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Architecture - first of the arts

Second, ceilings were always vaulted. Since wood was not available for making simple flat roofs, stones were employed, but their weight demanded they be arranged in arcs so that the thrust of their mass could be directed to robust stone walls and thence to the ground. This at first produced buildings with thick walls and few and small openings to comfortably accommodate the pressure from above.

Third, the Armenian preference or weakness for the dome manifested itself very early. By the end of the sixth century, a church without a dome was unthinkable.

Other than a few early exceptions, the dome or cupola was elevated above the other vaulted ceilings by a cylindrical drum (usually polygonal on the outside). The prevalence of the dome forced architects to think in terms of centrally planned buildings.

Fourth, roofs were composite in their appearance because they had to cover the vaults and domes of a complex, though symmetric, group of inner spaces. Like the inner and outer walls and the drum, they too were made of tufa thinly cut into uniform shingles.

These are not all the features common to Armenian architecture, rather they are the ones that provide the stylistic likeness so quickly perceived by the eye when looking at Armenian churches.

Each church is, however, an individual creation, distinguished by its inner and outer form, its size, and its decoration. Most belong to a certain class of building, though some are unique.

Almost all monuments of whatever period have a ground plan elaborated during the first three hundred years of Christianity in Armenia (fourth to seventh centuries) when the creative energies of Armenian architects seemed to overcome all obstacles engendered by construction in stone that sought ever more inner space and less massive structures.

The historical vicissitudes of the Armenian nation are accurately reflected in the moments of flourishing and decline of its architecture. Four distinct periods of building activity, interspersed by nearly equally long moments of stagnation, mirror the political strength or weakness of Armenia"s rulers.

1. The Formative Period (Fourth to the Seventh Centuries)
The first or formative period of Armenian architecture is the most brilliant, a golden age paralleling the golden age of Armenian letters. It is also the longest period starting with the conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, even though few surviving monuments can be dated so early, and ending with the Arab invasion and occupation of Armenia, which, in the mid-seventh century, suddenly destroyed a robust architectural tradition at its zenith. Then two full centuries pass without churches or other monuments being erected in Armenia.

2. The Bagratid Revival (Ninth to the Eleventh Centuries)
The second period begins almost simultaneously with the re-establishment of the Bagratid kingdom in the 880s, very slowly at first, beginning by unashamedly imitating existing structures from the formative period until the techniques forgotten during the lapse of seven or eight generations were again mastered.

The tenth and eleventh centuries, under the patronage of the Bagratid kings of Ani and Kars, the Artsrunis of Aght"amar and the area around Lake Van and the rulers of Siunik, not only bear witness to a new architectural vigor perfectly at ease with the skills that produced the older forms, but one that began to innovate and experiment in the search for more height and space, for new forms.

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Writer: Dickran Kouymjian
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 Date Added: Tuesday September 05, 2006 10:46:23 

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