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Church/Monastery :: Hayravank  
Hayravank Monastery

Lake Sevan is known in Armenian sources by the names Geghama Tzov and Gegharkouniats Tzov (the Sea of Gegham and Sea of Gegharkounik). It is the largest in the Caucasus. Of volcanic origin, its waters have been lowered for the purposes of electric power generation and for irrigation.

At an altitude of 1916 metres, it stretches out for 75 kilometres and has an average depth of 41 to 42 metres. The Hrazdan Canal, from which it draws its waters, has considerably altered the surrounding district.

In winter it freezes over. Its shores have been declared a national park, and the State attends to the conservation of its natural beauty and to its animal and plant life. Indeed, certain areas concentrate on breeding some 29 varieties of salmonides , including Ishkhan, Koghak, and Beghlu.

The basin of the lake is scattered with rock paintings, sculptures, and works of architecture including fortifications, remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages, Urartian and Aramaic inscriptions, monasteries, churches, castles, bridges and cemeteries. These comprise a veritable cultural anthology of the area. Lake Sevan plus its surroundings, which belong to the regions of Siunik, is known in history as Siuniats Ashkharh (the World of Siunik) or Sisakan. This region was the ninth of Metz Hayk (Armenia Major or Greater Armenia). Its border to the north and northwest was Ayrarat, on the east, Artsakh (Karabakh), and on the southeast, Vaspourakan. Though very fertile, it was surrounded by impracticable mountains and accessable only with difficulty and it was virtually impossible to conquer, and was the pride of its inhabitants. In the Middle Ages, the area was the constant setting for encounters with foreign peoples and struggles of the various lords of Armenia and Georgia. In spite of this, the domain of Siunik continued to retain its cultural independence, developing rather singular art forms, especially as Christianity spread throughout the region.

Most of the medieval monuments in the province of Sevan lie on the banks of the lake or a little back from them. They are usually small monasteries. Their architectural layout is the customary one: a central body (the chapel) surrounded by other religious and service buildings , the library, school, and so on , the whole complex lying within enclosure walls. The exception is the monastery of Sevan, situated on an island and, therefore, not needing defensive walls. All the walls of these complexes are fairly small in size, and in this they differ from the monasteries in the plains, which had to provide themselves with rather resistant defensive systems in the face of the frequent foreign invasions (for example St. Thadeos vank, St. Stepanos, Horomos vank, St. Bartoghimeos, Narek, and so on). Restricted financial resources, the shortage of labour, and building difficulties combined to make them small. Built with humble materials that were easy to find, they were partially frescoed on the interior, thus going against the tenets of the Armenian Church, which did not favour idol-worship. But the trend continued in the region, which continuously claimed religious autonomy.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, building activities succumbed to a total paralysis in the plains regions, where repression by the Arabs was more severe and violent. Their army and cavalry , highly efficient on level ground , were sorely tried in the hills and on the slopes. Indeed, it was in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and the Caucasus that the Arab expansion was curbed off towards Eastern and Central Asia and the plainlands of the Don River. Because of this, the mountainous regions of Armenia always kept a good deal of autonomy and, never completely tamed and subjugated, they helped Christianity survive in the territory. In the regions of Siunik and Vaspourakan, the art of building not only went on, but gradually developed.

The first secular and religious buildings date from the 9th century. Obviously, the absence of international and interregional trade in Siunik was a decisive factor in its cultural isolation. Architecture, therefore, fell back on classic models (with tiny variations), and the expression of style became purely local. This stagnation was later overcome with the development and prosperity of the region and its elevation to a kingdom under the Siuni dynasty. The architecture of Siunik evolved in two distinct areas , the mountains and the basin of Lake Sevan. They had separate typologies and features. The religious buildings erected on the banks of the lake are tiny in size and well anchored, almost welded, to the surrounding land. They are very simple, with architectural forms that one might say are enhanced by the presence of the water; they are devoid of complicated decorations, unlike the buildings in the mountain areas.

The monastic complex of Hayravank (9th-10th centuries) lies on the southwest shore of the lake. At present, it comprises a cruciform plan church and a gavit from a later age. The church, a quatrefoil central cross, is a "peripheral" example of Armenian architecture in Siunik in the 9th-10th centuries. Four semicircular apses (two of them aligned on the more heavily accentuated horizontal axis) intersect and create an interior space on which the dome and its drum stand. Both had disappeared completely but have been restored. The disposition of masses on the exterior faithfully follows the interior plan, resulting in an exquisite harmony. The walls are in crushed stone, except for the architectural and construction details , apses, pendentives, drum and dome , which are subject to greater stress. In a later period, a moderate-sized chapel was added on the southeast side. Also of a later date is the entrance in the west wall that leads to the gavit built against it. It was probably added in the 12th-13th centuries and clashes with the church both on account of the disposition of its volumes and its spatial conception and because of its size and architecture: two squat columns in the west part of the interior and two semicolumns against the east wall support rather massive intersecting arches that in turn bear a refined drum and a "yerdik" made entirely of ashlars of black and red tufa. This is one of the oldest examples of that polychrome decoration that was to become widespread in subsequent centuries in sacred buildings throughout Armenia.

Source: Stepan Mnatsakanian, Lake Sevan: A Constellation of Architectural Types of Medieval Armenian Monuments