Yeghvard is a town in Kotayk province. It is located at the foot of Mount Ara on a vast terrace of orchards, vineyards, and fields 14 km northeast of Ashtarak and in 19 km from Yerevan.
The town was first mentioned in 574 in connection with the election of Catholicos Movses II of Yeghvard (574-604). Its second mention is dated to 603 when the liberation struggle of Armenians against Sassanian domination began.
3 major battles have occurred near the area of Yeghvard. Of these, the first is associated with the legendary battle between Armenian King Ara the Beautiful and Semiramis. The second occurred in 603 between King Phokas and the Persians, and the third took place in 1735 between Nadir Shah and the Ottomans.
According to written sources, at the beginning of the 14th century, Yeghvard was in a ruined state. Prince Azizbek and his wife Vakhakh restored it, as well as initiated the construction of the Surb Astvatsatsin Church and the restoration of the town’s canal.
Yeghvard is known for its historical monuments. Of these, the most significant is a carved tuff basilica dated to the 5th-6th centuries. The lower part of its walls is well-preserved.
In the basilica, the altar apse protrudes with its five facets outward. The hall is divided into three naves by four pairs of T-shaped pylons. The middle nave is quite wide (almost three times wider than the lateral ones).
The Yeghvard basilica has a unique feature which is not found in other Armenian basilicas – it is its side naves in the east end with the apses opening to the hall.
Until recently, due to an incorrect reading of the inscription running in one line along the perimeter of the walls, the construction of the basilica was attributed to Catholicos Movses of Yeghvard (574-603). However, the decoding of P. Muradyan showed that the inscription was made in 660 and has no relation to Catholicos Movses. The architecture and decoration of the portal of the south entrance of the Yeghvard basilica show that it belongs to the class of 5th-century Armenian monuments.
In the 6th-7th centuries, the basilica underwent a significant reconstruction – its wooden ceiling supports were replaced with vaulted ones, which necessitated the construction of massive internal supports. The reconstruction is evidenced by the disparity between the old pilasters and new pylons.
Now, the top of the basilica and the apse of the altar are in a dilapidated condition.
3 km from the town of Yeghvard is the dilapidated two-story Zoravar Church. It was built by sparapet (commander-in-chief) and Prince Grigor Mamikonyan in 661-685, hence the name “Zoravar”, which means “military leader” in Armenian.
The southern part of the church and the dome haven’t survived to our days. The church was built of accurately-hewn stones of brown tuff. It was a central-dome, eight-apse structure.
The lower portion of the church is externally 18-sided with 8 large deep triangular niches, the so-called “Armenian niches”. The upper portion of the church features a 12-sided drum crowned with a tiled pyramid-shaped covering. The church had northern and western entrances, with the latter connected to the rectangular hall of the church’s porch.
The church features many elements of decoration, including beautifully crafted cornices ornamented with interlacing patterns, relief images of pomegranates, and architraves covered with geometric patterns and motifs with animals which imparted a monumental look to this small-sized building.
The church has traces of frescoes dating back to the 7th century. In 1975, a four-apse small chapel, probably the tomb of Grigor Mamikonyan, was unearthed in the process of excavations in the northern part of the church. According to Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi, the Church of Zoravar was one of Armenia’s manuscript writing centers in the 12th century. The church was partially renovated in the 1980s.
In the center of Yeghvard, there is a two-story church – the St. Astvatsatsin tomb built in 1301. On the square-layout ground floor is the tomb. The second floor with its cruciform layout accommodates a memorial church.
A stone cantilever staircase was built only at the entrance to the second floor – a wooden ladder was placed against the staircase to allow access from the first floor.
The dome of the church is cone-shaped and supported by 12 columns. The walls of the church stand out with their exceptional richness of decoration. Surb Astvatsatsin’s church is one of the better-preserved medieval churches in Armenia.
by Alexander Bakulin