Etchmiadzin and the Cathedral of Zvartnots

October 5, 2015

Today, our last full day in Armenia, we visited the Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Էջմիածնի Մայր Տաճար) in the city of Vagharshapat. Etchmiadzin is the first cathedral constructed in Armenia, and is considered the oldest in the world. We need to differentiate here between churches, which are structures used for Christian worship, and cathedrals, which serve as the bishop’s official site and represents the central church of a diocese.

The Cathedral at Etchmiadzin is stunning for its architecture, artwork, and religious connotation. As you can see, parts of the Cathedral are enclosed in scaffolding due to a major, multi-year restoration project.







We met with Fr. Vahram Melikyan, Spokesman of the Catholicos of All Armenians and Director of Information Services for the Mother See. He lamented not knowing of our documentation methods a few years ago, before the restoration project began. He was very pleased, however, to hear about our success at Haghpat and stressed the importance of our continued collaboration and documentation of sites for future projects.

Father Zakaria and me at Etchmiadzin
Father Vahram Melikyan and me at Etchmiadzin

On our way back to Yerevan, we stopped at the Cathedral of Zvartnots. This site contains a number of structures that were built near the middle of the 7th century, including Zvartnots, Armenia’s main cathedral from 641 to 661 AD, and the palace of the Catholico, or head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Today, the Cathedral is in ruins, possibly due to an earthquake, but the remains are still impressive as the photos below demonstrate….eEIF_1587eEIF_1550

Portions of the palace complex at Zvartnots
Portions of the palace complex at Zvartnots





Jorge and I planning our next project ???

We returned to Yerevan for our final night in Armenia and, as a remembrance of our visit, we had pizza and Italian for dinner. Go figure?

The AIST team agreed that this was one of the most productive and enjoyable projects we have worked on over the past ten years, and we are looking forward to our next one here.

Bart McLeod, Jeff Du Vernay, Jorge Gonzalez, and Garrett Speed are some of the finest 3D Heritage field experts anywhere, and to have them all working on the Haghpat Monastery Complex Project is a tremendous advantage for AIST. Steven Fernandez will be a major contributor to the project when he begins to work with the data we collected back at the AIST computer and GIS labs. Lori Collins, AIST Co-Director, has been invaluable at every step of the project, and will play a key role in preparing the processed data for the website, which will hopefully be up and running in December or January.

Again, we cannot say enough about the the people of Haghpat and Armenia that we encountered who made us feel welcome, and we thank them for their support and hospitality.

Finally, I hope you all have enjoyed reading about our adventures as much as we enjoyed Armenia and the project.




The Pagan Temple at Garni and the Geghard Monastery

October 4, 2015

Today we visited the Classical Hellenistic Temple at Garni, thought to have been constructed in the 1st century AD, and dedicated to the sun god Mihr. It is the only Greco-Roman building with collonnades in Armenia. The temple remains as one of a few symbols of pre-Christian Armenia.

The temple was destroyed in a 1679 earthquake whose epicenter was believed to have been located in the gorge that surrounds Garni. Although the structure was devastated by the quake, most of the original construction stones were scattered around the site. From 1969 to 1975, the temple underwent reconstruction.

Garni and me
Garni and me
The Garni Gorge. Its beauty and immensity cannot be captured in a photograph.
The reconstructed Temple of Garni, front
The reconstructed Temple of Garni, side

We also had the opportunity to visit the Monastery Complex at Geghard, a short distance from Garni. We were told that Geghard had a mystical quality, a point with which we could not argue. It is beautiful, as the following photos will show…













We returned to Yerevan for a great dinner and relaxation.

Finishing our Work at Haghpat

October 1. 2015

Over the past couple of weeks our team of AIST specialists has worked diligently to acquire spatial and historical research data at the Haghpat Monastery Complex. Excellent weather and exceptional cooperation from the current monastery priest, Father Ghazear Torosyan, and past rector, the Very Reverend Father Asbed Balian, now serving as the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, facilitated our work.

Father Ghazear and Me in front of the Bell Tower
Father Ghazear and me in front of the Bell Tower

We were able to collect more data from more related portions of the site then we had originally expected. including the Kusanats Anapat (St. Tiramair), a chapel about half a kilometer from the Monastery. The small church was built in the 13th century, and is located at the top of the hill that holds the village cemetery. We scanned and photographed the church and three exceptionally large khachkars (stone crosses) on its south side that date to the late medieval period.

Work at the Kusanats Anapat (St. Tiramair) Church
Work at the Kusanats Anapat (St. Tiramair) Church

We also were able to complete the interior of the Bell Tower, and importantly the entire interior and exterior defensive walls of the Monastery.

Portion of the exterior wall containing a carved crossed stone monument
Portion of the exterior wall at Haghpat containing  carved crossed stone monuments

We left Haghpat on Thursday, October 1. Many of the villagers that we had become friends with expressed their thanks for our work and asked that we return soon. We made our way to Lake Sevan, an Alpine-type lake lying some 6,000 feet above sea-level. We were about the only visitors to the resort community due to our arrival during the off-season. It was cold and blustery.

Father Gahzar, Vacho and Raiza Ghadyan (Monastery caretakers, and the AIST team
Father Gahzear (center); Raiza and Vacho Ghadyan, Monastery caretakers (right); and the AIST team in front of the Gavit at Haghpat

Our return to Yerevan was an adventure because of events, which included a half-marathon race, in the center of the city. At our every attempt to reach our hotel, the traffic was diverted. We ended up in a traffic jam, the likes of which none of us had ever witnessed. We were halted in the middle of the intersection for about a half an hour, and each vehicle wanted to go in a different direction. We were finally able to make our escape to the left in the photo below, ultimately reaching our hotel.

Yerevan traffic jam
Yerevan traffic jam

In Yerevan, we had the opportunity to visit the craft market, and it was great to be able to see the current artistry of the Armenian craftspeople.

Yerevan Market
Yerevan Market



We also had the opportunity witness Armenian interactions



We also had the pleasure of visiting with Varazdat Hambardzumyan and his son at his workshop in Yerevan. Varazdat is an artist who creates khachkars, or Armenian cross-stones] (խաչքար). His work has been commissioned around the world.These sculptures are usually carved from stone and represent focal points for religious worship or memorials that facilitate the communication between the secular and divine. In 2010, Armenian Cross-Stone Art was inscribed on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Varazdat Hambardzumyan, (left), his on (center), me, and his apprentices in the rear.
Varazdat Hambardzumyan, (left), his son (center), me, and his apprentices in the rear
An example of Varazdat’s work in progress
Production of a khachkar in Varazdat’s workshop
Crossed stone monument in the Haghpat cemetery
Crossed stone monument in the Haghpat cemetery
An ancient khachkar
Examples of khachkars in Etchmiadzin

Yerevan is a vibrant city in the midst of a construction boom. The people are great and the food is fantastic.