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Avan Church

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VI AD - Yerevan

Avan Church - exterior
Map yerevan.gif

The church is situated in the suburb of Avan in northeastern Yerevan.

The church in Avan is the most important of all central-domed erections, which are presented by a large group of monuments (Hripsime Church, Sisavan Church, and Garnahovit Church). Its distinguishing feature is the corner side-chapels which in contrast to others are round. The exact date of foundation of the temple is known: it was erected in 595-602 during Catholicos Ovan’s power.

The cruciform in scheme is situated in just a little stretched from west to east rectangle. The entrances to round side-chapels are situated in diagonal bays, forming three quarters of circles in scheme.

The combination of half-rounded apses with light bays support the whole dome system, making the inside space of the temple roomy. Over this space was the rather heavy dome.

The facades of the building are very austere, the bays are missing, and the edges of wide windows are accented.

The western portal has a beautifully ornamented casing, three-quartered pillars with capitals and lunettes, which are very peculiar to early monuments. As the outstanding historian of Armenian architecture T.Toramanyan thinks, the church had five peaks - one in the center and the other four in the corners, over the round side-chapels. Unfortunately the present condition of the monument doesn’t allow us to give a final answer to this question.

In the temple there are many ornamented stones extracted from excavations, which belong to much earlier constructions. In 1965-1966 mostly in western side of the temple remainders of early constructions were found, which indicate the existence of other constructions at the same place before the church was built.

According to the historical data, the Armenian Church was divided in to zones of influence during the period of building the Avan’s temple. The Avan church belonged to the center part, which was under the ascendancy of Byzantine Church the head of which was Catholicos Ioan (who became Catholicos in 591 and died in 610-611).

The excavations found in Avan’s temple helped to discover the patriarchal palace, which was built at the same time as the church on the northern side. The dimensions of the latter are quite modest in comparison with other known palaces in Zvartnots, Aruj and Dvin.

The Avan church was partially restored in 1940-1941 and in 1956-1966, 1968.

A big cemetery with many dated khachkars and gravestones is preserved in Avan. There also is preserved a stepped pedestal and part of the steles peculiar to monuments of VI c. and another similar gravestone is preserved in the yard of the temple.

A couple of Middle-aged monuments exist in the territory of the former village. The half-destroyed church of St.Hovanes is situated to the southwest of the temple at the foot of the hill.

There is a khachkar built into the wall to the north of the church of St.Hovanes. To the northeast, another church of the Holy Virgin is built on more ancient foundations and was exposed to repeated destruction and reconstruction.

The stepped pedestal of the ancient stele is also preserved here. Similar to the pedestal of the stele preserved in the yard of a much later church (XIX c), built in a village by the old road leading from Yerevan to Avan.

Avan Church - interior

The village of Avan, lying in the angle between the Sevan and Garni roads, has been swallowed up by Yerevan. Heading N past the Zoo (on the right, larger than it looks, and not as depressing as it could be) and just before the Botanic Garden (on the left, spacious and nice for walks, with some plans for redemption), take the right off-ramp for Garni, but then go straight through the intersection and turn left at the stop sign. Turn immediately right, and head about 1 km up the main road of Avan. Where the main road turns right at a modern monument and cemetery, continue straight past the intersection a few meters, then take the first left down a narrow lane. The church is about 300 m along, on the left. Like many other early churches, this one is known locally as the Tsiranavor ("apricot-colored"). Avan Church is the earliest surviving church inside the Yerevan city limits, dating to the late 6th c. At a time when Armenia enjoyed competing pro-Persian and pro-Byzantine katholikoi, the Avan church was built by the pro-Byzantine Catholicos Hovhannes Bagavanetsi (traditional dates 591-603) as his headquarters, while his pro-Persian rival sat in Dvin. Multi-apsed, built on a two-step podium, the church preserves a low arched doorway but is roofless. A surviving inscription preserves the name Yohan in a plausibly early style, but with no title to confirm that this commemorates the founder. There are ruins of monastic buildings N, perhaps the seat of the rival Catholicosate.

On a slope south of the early village, now on the edge of town, are two chapels, of S. Hovhannes and S. Astvatsatsin, with interesting carvings. Restored several times over the ages, they are believed to originate from the 5-6th centuries. They underwent major reconstruction in the 13th c., but have spent three centuries in ruins since the 1679 earthquake. The Avan cemetery on the west edge of the town has khachkars of the 13-18th c and, across the road, the uninscribed stepped plinth and broken pillar of a 5-6th c. grave monument. (Paragraph Source: Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook.]