Church of Tsiranavor – Ashtarak – Armenia

Nestled in Ashtarak, Armenia, rests the historical gem known as the Tsiranavor Church. In the local tongue, it’s lovingly referred to as “Ծիրանավոր” or “Apricot.” This unpretentious, succinct basilica-style structure is believed to have been constructed under the patronage of Catholicos Nerses II of Bagrevand during the 5th to 6th centuries. The building material of choice was tufa, a locally abundant variety of limestone.

The Tsiranavor Church boasts a three-aisled basilica layout, distinguished by its rectangular blueprint and a unique horseshoe-shaped apse framed by two aisles. The interior space is cleverly divided into three areas by columns supporting the impressive dome overhead.

Historically, this religious structure was fortified by two concentric walls, enabling it to function as a fortress. The 18th century witnessed the addition of an external ring of walls to further boost its defense. However, time has claimed much of the church’s original structure, leaving only the fortified walls standing today.

Careful scrutiny of the surviving masonry and architectural fragments attests to the church’s many renovations over centuries. An unspoken commitment to maintaining the structural integrity of the walls can be discerned. Openings and crevices were painstakingly sealed, with only narrow openings, or loopholes, left as windows, underlining its role as a fortress and sanctuary for the local community.

The church was also known as Pokaberd (Poka Fortress) because of its defensive features. Its outer dimensions measure a substantial 12.6×25.3 meters. The central nave’s roof was borne by three pairs of T-shaped columns – a typical feature of the period’s Armenian architecture. Unfortunately, the church’s roof could not stand against time and was destroyed in 1815. Despite this, the enduring Tsiranavor Church continues to offer an insightful peek into the past.

Vigen Avetisyan, Based on the status of Alexander Bakulin

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