Bagaran has been a city in Ayrarat Province of Greater Armenia and one of its 13 historical capitals. The city has been lying on the left bank of Akhuryan River at its confluence with Araxes River.
According to Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, Bagaran has been built by the Orontes (Yervand) IV, the last representative of the Armenian Orontid (Yervanduni) dynasty, in the 2nd century BC.
The altars of the pagan gods of the ancient Armenian pantheon situated in Armavir were moved to Bagaran soon after its establishment. Yervand appointed his brother Yervaz the chief priest of the new temple in Bagaran. The city would soon become the largest religious and cultural center of Orontid Armenia.
In the times of the Artaxiad dynasty, the images of the pagan gods were moved from Bagaran to the new capital of the kingdom Artashat. However, Bagaran remained the largest and the most important religious center of Armenia up until the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia in 301 AD. The city subsequently declined, and the mentions of Bagaran would become a rarity in the accounts of chroniclers.
Bagaran had its second prime in the second half of the 9th century when it for a short time became the capital of Bagratids Armenia. Having acceded to the throne in 804, Ashot Bagratuni established his residence in the city and even moved his family crypt there. And after the capital of Armenia was moved to Ani, Bagaran became a key trade point on the route from Ani towards the west.
In 1048, Bagaran was ruined by Seljuk Turks. In the early 12th century, the city was conquered by the Shah-Armens. Then, the Zakarid brothers freed the city in 1211. Eventually, Bagaran was completely razed.
No longer having its past significance, Bagaran remained a small settlement with Armenian population until 1915. As a result of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the events of 1918 – 1920 when the Bolsheviks transferred considerable Armenian territories to the Turks, all 350 inhabitants of Bagaran were forced to get across Akhuryan River to the territory of modern Armenia.
Nowadays, a Kurdish village stands on the ruins of Bagaran. Only a few structures of this ancient city survived until today, including the church of St. Theodoros located on the southern outskirts of the city.
According to an inscription embracing the upper edges of the walls, the church of St. Theodoros was established in 624 by prince But Aravegyan. The construction of the church was completed after Aravegyan’s death in 631 by Anna, the widow of the prince. The contemporaneous renovation of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral greatly influenced the choice of the architectural composition of the St. Theodoros Church.
While the church of St. Theodoros shared some features with the Etchmiadzin Cathedral (such as the cross as the base of its composition), it doesn’t repeat the style of the Cathedral completely. The church instead is a unique and independent type of a religious structure. The successful style of the church at some point spread to Byzantium and then to Europe.
Many experts think that the composition and early dating of the St. Theodoros Church influenced the formation of similar temples in Byzantium and Western Europe. The church influenced such temples as Nea Ekklesia in Constantinople, Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés near Paris, Santa Maria presso San Satiro in Milan, and many others.
Apart from the church of St. Theodoros, two other churches, St. Gevorg and St. Shushanik, are somewhat preserved. Their walls still have Armenian inscriptions of the 9th – 12th centuries.
The church of St. Shushanik belongs to the Ani school of architecture. It was supposedly built by Ashot Bagratuni in 914. The church reached our times quite damaged: according to local Kurds, Turkish tanks gunned the church in the 1950s.