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Architecture of Armenia

The monastery of Geghard in Kotayk, Armenia. Hovhannavan Monastery, from the 13th century Late-medieval Armenian khachkars from Julfa
A vine-scroll motif on carvings from the 7th century cathedral of Zvartnots. HAGHPAT VANK (Monastery) Lori Province JILIZA KHORAKERT VANK (Monastery) Lori Province
GOSHA VANK (Monastery) Tavush Province HAGHPAT VANK (Monastery) Lori Province JILIZA KHORAKERT VANK (Monastery) Lori Province
SANAHIN VANK (Monastery) Lori Province SANAHIN VANK (Monastery) Lori Province ODZUN KATHOGHIKE (Cathedral) Lori Province
ODZUN KATHOGHIKE (Cathedral) Lori Province GOSHA VANK (Monastery) Tavush Province ROMAN TEMPLE, GARNI Ararat Province
HARICHA VANK (Monastery) Shirak Province HARICHA VANK (Monastery) Shirak Province HARICHA VANK (Monastery) Shirak Province
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Armenian architecture

Armenian architecture is an architectural style native to Armenia and used principally by Armenian people. Traditional Armenian architecture, developed early into the middle ages, is largely inspired by Greek and Roman architecture.

Characteristics of Armenian Architecture

Medieval Armenian architecture, and Armenian churches in particular, has several distinctive features, believed by some to be the first national style of church building
Vaulted ceilings
Composed almost entirely of stone, usually volcanic tufa or Basalt.
A conical or semiconical radially segmented dome or cupola mounted above vaulted ceilings on a cylindrical drum (usually polygonal on the outside, most often octagonal)
A composite roof composed of finely-cut tufa shingles
Frescos and carvings, if present, are usually ornate and depict swirling intertwining grapevines and foliage.
Heavy use of tall structural arches, both for supporting the cupola as part of the drum, the vaulted ceiling, and the vertical walls.
Roofs intersecting to support the dome, both in basilicas and centrally-planned churches.


Armenian architecture, as it originates in an earthquake-prone region, tends to be built with this hazard in mind. Armenian buildings tend to be rather low-slung and thick-walled in design.

Armenian architecture employs a form of concrete to produce sturdy buildings,. It is a mixture of lime mortar, broken tufa, and rocks around which forms a core against which thin slabs of tufa are arranged in brickwork fashion. As the wet mortar mixture dries it forms a strong concrete-like mass sealed together with the tufa around it and, due to tufa's properties, it becomes harder with time. Initially, almost no core was used in the construction of churches, stone blocks were simply sealed together, but as architects saw how those with mortar cores withstood tremors, the size of the core expanded. Frescos of marble or another stone were often affixed to the side of these buildings, usually at a later date.

The stone used in buildings is typically quarried all at the same location, in order to give the structure a uniform color. In cases where different color stone are used, they are often intentionally contrasted in a striped or checkerboard pattern.[2] Powder made out of ground stone of the same type was often applied along the joints of the tufa slabs to give buildings a seamless look. Unlike the Romans or Syrians who were building at the same time, Armenians never used wood or brick when building large structures.

History of Armenian Architecture

The gradual development of Armenian architecture.

Pre-Christian Armenia

During the third millennium B.C, prehistoric Armenian architecture was already distinctive. The most common feature of this form of architecture was its floor plan which was circular and connected forming a cell shape. An example of such architecture can be found in Nakichevan's Gyul-Tepe. These buildings were aproximatley 6-7 metres wide and 5 or so high.

The inhabitants of Urartu were notable for their high standards in city building, palatial complexes, and rich interior decoration. Urban architectural traditions, and other forms of art in the years before Christ continued to develop under the influence of Greco-Roman art.[3] Urartian architecture was noted for its use of large, carefully-cut stones, used as foundations for wood or mud brick buildings, usually constructed in a compact manner (such as in Erebuni) suggest a high degree of planning and craftsmanship.

