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XII - XIII AD - Tavush Marz
The cloister complex Shkhmurad (Շխմուրադ) is situated 6 km Southwest of the village Tsakhkavan in Shamshadin region, in a picturesque valley of Akhum River, on the left bank's woody slope. It is an excellent example of combining architecture with nature. It is thought that the monument got its name from a nearby settlement. The ensemble was built in XII-XIII cc. The complex consists of the church of the Holy Virgin, two vestibules, and an erection called "Khoranik". The ruins and the signs of chapels and auxiliary constructions are preserved in the environs.
The church of the Holy Virgin is the main erection of the ensemble. It is built in the middle of the XIII c from local clearly trimmed yellowish porous stone. It is a rectangle on the inside (8,50x7,0 m) and cruciform from outside domed hall. In the eastern part the main apse is situated and there are two-storied side-chapels on both sides. From the inside longitudinal walls come out two pylons, closing with half-pillars, connected with each other by arches and half-pillars on top, and standing on either side of the stage. On the square base through the mediation of sail openings a cylindrical drum rises. On the eastern faзade of the church there are two refined bays, the arched ends of which are crowned with common belt with the windows of the main apse and the side-chapels of the second tier. The church has two entries, which open in the vestibules situated in western and southern sides. The western portal has setting of complicated profile, into which from both sides of the entry khachkars were put, but didn’t preserve.
There are khachkars in other places of inside and outside walls too. The frontal part of the stage is encrusted by three swastikas (part of the third swastika is missing) surrounded by fretwork frame.
The signs left of one of the restorations of the church show that the vertical dimensions of outward volume (facades and the drum) were enlarged by 40 cm.
The big vestibule is situated in the western part of the complex, erected in the second half of XIII c. The walls are built of rubble stone, the arches, the pillars, etc. are clearly trimmed. It belongs to two-pillared type of vestibules (such is the cloister Hayravank on the bank of lake Sevan). The big vestibule is a square in scheme erection (10,30x10,30 m) covered with the system of vaults, leaning on two octahedral pillars and crowned with light lantern. The entrance to the vestibule opens from the western part of southern wall. The church and the vestibule join the rocks with northern walls.
The small vestibule joins the southern wall of the church. It was built later, probably in the last quarter of XIII c. It is a clearly trimmed, square in scheme (7,0x7,0 m) erection without pillars. Four half-pillars that are also the bearings for arches, carrying the light lantern and the vaulted roof preserved inside the erection. The entry was from west.
Khoranik is situated in the eastern part of the complex and its entry opens to the small vestibule. The erection, belonging to the type of one-nave vaulted churches, built of unprocessed stone, is now destroyed. In partly preserved walls longitudinal canals can be seen, in which were put logs, that gave the construction seismic-protection. According to the building inscription of the western wall (dated by the system of Hovanes Sarkavag), Khoranik was built in 1149 -- in fact it’s the most ancient erection of the ensemble. The construction got its name from the word "zkhoraniks" that was in the inscription too.
The Shkhmurad complex was partly restored to life in XVII c, evidenced by the signs of restoration on the monuments and the dated khachkars of the complex. The khachkar with images of human figures placed by the southern entry is especially notable.
The khachkars of well-known master Kiram are also here (now broken).
To the northwest of the complex, on top of gigantic roof, are preserved the ruins of the cyclopic fortress Kal-Kar of VI BC. to IV AC. Some kilometers to west on the way to the ensemble are the remainders of settlements (Khchakhpyur, Karagegh, Spitak Jur) in the environs of which are situated the ruins of medieval chapel.
Returning to the Berd roundabout, the main road N leads (left fork) to the attractive village of Zavenavan (1188 v. until recently -- or maybe still -- Tovuz), with an Astvatsatsin church by the road, a S. Gevorg sacred site, the Tavush and Katsaret forts and a rock-cut grotto (vimapor karayr) somewhere in the vicinity. Continuing, one passes on the left an unmarked dirt road to Chinchin and then descends steeply into the valley of the Hakhum river, and Tsaghkavan (685 v, until 1939 Veligegh) The important Shkhmuradi Vank of the 12-13th c. with S. Astvatsatsin church built in 1181, is west of town about 6 km up the river valley; 150 m up from the monastery is 6-5th c. fortress called Kalkar. Some 2 km N of Kalkar and 1.5 km N of the road to Shkhmuradi Vank is another similar fort called Sevkareri Blur. One km NE of this fort is a third, Sevkareri Takht on the left bank of the Hakhum River. In front of the cattle breeding farm of Tsaghkavan village on the right bank of the river is another cyclopean fort called Baghri Khach. The next village is the location of the beautiful Nor Varagavank Monastery. [Paragraph Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook.]
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