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VII-VIII cc. AD - Above Kolatak Village, Mardakert Region
On the way to Gandzasar, where the Kolatak River joins the Khachen River, you can head up the Kolatak to find S. Hakob or Metsaranits Monastery on the right bank of the river, on a ridge above the village of Kolatak. The serf walls, buildings and arched corridors built from the 8th-18th centuries are still standing.
St. Hakob Monastery
St. Hakob monastery is considered to be the most remarkable monument of Kolatak. It is situated on a mountain foot 2km far from the village. In the historical literature it is also known as Metsaranits temple. Metsarank is known as the name of one of the villages of Artsakh. Later it was also called Nerkin Khachen. There is no concrete information about temple's foundation date. The oldest inscription is engraved on a pedestal of a khachkar, which was later placed in the wall of the church as a building material, and refers to 851. The other written information is in the records of Yerevan's Matenadaran named after M.Mashtots. Here the parchment speaks about that the builders of St.Hakoba temple were Hasan Jalal's parents- Vakhtang and Khorishah.
Khorishah tells by one of her inscriptions, "I again built the church in Metsaran for salvation of my soul, remember the good". Here she speaks about St. Hakoba temple, which was a religious center of Khokhanaberd branch. But here the "I again built" expression should be understood as rebuilding and repairing. Even now it's not difficult to be sure about it. The stones of the former constructions the repairers placed here and there in the walls, so they put the grave-stones in the walls and put khachkars on the ceiling. They put the trimmed and inscribed stones in the corners. In short, the constructions leave a patched (mended) impression. Most likely St.Hakoba temple was also repaired in 15-16cc besides the rebuilding in 1212. An undated small inscription here confirms that fact.
The dwelling constructions joining the southern church from eastern side according to the other inscription were built in 1725. This way separate constructions of the monastic complex were built and rebuilt throughout many ages- from IX to XVIIIcc. The main part of the constructions was built in XII- XIIIcc. The complex consists of two churches, two vestibules, a dwelling compartment and economical buildings. All the buildings join each other and are mostly connected by common passages.
The first church of Surb Hakoba monastery is a long rectangular one-nave hall (sizes 7,8 x 3,2m). By the architectural appearance it resembles Ghevondats desert's church. The difference is that here the altar rising is considerably raised from the common level and one can only get there by the stairs in southern side. The necessity to make the altar rising higher then usual was dictated by practical reasons. It's because to the church' northern wall from outside join also small cells (sizes 1,3 x 1,3m), entries to which open under the altar-rising, with which is connected its height. Such situation of cells, used also as hiding places makes one think that right in here has existed a more ancient construction, which was "again built" in XIIc.
The western facade of the church later on became the center of three-arch hall-vestibule. Like the analogous vestibules of Dadi and Tate monastery here the bottom part of the front wall is also an arcade from three arches. The pilasters and arches are from trimmed stone and very well stand out on the background of the whole wall.
For cheering up the monotonous layer from untrimmed stone in vestibule's walls are widely used khachkars, gravestones of 2m long and slabs with fragmentary epigraphic inscriptions. The khachkars used in here are built from pink stone, the gravestones from gray, the inscribed slabs from white, and the sun clock from light orange stone; all this on the background of walls from blue stone create an interesting color-range.
To the northern wall of the described vestibule joins the second church, which is a rectangular simple hall (8,0 x 3,4m) with an eastern apside. The church has two entries; from southern side through three-arch vestibule and from western side through built by its side vestibule-chapel. So, the three-arch vestibule, organically having common things with the exterior forms of the two churches, serves not only a unique front for the entry to both of the churches, but also gives a picturesque look to the whole complex, thanks to the arcade.
From the architectural point of view this surely presents certain interest.
Among the various constructions of the monastic complex a special place occupies the vestibule-gavit of the second church. It's known that vestibules in Armenian architecture appeared in Xc. And we can certainly say that the vestibule-gavit of Surb Hakobavank monastery is one of the most ancient ones. Usually the vestibules come close to the main church which at the same time serves as vestibules' eastern wall.
Here the vestibule is first built by the small church, and second is separated from it by 2, 5m wide corridor. This corridor between the church and the vestibule is single and doesn't meet in other monasteries. During the holy mass as in the church so in the vestibule with the corridor took their places the parishioners, because the modest sizes of the praying-hall couldn't fit them all. Besides, the vestibule served as a cemetery for famous people, a place for discussion as church so life questions. Here, as also in the three-arch vestibule-hall the floor is covered with numerous gravestones. As the inscriptions inform here are buried catholico Hovanes, Aristakes, Simeon and bishops Simeon and Vardan.
From the historical works and manuscript sources it's known that Surb Hakoba monastery in medieval-period was considered one of the sacred places of Armenia's Eastern side. As the gravestones point out by mentioning the catholicoses and bishops, the monastery was a eparchial centre, and in XIIIc it served as catholicos' residence. It was also known as the educational and manuscript center of Khachen.
By the two sides of the corridor are put two richly-ornamented khachkars. According to the inscription the khachkar by the northern wall was put in 1223, and by the southern wall in 1224. Four khachkars were used as side-blocks for corridor's western window. They amaze by their ornament, and though the inscriptions have rubbed off and the exact dated haven't preserved, the style of their decoration has much in common with the analogous monuments of XII- XIIIcc.
The vestibule is an almost square hall (sizes 7,0 x 7,6m), the vault of which leans on the crossing arches, leaning on pilasters. Besides the wide eastern entry, in the south-western part there is a small door passage. Two windows open towards south, and a third one opens towards west. In the northern wall there are no window-passages, as it makes part of monastery's stony fence. One of the khachkars put in vestibule's wall has dating 1212, and the squared beam inscription of the door is dated 1293.
In this monastery were gathered and published around 42 epigraphic inscriptions. A special value present khachkars- the examples of high mastery of stone-masters, the gravestones, cornices, arches, the butt-ends of altar rising, casings of doors, windows and fire-places. If the complex is built in restrained architectural style from roughly-trimmed stone, we can't say the same about the small architectural forms. They are priceless treasures of the past and the perfect examples of medieval art.
Besides the churches and vestibules, the monastic complex includes also other constructions. Inside the stony fence were situated the scriptorium, matenadaran, preserving parchment manuscripts, rooms with fire-places as in Tatev's monastery, and also the dining hall with a kitchen, an oil-mill for making sesame oil, numerous cellars, stalls, reservoirs, guarding post, tonirs. They mostly got to us in half-destroyed condition. The economical and dwelling buildings certainly evidence about the presence in the past numerous monastic faternities.
The monastic cells are situated towards east from the church, on lowland. According to the inscription and by the whole architectural appearance they refer to XVII- XVIIIcc. The dwelling compartment consists from row of rooms, groupped around the common corridor, opposite which towards south-west is situated a large yard. By both sides of the monastery's main entry are built two-story rooms, part of which has fully preserved. From the monastery's gate begins the 10m long corridor, which stretched under the buildings with vaulted covers. Towards north-west from the monastery in a dense forest is situated the monstic spring. Another spring called Ttu jur (mineral water) is situated at the foot of the monastic hill, near Tblkhu settlement.
This way the secular constructions of Surb Hakoba monastery, that had played an important role in spiritual and social life of the area, the inscriptions on its ancient stones, beautiful khachkars and gravestones have a great cognitive significance.