The temple of Garni is the only pagan monument left in Armenia, as many others where destroyed or converted to Christian places of worship under Tiridates III of Armenia.[4]

Garni was built along Hellenistic classical lines, but embodies much of the sacred numerology and geometry devised by Ancestral Armenians 4200 years earlier. Garni's design has great symbolism. The temple has a column to inter column ratio of 1/3 (1 is the primary number of the universe and 3 is the holiest of all numbers as it represents the Greco-Roman triad Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Aside from being aesthetically beautiful, Garni's design can be seen as being a reaffirmation of the universal laws that governed man's destiny. The angles, number of columns, and dimensions were created with a careful eye; Armenian pagans wanted to appease the gods and protect humanity from their wrath. This sacred geometry is evident in the entire temple. To the people who created it, it was the perfect embodiment of their communion with the universe. Note that although sacred geometry was mostly used in religious buildings, secular buildings adopted some aspects of it.[5]

Christian Armenia

The officialisation of Christianity in 301 allowed new developments in Armenian architecture, which nevertheless preserved older traditions. In fact it would be almost impossible to find any religion that rose completely on its own without borrowing some traditions from the past. Exploring Armenian churches is critical to our understanding of Medieval Armenia. Beyond that, the Armenian churches describe us the general landscape of the Christian East at a time when eyewitness accounts were exceedingly rare. In their messages of authenticity and legitimacy, the churches shaped and preserved public memory, negotiating among diverse linguistic, religious, political, and ethnic groups.

The first Armenian churches were built on the orders of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and were often built on top of pagan temples, and imitated some aspects of Armenian pre-Christian architecture.

Periods in Armenian Architecture

Classical and Medieval Armenian Architecture is divided into four separate periods.

The Formative Period

The first Armenian churches were built between the 4th and 7th Century, beginning when Armenia converted to Christianity, and ending with the Arab invasion of Armenia. The early churches were mostly simple basilicas, but some with side apses. By the fifth century the typical cupola cone in the center had become widely used. By the seventh century, centrally-planned churches had been built and a more complicated niched buttress and radiating Hrip'simé style had formed. By the time of the Arab invasion, most of what we now know as classical Armenian architecture had formed.

Bagratid Revival

From the 9th to 11th century, Armenian architecture underwent a revival under the patronage of the Bagratid Dynasty with a great deal of building done in the area of Lake Van, this included both traditional styles and new innovations. Ornately carved Armenian khachkars were developed during this time. Many new cities and churches were built during this time, including a new capital at Lake Van and a new Cathedral on Akdamar Island to match. The Cathedral of Ani was also completed during this dynasty. It wad during this time that the first major monasteries, such as Haghpat and Haritchavank were built. This period was ended by the Seljuk invasion.

Monasteries Flourish

From the 12th to 14th century under the Zakarid dynasty saw an explosion in the number of monasteries built, including Saghmosavank Monastery, the Akhtala monastery, Kaymaklı Monastery Kecharis Monastery and Makaravank Monastery. Monasteries were institutes of learning, and much of medieval Armenian literature was written in this time period. The invasion of Timurlane and the destruction of Cilician Armenia ended architectural progression from another 250 years.

Seventeenth Century

The last great period in classic Armenian construction was under Iranian Safavid Shahs, under which number of new churches were build, usually at existing holy sites such as Etchmiadzin as well as in diaspora communities like New Julfa.

^ Vazken Lawrence Parsegian, 1996
^ a b c d e f Architecture, Arts of Armenia (c) Dr. Dickran Kouymjian , Armenian Studies Program, California State University, Fresno
^ a b Architecture of Armenia - Tourist Guide: Tourism Armenia
^ Past
^ a b Sacred Geometry and Armenian Architecture | Armenia Travel, History, Archeology & Ecology | TourArmenia | Travel Guide to Armenia
^ Building churches in Armenia: art at the borders of empire and the edge of the canon | Art Bulletin, The | Find Articles at
^ Armenia, Past and Present; Elisabeth Bauer, Jacob Schmidheiny, Frederick Leist , 1981
History of Armenian Architecture:Volume 1[show]
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