Haghpat Monastery, Armenia

The UNESCO World Heritage Haghpat monastery in Lori province of Armenia is not crowded when we arrive here, hitchhiking from the town of Akhtala. Three or four grannies sit by the entrance to the monastery waiting for the occasional tourist to sell their handmade socks, hats or scarves along with honey, herbs or nuts to. We pass by them and walk up to the gates of the monastery where we meet Father Aspet, the abbot of the monastery, in his black robes. He greets us with a warm smile, we exchange few words and introduce ourselves. “Welcome to Haghpat,” says he.
A view of Haghpat monastery from the bell tower

One of the most famous educational centers of Medieval Armenia, the monastery of Haghpat was founded by Saint Nishan, a saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in the 10th century during the reign of King Abas I of Armenia (r. 928-953 AD) from the Bagratuni royal dynasty. But the construction of the earliest surviving structure of the complex, the St. Nshan church, began in 976 during the reign of King Ashot III the Merciful and was commissioned by his wife Queen Khosrovanuish. While St. Nshan church was built by 991 AD, the monastery itself was completed in 13th century.
The crossed domes of Haghpat monastery, Lori province of Armenia
It is thought that Saint Nshan Church was enlarged and embellished by famous Armenian medieval architect Trdat, who also erected, reinforced and rebuilt the Western dome arch of the Haghia Sophia after it collapsed in the earthquake of 989 AD. Saint Nshan Church, a prominent example of 10th-century Armenian architecture, is distinguished by its compactness and harmoniously balanced shapes. The altar apse of St. Nshan Church was decorated with frescoes twice. Of all the frescoes that once covered the interiors of the church only the painting of Khutlu-bugha is relatively well preserved.
Saint Nshan Church of Haghpat monastery, Lori province of Armenia
On its east gable the sons of Queen Khosrovanuish, Princes Smbat and Kyurike, are depicted in a high relief. They hold the model of the church in their hands. This high relief is the replica of that on the walls of Amenaprkich Church in the neighbouring Sanahin monastery, also built by Queen Khosrovanuish.
A high relief depicting princes Smbat and Kyurike, Saint Nishan Church of Haghpat monastery, Lori province of Armenia
Apart from St. Nshan church, Haghpat monastery complex also includes the St. Grigor church (built in 1005 AD, and then rebuilt in 1211 AD), the St. Astvatsatsin Church (built in 1025 AD), The Hamazasp Gavit (1275), a book depository built in mid 11th century and rebuilt in 1258—1262 AD, the Ukanants family sepulcher, a refectory and a bell tower built in 1245 AD. The small churches and chapels of Haghpat monastery are ordinary vaulted or domed structures that differ from each other in size, decorative features and details of composition. For instance, the St. Astvatsatsin church (also known as Khatunashen) that was built in 1025 AD is cruciform type church with a low dome.
Saint Astvatsatsin church of Haghpat monastery, Lori province of Armenia
As we were exploring the monastery, the abbot approached us and invited us over for a cup of coffee. We spent about two hours sitting in a garden and talking about travels, life and faith. He then took us to the bell tower. We climbed up the narrow wooden stairs to get a better view of the monastery. Built in 1245 AD, Haghpat’s bell tower is a 3-storey free-standing building. Its first storey is cross-shaped in the plan, the second one is rectangular, with the angles cut off. Decorated with twin windows with columns, facade gables and a septahedral belfry, Haghpat’s bell tower found its reflection not only in later bell towers, but also in mausoleums and even churches.
The bell tower of Haghpat monastery, Lori province of Armenia
Throughout centuries of its existence Haghpat monastery has been damaged many a time. In mid 11th century it was ruined and robbed by the Seljuk Turks, in 1105 by Amir Kyzyl’s brigands. Around 1130 some parts of the monastery were destroyed in an earthquake; the restoration took place only 50 years later. It was also damaged in 1988 Spitak earthquake. Nevertheless, it survived through all the troubles. In 1996, described as a “masterpiece of religious architecture and a major center of learning in the Middle Ages”, the monastery of Haghpat was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List along with its neighbour – Sanahin monastery.

-Armenia Monuments Awareness Project
-O. Khalpakhchian, “Architectural ensembles of Armenia” – Moscow, 1980.


11 thoughts on “Haghpat Monastery, Armenia

  1. Pingback: Armenia’s Silk Road Trip – 2012 | On The Road

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