Sanahin monastery

966 y.

The Sanahin monastery is situated in the north of Armenia, in the Lori district, within the limits of Alaverdi city. Standing on a high plateau, amidst low structures, they rise sharp against the background of steep forest-grown slopes of Bazum ridge.

The exact date of the foundation of Sanahin is unknown. Documentary evidence and monuments of material culture suggest that these structure date back to the middle of the 10th century. The formation of Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom of the Kyurikids in 979 and the great attention paid to Sanahin by various rulers of Armenia and their vassals favored the construction of many religious and civil structures there. In this monastery humanitarian sciences and medicine were studied, scientific treatises written and paintings, most miniatures created.

The main monastery buildings are grouped around chief temple. Most of the religious structures are of the cross-winged dome type and have side-chapels in four corners, or of the cupola hall type. The structures of the fist type are St.Hakob church (the 9th century), St.Astvatzatzin (Holy Virgin) church, built some time between 928 and 944 and St.Amenaprkich church, completed in 966. Standing out among these churches is St.Amenaprkich built by Khosrovanuish, the wife of Ashot III Bagratuni. This majestic structure has two-tier side-chapels. The severe and majestic eastern facade is crowned in its gable with a monumental sculptural group of Kings Kyurike and Smbat. Chronologically, this is the first high-relief representation of human figures with a model of a church, which gives it great importance in Armenian art. The interiors of St.Astvatzatzin and St.Amenaprkich churches were decorated with frescoes which are almost totally lost by now.

The church of St.Harutyun in Sanahin, dating back to the early 13th century, is interesting from the point of view of its composition. Its interior is distinguished by two identical altar apses.

St.Grigory chapel, of the same church is a miniature concentric domed structure of the late 10th century. Its plan is circular on the outside and four-petal inside, with horseshoe-shaped apses which impart plasticity to the interior. Vestibules were intended for morning and evening services. Parishioners for whom there was no room left in the temple stood there.

The vestibule of St.Amenaprkich church belongs to the four-pillar type. It was built in 1181 by the architect Jhamhayr at the expense of Father Superior Hovhannes and the prince’s family. This is an early example of the widespread buildings of this type based on the composition of the Armenian peasant home. The bases and capitals of the columns are decorated with carvings and relief representations of the heads of the animals.

The vestibule of St.Astvatzatzin church, erected by Prince Vache Vachutyan in 1211, is of a different type. It is a three-nave hall covered with vaults and steep two-slope roofs. The grandeur and monumentality of heavy arcades, of the low arches and of the high vaults which seem to draw the walls apart give the interior an integral and expressive character. The western facade with its six high archways is extremely picturesque.

Vestibules and galleries, as well as special structures, served as sepulchers for members of aristocracy. There are several such structures in Sanahin. They differed from each other in their architectural composition, which is evidence of the great creative ingenuity of their architects. The most ancient of them is the sepulcher of Kyurike and David Kyurikids in Sanahin which consisted of two vaulted cells, isolated from each other, one built at the end of the 10 thc, and the other in the middle of the 11thc.

The sepulcher of Zakharid princes in Sanahin is more complicated, its eastern part of the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century is a basement crypt with a vault on wall arches and with chapels rising above it, of which the middle one is rectangular in the plan and the side ones are round and double-storeyed. The latter are of a type stylistically close to St.Grigory chapel from which they differ by their miniature size and by the gracefulness of their architecture. Built in 1189, the western part is simpler - it is a premise rectangular in the plan with an original large ornamented portal. The bell-tower of Sanahin (built between 1211 and 1235) is one of the earliest examples of structures serving this purpose. This is tall three-floor tower with small side-chapels at various levels. The bell-tower is crowned with a light rotunda, which became a characteristic feature of later separate bell-towers of Armenia. The smart western facade is singled out by a large ornamented cross of dark-red stone in a heavily shaped frame. The asymmetrically shaped windows, khachkars and carved spheres of yellow sandstone give the facade a picturesque and appealing look.

Sanahin Academy is an original work of civil architecture built in two stages at the end of the 10th century and at the beginning of the 11th century. This structure, rectangular in the plan, is roofed over numerous closely spaced arches resting on pillars attached to the church walls.

The book depository of Sanahin (1063) is unique building illustrating the high level of development of civil architecture in the 11th-13th century Armenia. Such buildings were erected, as a rule, away from the main churches of the monastery. They were square-shaped in plan and had a niche for keeping manuscripts in. Special attention was paid to the design of the roof which gave the book depositories a distinctive appearance. The composition of the interior makes Sanahin’s book depository a unique work of medieval Armenian architecture. Its influence shows in various architectural forms of Armenia’s civil buildings.

Small structures over water springs, which are still in use, are of special interest among the monastery buildings. The 1831 structure over a water spring in the yard of Sanahin monastery is a single-arched one: a village structure of this kind in Sanahin, dating back to the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, is twin-arched. There are stone troughs stretching along the back wall of the structure for watering the village cattle, and also a water reservoir used by local residents. The vaulted composition was prompted by the climate of the country. The cool and damp air inside is a good protection against the scorching midsummer sun.

Sanahin Bridge across the Debet River (1192) stands out among all the bridges found within the confines of the monasteries. This engineering structure of high artistic merits, integrity and perfect harmony is in a class by itself among the numerous bridges of the Transcaucasus. A single-span bridge, it has an original composition prompted by the local terrain: its right side is horizontal, and its left side terraces down to the bank. The parapets of the bridge are decorated with tiny spiked helmets at the edges and with the roughly hewn figures of lying wild cats in the central part.

Sanahin complex is especially rich in khachkars, which were intended not only as memorials. Some of them were installed to mark various events: one was put up on the occasion of building a bridge in 1192, another one, of building an inn in 1205, and others are Tepagir (1011), Tsiranavor (1222), etc. Most of the khachkar have the traditional shape of a cross which germinated out of a grain, with branches on its sides. In the khachkars of the 10th-11th century the framing of the cross was simpler than that of the 12th-13th century khachkars which developed new stylistic features. The lacy patterns and their intricate interweaving on Sanahin’s Grigor Tudevordi khachkar (1184) or Sargis khachkar (1215) are truly amazing for the ultimate skill of their execution.

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