Temple Zvartnots

652 y.

Zvartnots, a complex of structures erected in the middle of the 7th century near E (Armavir district), is of extreme architectural value.

The complex consisted of St. George temple or Zvartnots («vigil forces», «celestial angels») and the palace of Catholicos Nerses III, known as «Builder».

Zvartnots, buiIt as Armenia’s main cathedral in 641-661, was to suppress Echmiadzin cathedral by its grandeur. This purpose was served by the original architectural composition of the building which is an example of a central-dome temple different in its appearance from the antique and Byzantine structures of this kind. The plan of Zvartnots is based on the composition of the central nucleus of Armenia's cross-winged, dome-type structures of the previous times, that is the Greek cross. However, this cross is harmoniously fitted into a circle rather than into a square. Zvartnots’ architecture was supposed to impress the onlooker by its extraordinary artistic splendor.

According to Stepanos Taronatsi, an Armenian historian of the late 10th and the early 11th centuries (Stepanos of Taron, known as Asoghik) Zvartnots lay in ruins as early as in the tenth century. The remnants of Zvartnots, even in ruins, are a majestic sight. There survived only the lower parts of the walls and individual fragments.

According to this reconstruction, the building consisted of three polyhedrons the lower one being 32-hedral and the upper one 16-hedral and crowned with a cone-shaped cupola. The central part of the interior had the shape of a tetraconch in the plan. The decoration of Zvartnots temple followed the principle, common in the Armenian architecture of the 5th-7th centuries, of bringing out the basic architectural details. The outer surfaces of the polyhedrons, especially of the lower one, were ornamented with a rich arcature.

Presumably, the architect of Zvartnots knew the Syrian and Byzantine architectural structures of the same kind. Zvartnots stands out for an unusual composition which differed from that of these structures. Syria and Byzantium had no structures of this type. This is confirmed by Movses Kalankatvatsi, a 10th century Armenian historian, who wrote about the intention of Emperor Constantine of Byzantium, who had been present at the consecration of Zvartnots when it was nearing completion in 652, to build a similar structure in his own capital. This intention failed to materialize due to the architect’s death on his way to Constantinople.

Zvartnots is a monument which embodies the centuries old traditions of Armenian architects. In its artistic image and daring spatial arrangement, formed by an intricate combination of arches and buttresses, Zvartnots is an outstanding monument of world architecture, an evidence of the high level of the development of the artistic and engineering thought in the 7th-century Armenia. Its architectural idea later became widely spread and developed in new shapes and new artistic compositions.

To the south-west of the temple there was the Catholicos’ palace which has also come down to us in ruins. It was a complex of capitally-built and regularly laid-out presence-chambers, dwelling, auxiliary and service premises. The scale, as well as the architectural and artistic features of the palace was coordinated with those of the temple.

The palace building consisted of two parts arranged at all angle to each other and divided by a corridor. The western part comprised small premises and two halls. The big summer hall, where reception ceremonies and conferences were held. The second, slightly smaller hall, which served as a refectory and possibly, as a throne-room, was of a more intimate character.

The eastern part included dwelling and service premises, such as storerooms and a bathroom. The latter consisted of two sections, the bigger one intended for common, and the smaller one for privileged visitors. The bathroom was equipped similarly to that of Garni. Adjoining it on the southern side was a small hall-type church of the 5th-6th centuries, south of which there was a large wine-press.

The palace of Nerses III was the biggest of all the known civil structures of the 7th-century Armenia.

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