The Tatev Gavazan – A Celestial Compass

The Tatev Gavazan – A Celestial CompassEvery visitor of the 9th-10th-century Tatev Monastery located in the Syunik Province, Armenia, has probably seen the pendulous stele, the most interesting and mysterious monument of the monastery.

Called the Gavazan Siun (Gavazan Pillar), this monument dedicated to the Holy Trinity was erected in 893 – 895. The Gavazan is an octahedral stone pillar standing 8.3 meters tall. The pillar is divided into 12 segments and features images of clocks and birds. On the top stands a stone depiction of the globe ornamented with spiral patterns. In its turn, the globe is crowned with a khachkar (cross-stone).

Interestingly, this is the only structure in Armenia that hasn’t been destroyed by either humans or nature. Installed on a swiveling foundation, it has been supposedly used as a seismograph, warning the locals about the upcoming cataclysms in antiquity. Apart from that, the Gavazan allegedly anticipated the approach of enemy troops, swinging from the tramp of their cavalry.

That’s what you will be told by the local guides during trips to the Tatev Monastery. In addition, such data can be found in a multitude of ancient accounts and info panels near the monument. However, it turns out that those stories are most probably legends that don’t have anything to do with reality. If that’s the case, why did ancient Armenians install the Gavazan?

Independent researcher Vazgen Gevorgyan says that the pillar was erected two years prior to the completion of the main temple of Tatev (according to the accounts of historian Stepanos Orbelyan). Moreover, it was installed during the Armenian New Year, Navasard, which was celebrated on August 11.

According to Gevorgyan, the Gavazan was a precise celestial compass oriented at the Orion’s Belt.

“The Gavazan points to the zero point of time countdown, with which it was possible to calculate the duration of a year and the so-called astrological age [25,920 years]. This pillar is thus the most precise astronomical instrument created by mankind,” says Gevorgyan.

Gevorgyan for a long time struggled to discover the true nature of the pillar: was it merely a symbol or an indicator of time? To answer this question, Gevorgyan together with a team of researchers visited the observation deck of the Tatev Monastery located next to the pillar on August 11, 2008.

“We stood facing east to observe the position of the Gavazan in relation to the sky. Guess what we saw? At precisely 4 AM, three stars of the Orion’s Belt rose vertically and formed a straight line right above the pillar. They seemed as the natural continuation of the pillar, connecting the skies with the earth,” recounts Gevorgyan.

“To receive astronomical confirmation of our observations, we contacted the State Academy of Geodesy of Siberia in Novosibirsk. The chief professor at the faculty of astronomy and gravimetry Yelena Giyenko told us that the Orion’s Belt indeed rises vertically at the latitude of the Tatev Monastery, and that the heliacal rising takes place between the end of July and beginning of August. In addition, the Orion’s Belt was at its zenith on August 10-11, 2012, and it will happen again in 25,920 years,” says Gevorgyan.

The fact that the Gavazan features images of a clock and bird and is divided into 12 segments allows experts to conclude that the pillar has been used to measure time. As for the swiveling foundation, Gevorgyan argues that it allows the pillar to maintain a 90-degree angle in relation to the plane of the Earth.

As we mentioned, the Gavazan is located in the Syunik Province of Armenia. The province has possibly received its name in honor of the pillar (Gavazan Siun – Syunik).


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