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Hovhannavank, Armenia

The monastery complex of Hovhannavank is situated in the village of the same names of the Aragatzotn district, on the edge of the precipitous gorge of the Kasagh River. The most ancient structure in Hovhannavank is a basilica typical of the fifth century. It was rebuilt in 573 and repeatedly renovated later. The rhythmic arrangement of the horseshoe-shaped wall arches, resting on wall-attached pilasters, adds to the impression of the interior being extended in length. A structure of a broken plan adjoining the basilica from the west is what remains of another ancient church which underwent repeated reconstructions.
The church of Karapet is distinguished by more refined decoration. The barrier of the church's altar dais was composed of fancy-shaped patterned stones - five-pointed stars, pentagons and diamonds - framed with half-round fillet. This kind of patterning was characteristic of the decoration of the thirteen-century Armenian churches (Haritch, Dsekh, etc.).
Exterior decoration was chiefly concentrated on the dome and on the three facades. The central window of the eastern facade was framed with twin half-round nosing. This probably shows the influence of Kobayr and Akhtala. A similar decoration is to be seen on the western facade, now almost totally blocked from view by a vestibule, and also graced the southern wall of the temple, now in ruins.
In the tympanum there is a bas-relief with a representation of the "wise and unwise maidens". In the centre there is a large figure of Christ, seated on a throne with his hands raised and with his face turned left. With his right hand he blesses the "wise" ones, eyeing him with humility, and with his left he reproaches the "unwise" ones.
The vestibule of Hovhannavank, built by Prince Kurd, the son of Vache Vachutyan, in 1250, is no less remarkable from the artistic point of view.
The roofing of the central section is of special interest. It is crowned with a twelve-column rotund belfry, the biggest one in diameter (6.5 m) among the similar structures of Armenia. The belfry was built later than the vestibule, probably in 1274, during the capital repairs of the building. This is indicated by the shape of the supporting gird of the rotunda and by the fact that it is sunk into the roofing.
The western facade has a most imposing look. In the centre, there is a rectangular portal with a shallow door niche framed with an arch which rests on small columns with identical spherical bases and capitals. The surface of the tympanum is filled with a multi-line inscription which makes the impression of a fine ornament. The space between the entrance niche and the framing is covered with an ornament of relief diamonds carved on stone slabs.
The arcature of the facade is rather unusual. In connection with the portal's asymmetry relative to the central axis, the right side has three spans, and the left side four ones, with the span adjoining the left side of the portal being somewhat narrower than the others.
The monument of 1311 in Hovhannavank is an original work in the shape of a four-shaft column on a stepped base with an intricately profiled square capital.
The architectural ensemble of Hovhannavank is distinguished by a compact arrangement of the monuments around the main building. The clever use of the terrain (the eastern walls of the churches verge on the edge of the precipice and seem to be an extension of it) adds to the picturesque ness of the complexes which are especially expressive when viewed from the opposite side of the Kasagh River canyon. (


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