Yeghvard – Ancient city near Ara Ler – Armenia

Yeghvard, situated in the Kotayk Marz, is nestled at the foot of Mount Ara-ler amidst sprawling orchards, vineyards, and fields. A mere 14 km northeast of Ashtarak and 19 km from Yerevan, this city boasts a deep historical significance. The city’s name first appeared in written records in 574 CE, in relation to the election of Catholicos Movses II of Yeghvard, and again in 603 CE, amidst Armenian struggles for liberation from Sasanian rule.

Yeghvard has been the backdrop for several key battles. The first links to the legendary conflict between Armenian king Ara the Beautiful and Semiramis. The second occurred in 603 between King Pokas and the Persians. The third major battle unfolded in 1735, between Nadir Shah and the Ottomans.

In the 14th century, Yeghvard had been left in ruins, only to be restored by Ishkhan Azizbek and his wife Vakhakh. They spearheaded construction projects, including the Church of Surb Astvatsatsin and the restoration of the canal, contributing to Yeghvard’s reputation for its historical monuments.

Among these, the basilica from the 5th-6th centuries is particularly noteworthy. Despite the passage of time, the lower part of its walls still stands. The basilica, constructed from carved tufa, exhibits a rare architectural feature for Armenian basilicas: the side aisles in the east end with apses opening into the hall.

Initially, the construction of the basilica was attributed to Catholicos Movses Yeghvardetsi (574-603) due to a misinterpretation of an inscription along the perimeter of the walls. But later decoding showed that the inscription dated back to 660 and had no connection with the Catholicos Movses. The architecture and the portal’s decoration of the Yeghvard Basilica suggest that it belongs to the 5th-century Armenian monuments. However, significant reconstruction took place in the 6th and 7th centuries, replacing the original wooden ceiling with a vaulted one and introducing massive internal supports.

A few kilometers from Yeghvard, the Zoravar Church stands, albeit in ruins. The sparapet (commander-in-chief) Prince Grigor Mamikonyan, erected this two-tier church in 661-685, giving it the name “Zoravar” – military leader. The Zoravar Church was one of the manuscript centers in the 12th century according to Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi. Despite falling into disrepair, the church still showcases beautifully crafted cornices and relief images of pomegranates, attesting to its once majestic stature.

In the heart of Yeghvard, one can find the Surb Astvatsatsin Church, a two-story edifice built in 1301. This church doubles as a tomb, with its ground floor housing a burial site, while the second floor hosts a memorial church. The church’s walls are noteworthy for their rich decorative finishes. Surb Astvatsatsin Church stands today as one of the best-preserved medieval churches in Armenia.

Vigen Avetisyan

Images by Alexandr Bakulin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *