Kasagh Basilica

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IV-V AD - Aragatsotn Marz

Kasagh Basilica - general view

The Kasagh (Քասաղ) Basilica is one of the oldest pre-Christian structures in Armenia, built not later than the beginning of the 4th century. In this church, a triple-naved basilican type, three pairs of pillars divide the hall into a nave and two aisles. Each of the three parts thus created was cradle vaulted, and the whole was covered with a two-sided roof; the roofing no longer exists. The central apse, externally polygonal and internally horseshoe shaped, is situated on the east side. A sacristy has been added to the north side. The rather sober architecture of the exterior possesses some remarkable details, particularly the bas-reliefs of the tympana of the west and south entrances, which are very interesting exemplars of pre-Christian art in Armenia. (Monuments of Armenia)

Back on the main road, you soon reach the former region capital of Aparan (4913 v). till 1935 Bash Aparan, site of an important battle against the Turkish army in 1918. Just N of town, on a hill left of the road, is an impressive monument to the battle. Behind the monument toward the Kasagh gorge is a large Bronze Age settlement site, with tomb fields and caves. Aparan's population, mixed Armenians and Kurds, is the butt of various jokes. As Kasagh, Aparan was listed by the geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. About 100 m E of the highway toward the N end of town is the impressive and architecturally important 5th c. Kasagh Basilica*, restored and operating as a church. (Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook)

It was constructed in Armenian Arshakuny dynasty's land in Ayrarat's historical Nig region's Ararata settlement. Aragats was the summer seat of the Armenian kings also before Christianity. Kasagh's basilica was probably the praying hall of that seat (castle).

There is no exact data about the construction time of basilica, but according to its architectural- building analyses it appears to be one of the first Armenian Christian temples, which has existed since the first years of the IVc.

The temple at first had a very simple construction; it consisted of a rectangle- shape praying hall, which was divided into one large and two small naves, through the help of a row of horse-shoe-shaped pillars. The naves had a vaulted cover and all three had one roof. Such foundations are called "eastern type of basilica construction" or simply "hall-church".

Kasagh Basilica - interior view

The original construction of the temple probably had a rectanglular vestibule. Such vestibules existed during the early Christian period, and in later times too and not only in Armenian (Artsakh, Tekor, Parpi, Byurakan, Yeghvard, etc.) but also in similar constructions of neighboring countries' (Northern Middle East, Syria, Africa, Scandinavia, etc.). The historian of Vc Ghazar Parpetsi mentions the rectangle-quandrangle stage of the church.

Later (probably in Vc) the rectanglular vestibule was replaced by the present horse-shoe-shaped interior and polyhedral exterior huge apse. The foundations of the apse and the walls of the praying hall differ.

The next addition is the room lozenge plan in the northern side of the praying hall, the whole stony vault and the walls of which join the plain of the hall. The addition of the vaulted hall took place right after construction of the hall.

Presently from the basilica remain the outer walls of the praying hall, the southern row of pillars of the main nave, the polyhedral apse, the remainders of the hall and the outer room. The remaining part gives us the opportunity to reproduce the correct look of the original monument.

This sacred, notable monument was built near one of Aragats Mountain's even-flowing springs, from the springhead of which starts the Kasakh River.

The space-plan of the temple with its architecturally strict character beautifully harmonizes with the wild and far stricter nature on the Aragats' background.

Through the help of some architectural stresses (cornices, etc) on the plain walls and symmetry the church was given a more artistic impressiveness.

Two architectural styles are present in the general constuction of the basilica. The original composition of the temple both inside and outside space-plan (the symmetry of the edges, the way in which the main row of pillars was built, etc.) partially concern the antique (bc) period of architectural art, and the basilic's later added parts (polyhedral apse, the outer vaulted hall, the pillar- decorated entries, etc.) concern the early Christian period.

In fact there is an obvious commonness between the architectural processes of the additions and the early Christian period's Syrian and Middle Asian similar constructions.

It means that the additonal parts of the temple were built in the first years of the adoption of Christianity (IV- Vcc) belong to the similar constructions of the same period, and the original construction built before the additions, being far from that period comes closer to the architectural art of prechristian period in Armenia.

Kasagh Basilica - portal