Zvartnots Cathedral is a wonderful Armenian monument of the 7th century. This temple was built to stand firm until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but unfortunately the cathedral fell approximately 3 centuries later.
Zvartnots Cathedral is an amazing complex with unique architecture style, breathtaking view of Ararat mountain and its historical spirit in Armenia. If you wonder what happened to the temple and how you can see it today, then this article is exactly for you.
Zvartnots Cathedral: History Still Alive
Zvartnots Temple once used to be an Urartian temple, as the excavations of the ruins showed. It was built during the Urartian era, later in 301 was replaced with a Chritstian basilica, and in 5-6th century it was replaced by a single-nave basilica (ailsless church).
The cathedral is an entire complex where you can find jars and fertility stones, the cuneiform of Urartian king Rusa II as well as a sun dial. But nowadays there are only ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral that seem to prove its former magnificent beauty.
Location of Zvartnots Temple
Zvartnots Cathedral is located 15 kilometers from Yerevan. It can be found on Yerevan-Vagharshapat (or Ejmiatsin, Armenian religious capital city) highway, so you can visit it both on the way from Yerevan to Ejmiatsin or vice versa.
Working Hours and Entrance
The temple is open every day and works from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. The entrance tickets for kids cost 100 AMD (0.25 cent), for adult 250 AMD (40 cent) and 700 AMD (1.5 USD) for foreigners.
There are also guided tours: 1000 AMD for tours in Armenian and 2000 AMD for tours in foreign languages.
How to Get To Zvartnots Cathedral
You can take public transport, namely mini bus N111 from Yerevan’s Kilikia Avtokayan (bus station) and it will cost you 200 AMD for one way.
Other options include taking a taxi (this would probably cost more because the tariff for out of the capital city ride is higher) or perhaps finding a tour which will take you there and organize everything beforehand for you.
Zvartnots Cathedral and its History
As we already mentioned, this temple was built in the 7th century, sometime between 643-652 by Nerses the Builder, Catholicos of all the Armenians. It was one of the tallest buildings of that time and was a real architecture miracle.
During its consecration, the Emperor of Byzant, Constant II, got so impressed with the building, that he decided to take the architect to Constantinople with him to build a similar building there. Unfortunately, the architect got sick on the way and died.
According to the legend, it is here that Gregory the Illuminator met up with king of Armenia Tirdates III and converted him to Christianity, thus making Armenia the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion.
So, later on, this cathedral was dedicated to Gregory the Illuminator, as his relics were buried here after he passed away.
Etymology of Zvartnots Cathedral
It is interesting to understand where the name of the temple comes from. There are actually two hypotheses.
According to the first one the name comes from the word “zvartun” which meant an angel. So, the temple was dedicated to the angels.
According to the second explanation, the name originated from the pre-christian word “zvartonk”; “zvartonk” is the name of the spirit who was awakening the dead.
The Fall of Zvartnots Cathedral
As mentioned earlier, the Temple was built to stand until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but it stood for only about 320 years, til the 10th century.
Actually, there is no clear account on how the temple fell and the reasons for that. Yet there are two possible options.
First, a disastrous earthquake was the reason of the fall of Zvartnots. Also, during the excavations in the 20th century there were great fire traces, which might signal that someone wanted to destroy the Cathedral.
Second, Arab invasions caused the cathedral to fall. This option suggests that Arabs took out the main cornerstone of the temple and it collapsed not being able to stand its own heaviness.
Composition of Zvartnots Temple
The Cathedral is of cylindrical form. It is a cruciform central domed building with four cross wings, as it is shown in the picture.
The Temple of Zvartnots comes in a circular model, though it is believed that it depicts the hand of the God with his palm on the east and five fingers on the west.
In the center of the cathedral, under the dome, there is an opening in the floor. It is in this opening that the relics of Gregory the Illuminator were buried.
The temple was once rich with frescoes and decorations, yet not much of the inner decoration has been preserved.
Still, the pieces that were not destroyed give us an impression and understanding of how interestingly the Zvartnots temple has been decorated. The floor, too, was covered in mosaic, and parts of it can still be seen today.
The outer surfaces, the facade, edges and other parts of the building were covered with carvings of pomegranate and grapes. Pomegranate symbolized fertility and grapes symbolized the blood of God and his resurrection.
There were also found carvings of eagles on the ruins, which symbolized strength, victory and resurrection. An ancient, pre-Christian era legend said that the eagle could awaken the dead.
Another notable and interesting thing about Zvartnots is that there were assumingly 32 masters, who built the cathedral. This was assumed because of the portraits of men found on the 32 facets of the building.
In architecture, leaving the full name signature of the master is usually a rare thing, let alone carving his portrait. But surprisingly, all of the masters had their portraits cut onto the facets of the building, some of them having their full name written and some just their initials. Unfortunately, only 9 of the pictures have been preserved.
Special Impressions about Zvartnots Cathedral
Now, Zvartnots is just ruins, and its exact positioning is still a matter of dispute. But even the ruins of the temple are breathtaking for the visitors, especially for those who love exploring historical places and architectural wonders.
Having once visited this place you will seek another opportunity to be able to feel the smell of history right in front of you. Also, being able to walk in an open air museum full of artifacts you can actually touch and feel, will surely give you the most unforgettable emotions!
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