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Geghard Monastery is one of the hand-made monuments of medieval Armenia located in Kotayk Region, just 40km from Yerevan. It is unique and unrepeatable in its kind. The Geghard monastery complex consists of a Cathoghike church, an adjacent vestibule, two rock-hewn churches, a shrine-tomb, and rock-hewn cells. In 2000, the complex was included in the list of monuments under the protection of UNESCO.
The monastery was named so, because the well-known spear (arm. geghard) with which the Roman soldier pierced Christ’s side was kept here. It was brought to Armenia by the apostle Thaddeus, one of the first preachers of Christianity. Now it is located in Vagharshapat, in the history museum. The name Geghard was given not only to the monastery, but also to a branch of the Geghama mountains, which stretches to the south and is called “Geghardasar”. It creates the gorge through which the upper course of the Azat River flows. The gorge was also called “Geghardadzor”.
Geghard monastery is also called Ayrivank (ayr – cave), because there are many caves here, which served as solitary cells.
At the end of the 14th century, Armenia was subjected to the raids of the Central Asian general Lenktemur. Having heard the fame of the miracles of the Geghard Monastery, Lenktemur (1336-1405) decided to try it himself. He attacked the deserted valley with a countless army and ordered to bring the Holy Sign of Geghard to him. As soon as they raise their lances to strike the Holy Sign, immediately many invisible armored soldiers in colorful uniforms attack the enemy from all sides. A chaos falls into Temur’s army. some run away, others get angry, many go blind. Seeing that, the horrified Lenktemur begs forgiveness from Holy Sign and returns back, promising great rewards.
In 1215, the main Cathoghike church of the complex was built, which is a structure with a cross dome. The eastern and southern walls are bordered by a pair of Armenian niches, which have anti-seismic significance. In the front part of the cathedral there is a high sculpture depicting a lion attacking a bull. There were many frescoes on the walls of the church, the traces of which are preserved to this day.
The vestibule with a four-column composition and a central floor plan is adjacent to the Cathoghike Church on the western side. It was built during the years 1215-1225. The floor is covered with geometric figures, as well as tombstones of ministerial families and monks.
THE UPPER GAVIT
According to the record, the upper court was built in 1288 for Papak, the son of Prince Prosh, and his wife Ruzukan. The upper Gavit, like the Gavit and the tomb of Proshyans, is made of a single piece of rock. The gavit also served as a mausoleum.
To the left of the north wall of the Cathoghike gavit is the Avazan church. The spring in the church is still considered holy. The church was built in the middle of the 13th century (1230-1250) by architect Galdzak. We learn the name of the architect from the engraving on the square under the dome. The church is a structure with a cross-winged dome and was built by order of the Proshyan princes.
THE CEMETERY OF PROSHYANS
The cemetery is located to the northeast of the gavit. The construction of the building was originally ordered by the Zakaryans in 1215. In 1283, the Prosyans bought Ayrivank from the Zakaryans and ordered the architect Galdzak to expand the domed hall. The members of the Proshian royal house are burried in this hall. The armor of the Proshyans is depicted on the upper part of the northern wall.
It is sculpted a head of an ox holding chainof two lions. A little below it is depicted an eagle with spread wings and a lamb in its clutches. Among the many sculptures on the walls there are human sculptures, and in the upper corners of the flat zone bordering the entrance of the church, there are sculptures of the apostles Saint Poghos and Petros holding the keys of heaven.
The entrance of St. Astvatsatsin Church opens from Proshyans’ cemetery. The church is a cross-domed structure. To the left of the altar, we see a large, very original cross with a magnificent symbol of the Tree of Life and the sun in the upper part, and Adam’s head in the lower part. Unique small crosses are carved on the edges of the cross in the Armenian style. On both sides of the cross is a hunting scene, probably with the image of Proshyans. The altar is unique in that it has only one staircase.
The ruins of the Church of Saint Sion have been preserved next to the temple. It was built in 659. The consignor was Catholicos Nerses G. Shinogh. The church is an all-shaped structure with a cross central dome. The four identical altars form an isosceles cross, between the wings of which are placed one storage room with a quadrangular plan.
The two-storied fort was located on the western side of the temple. Its southern part was the main hall, and the northern part was residential. The area of the lower, basement floor was used for economic purposes, in particular, wine warehouses were located here. In one of the rooms traces of dark red plaster have been preserved, suggesting that the rooms of the palace had rich decorations.
The bath is located on the northern side of the castle. It was built in the 3rd century and consists of five buildings: a dressing room, a bath with cold water, a bath with lukewarm water, a bath with hot water, and furnaces for heating the water. The brick floor was heated by hot water vapor and hot smoke from the fire. The hot steam and smoke coming out of the furnaces first passed under the floor of the hot water bathroom, then under the floor of the lukewarm water bathroom, and finally reached the cold water bathroom. In other words, everything is designed so that there is no loss of heat. Such a heating system is called a “hypocaust” system. The “hippocaust” system was widely used in Roman baths.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the bath is the mosaic on the floor dating back to the third century. In the center of the mosaic, on a light green background, male and female figures are depicted. Around them are images of fish and sea deities. The Greek inscription is especially interesting, where it is said: “We worked without getting anything.” The secret of that writing has not been deciphered. There is a popular opinion that the inscription was written by Greek slaves working on the construction of the bathhouse. According to another opinion, it can be a fragment of an epic poem that has not reached us.
The article was compiled based on observations and materials collected by the ArmLand club.
Author of photos: Artyom Martirosyan