A selection of traveller's accounts about Ani, Kars region, Turkey.
Armenia: Travels and Studies

CHAPTER XVIII (continued to page 392)

Ani, and the Armenian Kingdom
of the Middle Ages (continued)

Let us therefore retrace our steps in the direction of the town, keeping as close as we may to the ravine of the Alaja, the ancient Tsaghkotzadzor or Vale of Flowers. On the summit of the cliff, in full view of the city, rises a circular building with a drum-shaped dome and a conical roof. Of this edifice, the Chapel of St. Gregory (No. 5), I am able to present three photographs, one of the east side (Fig. 85), another of the entrance on the west (Fig. 86), and a third of the interior (Fig. 87).

  • Fig. 85. Chapel of St. Gregory, the east side

  • Fig. 86. Chapel of St. Gregory, the entrance
  • It is a charming little monument, which, like the cathedral, blends elements of Byzantine and Gothic art. But the niche is here again a prominent feature, a feature dear to the architecture of the East. The body of the edifice is polygonal rather than circular, having no less than twelve sides. Of these six are recessed, the niches facing the town being framed by ornamental arches with classical cornices. The six niches correspond with the same number of cavities in the design of the interior. Although the inside diameter is not more than about 30 feet, including these cavities, [footnote 33] yet the impression as you enter the chapel is one of space and height. Especially remarkable is the great depth of the dome. Traces of paintings may be observed upon the walls. Two small vaulted chambers have been built into the wall on the east side, and are now in a ruinous condition. They are seen in the illustration on either side of the window. They may have served the purpose of sepulchral chambers, of which there are also vestiges outside the building upon the north side.

    We learn from the inscriptions that the chapel was dedicated to St. Gregory; and it is a work of the period of the Armenian kings. It seems to have been used as a place of burial by the Pahlavuni or Pahlavid family, which furnished some of the most illustrious names in Armenian history. The great noble who led the faction which was opposed to the cession of Ani to the Byzantines was a Pahlavid, Vahram. He met his death in battle against the Beni-Cheddad of Dvin in A.D. 1047. Embodying as he did the policy of resistance Ó outrance both to Mussulmans and Greeks, he has been the idol of Armenian patriotism. The name of this hero figures in the inscription over the door, which, although without a date, is probably assignable to him. He bestows the revenue of certain shops upon the church of St. Gregory to defray the cost of masses for the soul of his son Apughamir. In the same place have been found inscriptions of the mother of Vahram, the lady Shushan, making over certain revenues to the same church and recording the number of the masses obtained in return. She is styled the wife of the prince Grigor. But a date is happily forthcoming to elucidate the identity of these personages. It is furnished by a long inscription of no less than fourteen lines upon the north wall. Record is made that in the year of the Armenian era 489 (A.D. 1040) Aplgharib, prince of Armenia, erected a sepulchre in this place [footnote 34] for his father Grigor, of whom he describes himself as the youngest son, for his brother Hamzeh, and for his maternal uncle Seda. Masses are to be said for his mother Shushan, for his father Grigor, for his maternal uncle Seda, and for his brother Hamzeh. I cannot help thinking that the sepulchre referred to is represented by the remains which I observed upon the north side of this building. And the vaulted chambers in the east wall may be the tombs of Grigor and his wife Shushan, an inscription over the highly decorated window on that side being a prayer to Christ for mercy upon Grigor. [footnote 35]

  • Fig. 87. Interior of the Chapel of St. Gregory,

  • Fig. 88. Chapel of the Redeemer
  • A question of great interest with reference to this building is whether it may be regarded as the same church which is mentioned by the historians as a work of King Gagik I. We are informed by Samuel of Ani that in the year 447 (A.D. 998) a church of St. Gregory was completed by this monarch in the Tsaghkotzadzor. The same event is recorded in the pages of Kirakos, who gives the same date, and describes the situation as overlooking the Valley of the Tsaghkotz. [footnote 36] Asoghik tells us that it was built on the model of a large church at Vagharshapat, dedicated to the same saint, which had fallen into ruin. He adds that the edifice of King Gagik was built on a high platform on the side of the Tsaghkotz, and in possession of an admirable view. He speaks of three doorways and of the marvellous dome, reproducing the appearance of the sky. [footnote 37] I did not observe more than one door to this edifice, and perhaps the church which is referred to by these authorities was some larger building in the immediate neighbourhood which has disappeared.

