dedicated to the martyred Saint Hripsme.
There used to be a mausoleum that contained St. Hripsime’s remains. The church was later built by Catholicos Komitas to replace it. St. Hripsime church was completed in 618 AD.
The church has greatly influenced the style of Armenian architecture.
- The Zvartnots Cathedral is a medieval circular Armenian church built by the order of Catholicos Nerses the Builder.
It is now in ruins. It was built when much of Armenia was overrun by Muslim Arabs. The cathedral was dedicated to Saint Gregory. The patriarchal palace of the Catholicos used to be in Dvin.
When the Arabs occupied the city, Nerses the Builder transferred it to Zvartnots. Zvartnots stood until the end of the 10th century, but the cause of its collapse is unknown.
Modern Armenian architecture draws inspiration from medieval churches and constructions
Baghdasar Arzoumanian used to be one of the most prominent architects. Arzoumanian was the author of many civil and church buildings:
- The city hall of Vanadzor
- Hotel Gougark in the Hayk Square in Vanadzor
- Erebuni Museum along with Shmavon Azatian
- Metro Station “David of Sasoun” along with Sargis Nersisian and Areg Israyelian
- The Degustation Hall of the Yerevan Brandy Factory along with Sargis Nersian and Hasmik Alexaian
- Yerevan Cable-way Station
Arzoumanian is also the author of multiple memorials and khachkars. Many of his works are located at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
The memorial in the Monastery of Geghard is his work. The State Emblem of Soviet Armenia is also his work. The architect has also designed tombstones:
- Vazgen I, Catholicos of All Armenians
- Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians
- Saint Mesrob Mashtots
One of the biggest faces of modern Armenian architecture is Alexander Tamanyan
The neo-classical architect has designed the layout of many towns and cities in Armenia: Yerevan, Nor Arabkir, Nubarashen, Ejmiatsin, Stepanakert.
His works include:
- Aghasi Khanjian’s mansion located in the Hrazdan River gorge
- Andrei Sakharov Square
- Freedom Square
- Republic Square
- University Observatory
- The first hydroelectric power plant
- The State Medical University
- The Institute of Zoology and Veterinary
- The Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology
- The Institute of Physiotherapy
- The Engineering University
- The University of Architecture and Construction
- The Children’s Hospital
- The National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre
- The Government House located in Republic Square
How are modern and medieval Armenian architecture and churches constructed?
Since Armenia is located in an earthquake-prone region, Armenian architecture is built with the natural disaster in mind. Armenian architecture tends to be low-slung with thick walls.
Since the country has rich resources of stone, they are almost always used for erecting large buildings. Smaller constructions and many residential buildings used to be built of lighter materials, which is why barely any early examples of these have survived.
Armenian architecture has tendencies of giving structures a uniform color. When different color stones are used, it is done intentionally to show contrast in a striped or checkerboard pattern.
To give the buildings a seamless look, powder from ground stone of the same type was applied to the joints of the tuff slabs. Armenians never used wood or brick to erect large buildings.
This, on the other hand, was typical of Roman and Syrian architecture.
For building solid, durable construction, Armenian architecture employs a form of concrete. This is a mixture of lime mortar, broken tuff and rocks. Together, they form a core where tuff is arranged in brickwork fashion.
When dried, it becomes a concrete-like material that is sealed with tuff that becomes harder with time.
Early medieval Armenian architecture used no core when building churches. Stone blocks were simply sealed together. Marble frescoes were later affixed to the side of the buildings to expand the size of the core.
Medieval and modern examples of Armenian architecture also exist in the diaspora
Due to the Armenian Genocide, the formation of the Armenian Diaspora has been monumental. Hoping to preserve the traditions of Armenia, they have influenced the architecture in their host communities.
This can be seen in cities such as Zamosc and L’viv. Ani, Zvartnots and Etchmiadzin have been used as inspiration to erect new constructions in their new environment.
Khachkars are also representatives of medieval and modern Armenian architecture. Many examples have been erected recently in Wroclaw, Krakow, Elbląg, Novi Sad, Beirut, Michigan.
These were built to commemorate the Armenian Genocide.
The best-studied aspects of Armenian architecture have been the monuments in the Republic of Armenia. Architectural monuments are valuable for studying the sources of the development of world architecture and the compositional principles.
Many Armenian churches, cemeteries, khachkars and relics have been destroyed due to anti-Armenianism. In Turkey and Azerbaijan, this was a result of national campaigns to eliminate all Armenian traces.
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