Khoranashat Monastery

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XIII AD - Tavush Marz

WARNING!!! DO NOT VISIT KHORANASHAT MONASTERY until a peace treaty is signed over Karabakh. Nearby Azeri soldiers shoot at visitors despite the fact that it is on undisputed Armenian territory.

Khoranashat Monastery - general view
Map khoranashat Tavush.gif

The architectural ensembles of Makaravank Monastery and Khoranashat in the north of Armenia occupy small high-altitude areas of the forested slopes of the Bazum mountain ridge. At one time there used to be vast settlements around these complexes, which was of substantial importance for the growth of the monasteries. The monasteries were surrounded with mighty walls, their gates were decorated with columns. Numerous residential structures were situated on an enclosed territory. There were architectural pavilions housing mineral springs among them. Makaravank’s structures are built of dark-pink andesite and red tufa, with occasional greenish stones; Khoranashat is built of bluish basalt.

The main temples of the complexes have much in common. Almost equal in size, they belong to the same type of the domed hall. The diameters of the high domes are quite large, and the under-dome space predominates in the structures’ interior. The vertical orientation of the interior of both temples is emphasized by the pillars supporting the dome. Attached to the pillars are severe faceted pilasters and half-columns which form, at the top, semi-circular and pointed arches bearing the supporting girth of the domes. High niches, semi-circular in the plan, framed with graceful arcatures on twin half-columns, which decorate the bottom of the altar apses, harmoniously fit in with the pillars. In Khoranashat there stretches, above the arcature, a cornice cut with profiled triangular recesses which combine harmoniously with various many-foil crowns of the niches.

The walls of altar daises, decorated with geometrical ornaments, are of extraordinary interest. In Khoranashat these ornaments are composed of diamonds and hexahedrons forming a net-like interlacement. In Makaravank the profiled eight-pointed stars and octagons between them, arranged in two rows, are covered with varied and rich carving unique in the architecture of medieval Armenia. It features various floral motifs, making up unusual bouquets, all kinds of fishes and birds, as well as sphinxes and sirens. Of interest are a boatman looking ahead, and a man’s figure, placed inside an octagon up the left edge of the altar dais wall and inscribed "eritasard"— probably a self-portrait of the carver. All this is enclosed in a strongly profiled frame which draws the onlooker’s attention to the reliefs inside it.


The exterior decoration of the monuments is of no less interest. In Khoranashat the facade niches have scalloped crowns of various designs connected by braces which form, in the center of the facades, large crosses of unconventional shapes — a technique characteristic of the monuments of Haghpat Monastery, Hovhannavank Monastery, etc. The entrances are framed in rectangles, and the tympanums. just as the wall of the altar apse, are composed of vari-coloured plain and ornamented diamonds, four- and eight-pointed stars. The inner niche of the western portal is decorated with a band of an intricate geometrical ornament, and the northern portal as well as the spandrel of the inner pointed arch bear the representations of a dove and of an ox’s head with a ring in its mouth — a motif often occurring in the decoration of Armenian monuments, such as Geghard. The dome drum with primitive niches imitating an arcature is most original.

The arches are made as an ornamental band; the same band passes between the arches and the cornice. The arcature is harmoniously proportionate to the dome and to the overall volume of the church.

The small chapels built of ashlar stones have carved door platbands. Makaravank’s chapel has a vaulted ceiling, while Khoranashat chapel’s is dome-shaped with a high drum elongated from west to east with a steep conic roof.

The vestries of both complexes are four-columned. The vestry of Khoranashat, built in 1251, stands out for the design of the western wall of the interior which is unique in Armenian architecture. Like the altar apse of the temple, it has twelve arched niches, one of them being the entranceway. The arcature is topped with a profiled cornice which is shaped like a pointed arch over the entranceway above which, on a cantilever, there are the sculptures of lions sitting side by side. In accordance with the decoration of the western wall, the internal abutments which stand the closest to it are decorated more elaborately — their fusts are made as a bunch of six trunks. The ceilings of the perimetral sections are ordinary (vaulted), but on the keystones of the vaults of the southern and northern sections there appear huge carved figures of eagles with spread-out wings (these carvings are partly broken). The ceiling of the central section rests on three pairs of intersecting arches the like of which can be found in the vestries of Arzakan and Makaravank and inside the dome of the main temple of Khorakert Monastery. The transition from the arches to the lighting aperture consisted, judging by the bottom stones of the masonry which have survived, of three rows of horizontally placed slabs the butt ends of which were decorated with cinquefoils. The cinquefoils also appear in the arch frame of the western portal the doorway of which is flanked by the relief representations of a lion and an ox. The reliefs serve as cantilever ledges which support the tympanum and a part of its framing.



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