From Alexandropol (Gyumri) to Ani, a city of a thousand and one churches…
Once, this was the route of travelers and historians to the ruins of the ancient city, the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Bagratids.
Now, this trip is almost impossible.
Russian hydrographer and writer Alexander Petrovich Andreev (1820–1882) once traveled to Western Armenia. In his travel notes “On the ruins of the Armenian Palmyra”, he describes the trip from Alexandropol (now Gyumri) to Ani.
“On a beautiful morning, I left Alexandropol to visit the ruins of Ani, this last and most brilliant capital of the long-fallen Armenian kingdom. I was accompanied by my friend Vasily Ivanovich Kh-ov. This was our first journey through the wilds and wilderness of the southern Transcaucasia.
Four decent horses together pulled our phaeton.”
Those were the famous Gyumri phaetons glorified by writer Khachik Dashtents in the poem “Phaeton Alek” and reflected in films “Song of the past days” and “Slap” (“A piece of the sky”). It was the phaetons that linked these two beautiful cities – Alexandropol and Ani.
Then, Andreev describes the road to Ani and talks about episodes of Armenian history. When the ancient walls of the Bagratid capital appear before travelers, the author immerses the reader in the description of the city, its buildings, ruins, and tells about its history and the Bagratid dynasty.
Let’s pause on the description of the Ani Cathedral, to which the travelers were guided by an Armenian monk.
“All three of us went to the ordinary-looking, box-shaped building that stood near the monk’s house. We entered the temple along the deep path, through the door unlocked by the Archimandrite.
But here, we were presented with a picture that drastically differed from what was outside.
Before us was a huge, magnificent building almost untouched by time and elements. Four mighty, complex columns of colored stone, on massive plinths, went up and supported the roof of the temple, which also was the base of an extensive round dome that used to tower above it.
The majestic walls lined with smooth polished stone and perforated with narrow windows surrounded the temple in a straight line from the south, west, and north. From the east, there was a podium for the altar with two rooms on either side.
The inner space was enormous, and the cathedral could accommodate a large crowd of worshipers who preferred this temple to other churches of Ani since the Catholicos himself led the service here.”
The temple was constructed in 989-1011 by the project of architect Trdat, the court architect of the Bagratids.
After seeing the majestic ruins of the once magnificent city, travelers headed back.
As a result of one of these trips to Ani, the dome of the Church of St. Amenaprkich (Holy Savior) ascended over the city of Gyumri. This church was built in the image of the Ani Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Virgin). Only the scale of the buildings is different, with the temple in Gyumri being somewhat larger.
The aforementioned Church of the Holy Savior in Gyumri was built in 1858-1872. The architect of the temple was Tadevos Antikyan. He was called the “master of craftsmen” (“varpetats varpet”) and an art master (“ustabashi”).
Some say that Tadevos traveled to Ani by phaeton every day to see the Ani Cathedral. Returning in the evening to Alexandropol, he set to work on the Church of the Holy Savior.
In the 1930s, the church was destroyed. Later, in 1964, its bell tower was restored. During Soviet times, the church was used as a museum and then as a philharmonic house.
The Church of the Holy Savior was again destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1988. Since 2002, the church has been undergoing restoration works. Interior finishing works and restoration of frescoes are now being completed. In summer, the Amenaprkich bell will ring over the main square of Gyumri, the Vardanants Square.
Gyumri can be called the successor to Ani. Proof of this is not only the temple but also the flag and emblem of the city. A running lion and a cross are depicted on the flag and the emblem of Gyumri. The family coat of arms of the Bagratid dynasty, which reigned from 885 to 1045, contained a running lion and a cross above it on a red background.