Every structure produced by man has a purpose. Architecture originated when humans began to modify their surroundings to fulfil their requirements. In this article, we encounter the past, present and future of Armenia architecture and how the architecture transitioned in various periods. The city of Armenia with a recorded history of more than 3,500 years and is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. This architecture has some unique features and Byzantine, Persian and Islamic influences.

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Time line of Armenia city architecture _©Author-Abirami elangovan

The Republic of Armenia is surrounded by a land border to the west by Turkey, north by Georgia, and east by Azerbaijan. Modern Armenia is much smaller than ancient Armenia, which once stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia in modern-day Iran.

Common Architectural Elements

Armenian architecture responds to its history and geographical setting. The breathtaking religious building and the monasteries are classical masterpieces. The church architecture believes to be the first national style, with a distinctive feature. Furthermore, in terms of planning concepts of spaces, the architectural innovation is remarkable. The unifying features of Armenia architecture are the Khachkar and conical roof. In Armenian monasteries, the Khachkar is a decorated rectangular-shaped cross-stone with a massive cruciform sculpture in the centre.

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Khachkar _©attarmenia.com

The other important design element is a conical roof which contains a central space area. The conical roof distinguished Armenian churches from other eastern European churches. This element also responded to the climatic condition in the winter season in Armenia. This pinnacle structure also acts as a dominating element in the religious building so that visible from the miles.

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Armenian church with conical roof _©architectureofcities.com

Pre-Christian Architecture

There is a fact that the history of Armenia’s architectural development is only on the single type of building (i.e.) church. It will raise the question does it mean no other architecture in Armenia before Christianity’s answer is no. There is a piece of evidence the strong architectural tradition with stone influenced by Greco-Roman art evolved before the first church was built.

The full Hellenistic style of the 1st century AD late Temple of Garni is known for its use of cut rock as a building material. It was built with the concept of sacred numerology and geometry. The temple stands tall with vertical emphasizing elements and contains small interior spaces.

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Exterior of Temple of Garni _© wallpaperflare.com

The Formative Period (Fourth to the Seventh Centuries)

What are the distinguishing characteristics of an Armenian church? Before all else, every church was constructed only with stones. Wood was scarce, which limited its use in medieval Armenian construction. In the formative period, the early church planning concept is simple basilicas but with side apses. In the 7th century, centrally planned churches were emerging in Armenia. The dome on pendentives became the defining architectural feature of Armenian churches between the sixth and sixteenth centuries. Following that, The Arab invasion and conquest of Armenia in the mid-seventh century abruptly destroyed a thriving architectural culture at its zenith.

The Bagratid Revival (Ninth to the Eleventh Centuries)

From the 9th through the 11th centuries, Armenian architecture had a rebirth under the patronage of the Bagratid Dynasty, with much of the construction taking place in the Lake Van area, including both classic forms and new inventions. The abrupt loss of political autonomy caused by the Byzantine Empire’s weakening of the Armenian kingdom and imminent downfall came with the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in the Mid-eleventh century.

The Flourishing of Monasteries (Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries)

The Armenian Zakarid dynasty provided the necessary security for the blossoming of architecture as well as the creation and growth of massive monastery complexes. Monasteries were educational institutions, and much of medieval Armenian literature was composed during this period. During the period of monasteries, a flourishing lot of monasteries like Saghmosavank Monastery, the Akhtala monastery, Kaymaklı Monastery, Kecharis Monastery and Makaravank Monastery emerged.

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interior of Akhtala monastery _©wikimedia.org

The Seventeenth Century

There were no new buildings until the seventeenth century, and preexisting buildings were hardly maintained. The Final national revival under the rule of Safavid Shah produced a series of new construction that emerged in the seventeenth century. The churches of Mughni and Shoghakat are two prominent examples in Greater Armenia, as are the churches of New Julfa. In the seventeenth-century several new churches were built, it is the last greatest period in classic Armenian construction.

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churches of Mughni _©hyurservice.com

Armenian Architecture (Nineteenth to the twentieth century)

The advent of Russians in Armenia in the nineteenth century had a significant influence on architecture. A large number of architectural marvels were constructed in this period since the building is currently a part of the Turkish Republic. Since Armenian structures were composed of black tuff during the period, they were mainly black.

Image 7 _ View from old Gyumri_© flickr.com

Present Architecture

Indeed, it would be difficult to identify a religion that arose entirely on its own without taking certain traditions from the past. Outside the country’s borders, the Armenian diaspora contributed to sacred architecture and churches being built all over the world. Armenia, known for its medieval churches and stone structures, has now become home to modern projects that reinterpret traditional construction methods and organizational principles. Today contemporary Architects are experimenting with open structures and trying out different materials. The deep roots in traditional architecture have an obvious impact on the modern and contemporary architecture of the world.

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integrity of rural aesthetics in sync with contemporary architecture_©Photo-Ieva Saudargaite

Future of Armenia architecture 

Armenia’s future seems to have some new ideas concerning the future of architecture. MVRDV is an architecture firm that has unveiled a futuristic vision for a self-sufficient Gagarin valley in Armenia. It is poised to become an ideal location for sustainable agriculture and ecotourism as well as to welcome a new generation of people. The government intends to give federal aid for sustainable agriculture and hopes to promote tourism in the area. By 2026, the government hopes to attract 2.5 million tourists every year, with the restored Gagarin Valley playing a crucial role. Immersive Technology, Sustainability, ecological footprint, affordability, and innovation will be going to transform future architectural design. New architectural innovations will continue to emerge as long as humans survive on Earth.

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Designed as a sphere, agriculture center form Gagarin valley _© Rendering courtesy of MVRDV

References:

College of Arts and humanities (no date) Fresnostate.edu. Available at: https://cah.fresnostate.edu/armenianstudies/resources/artsofarmenia/architecture.html 

Author

As a budding architect with Inquisitive eyes on architecture, she loves to construct those understanding into words. She feels that architecture allows one to perceive the world through new eyes together with understanding the language of art.

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