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Welcome To Armenia

Geghard

Geghard is another incredible ancient Armenian monastery, partly carved out of a mountain. Though the monastery has been around since before the 4th century, the main cathedral was built in 1215. The monastery is located literally at the end of the road. From here you walk up a path which has a few vendors of souvenirs and snacks. (try the sweet "sujukh", sweet lavash and gata if you have never tasted them before). You then reach the entrance to the compound which is surrounded by high walls on three sides and the mountain on the fourth. Inside, you can enter the churches which are interconnected.

Northeast of Garni, higher up the gorge of the Azat river, there is a magnificent monument of medieval Armenian architecture— Geghard monastery. The specific character of this monument reflects, no doubt, the peculiarities of the austere and majestic scenery around it. The picturesque gorge of Gegharda-dzor with its high and precipitous cliffs is extremely winding, and the monastery opens to view unexpectedly behind a turn of a steep path leading to it. In the 1950s a road sign was put up near this turn — a lioness on a high pedestal, with its head turned as if showing the way. Its figure is stylistically connected with the decoration of the monastery. The exact date of Geghard’s foundation is unknown. In one of the caves of Gegharda-dzor there still gushes a spring which was believed to be a sacred one in heathen times. Following a tradition, it continued to be worshipped even after Christianity had spread in Armenia. As a result, a monastery called Airivank, or a “cave monastery”, was founded there at the beginning of the fourth century. The present name can be traced back to the 13th century when, as a legend says, the legendary spear — geghard — [that pierced Christ] was brought there.
The main monuments of Geghard take up the middle of the monastery yard surrounded with walls and towers on three sides and blocked by a steep cliff on the fourth one. This gives the ensemble a unique appearance.

Built in 1215, the main cathedral (katoghike) belongs, in its spatial arrangement and layout, to a type of structure spread in Armenia in the 10th—14th centuries — rectangular in the plan, on the outside, and cross-winged domed interior with two-storey annexes in the corners of the central crossing. The architectural forms of the building are well-proportioned and harmonious. The pilasters and half-columns, crowned with pointed arches and spherical pendentives are fortunately coordinated with the cupola resting on a high drum. The stairs leading to the western annexes of the first floor are graceful, even minus the bottom steps. The altar apse is horseshoe-shaped, and its bottom is decorated with a light arcature which seems to echo the squat arcature of the front wall of the altar dais. The transition from the semi-dark bottom to the light-filled under-cupola space is extremely expressive.

The outward appearance of the temple is organically coordinated with its interior. The gentle divisions of the lower hulk are crowned with a graceful cupola which emphasizes the predomination of the vertical line in the structure’s composition. It is also reflected in the arrangement of the main decorative elements of the facades, especially of the southern one. The graceful areature, engirdling the cupola, and the slot-like windows are coordinated with the triangular niches of the facades.
More than twenty premises, varying in shape and size, were hewed, at different levels, in solid rock massifs which surrounded the main cave structures and limited the western side of the monastery grounds. Those situated in the western part of the complex are intended for service purposes, and the rest are small rectangular chapels with a semicircular apse and an altar. There are twin and triple chapels with one entrance, some of the entrances ornamented with carvings.
Numerous khachkars cut on rock surface and on the walls of the structures or put up on the territory of Geghard in memory of a deceased or in commemoration of someone’s donation to the monastery are richly ornamented with geometrical or floral motives. The composition of some khachkars’ decoration is unique. The arrangement of the khachkars emphasizes certain points of the ensemble.

No works of applied art have survived in Geghard, the only exception being the legendary spear, “geghard” — a shaft with a diamond-shaped plate attached to its end; a Greek cross with flared ends is cut through the plate. In 1687, a special case was made for it, now kept in the museum of Echmiadzin monastery. This gilded silver case is an ordinary handicraft article of the 17th century Armenia.

 

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