    The chapel of St. Gregory invites comparison with another monument of the same order in the opposite quarter of the town (No. 6, Fig. 88). [footnote 38] My illustration was taken from the north. The design is less elaborate and the dimensions are rather larger, the dome especially having a much greater span. But the effect produced by the interior lacks the magic of the companion building, while the symmetry is marred by the recess for the altar on the east side. This building will not endure for many years longer, unless steps be taken to save it from falling in. The lower portions are in a state of advanced decay. The ornament on the exterior closely resembles that employed upon the cathedral. Inscriptions bristle upon the panels of the false arcades. One records that in the year 483 (A.D. 1034) the prince Aplgharib, having journeyed to Constantinople by order of Sembat Shahanshah, obtained with great difficulty and at considerable expense a piece of the Holy Cross. Upon his return he built this church, and directed that nightly services should be held within it until the coming of Christ. The name of Surb-Phrkich, or church of the Redeemer, is given in this and the following inscription, and may be applied either to this chapel or to some neighbouring church with which it was in connection. A second inscription belongs to the Armenian year 490 (A.D. 1041), and mentions the contemporary reign of Sembat, son of Gagik Shahanshah. [footnote 39] The chapel of the Redeemer is therefore the work of the same Pahlavid, Aplgharib, who built the sepulchres to the chapel of St. Gregory, and it belongs to the period of the kings. [footnote 40]

    Continuing our walk along the cliff above the valley of the Alaja, we pass a lofty mound, surmounted by the ruin of a wall (No. 31). The old priest was of opinion that it denotes the site of the priestly synod house, where endowments were received and other business of the Church transacted. A little further, and west of this mound we stay to examine a small chapel which has been hollowed out of a solid mass of rock. But our attention is distracted from this fantastic object by the walls and yawning apartments of the castle (No. 12, Fig. 89).

  • Fig. 89. The castle
  • It is situated in the extreme north-western angle of the town, where the ravine of the Alaja is joined by the side-ravine already mentioned in the description of the site. My photograph displays the southern side of this extensive edifice and the junction of the valleys. The entrance is on the east and faces the town (Fig. 90). You admire the exquisite masonry of the walls and the elaborate decoration of the doorway. That doorway is one of the most conspicuous objects in Ani; and inasmuch as this building has been sought to be identified with the royal palace, it has been despoiled of many of its mosaics by patriotic Armenians, who strip them off and carry them away as souvenirs. My reader will observe the recurrence of the form of a Greek cross in the ornament on the face of the gate. This ornament consists of inlays or, as one might say, mosaics composed of a light red and of a black stone. The effect is original and pleasant to the eye. In the absence of any inscriptions - we searched in vain for any trace of writing both on the outside of the edifice and within its walls - I am inclined to consider that this so-called palace was nothing more than a magazine and barrack, in close connection with the outer defences of the city on the vulnerable side, the side of the plain. The only ornament in the interior was found over a doorway, and consisted of a chain moulding and inlays of red and black stone. On the other hand, the uses of the place appear to be denoted by the vaulted passages and by the spacious underground chambers. Two of these chambers, smaller in size, have evidently served as dungeons. [footnote 41]

  • Fig. 90. Doorway of the castle

  • Fig. 91. Portal of the Church of the Apostles, from the west
  • Two edifices of considerable interest remain to be mentioned. Both are situated in quarters of the town which must have been densely built over, and both are in an advanced state of decay. The more westerly is perhaps the most curious of all the monuments of Ani, and I do not pretend to have quite unravelled the complexities of its compound plan (No. 2). The eye is engrossed by the ruin of a spacious portal, longest from west to east. The western and southern walls have fallen away; but the east front and the whole of the vaulting of the most easterly portion have been spared. by the ravages of time. Entering this portal from the west (Fig. 91), we are able to reconstruct in fancy the features of the design. There appear to have been three distinct domes to the roof, supported by arches resting on pillars. Of the three divisions which were thus introduced into the interior, the largest was that in the centre. That on the east alone remains; and we may gauge the dimensions of the whole figure when we consider that this division measures within the pillars a square of 59 feet. The architecture is pure Arab or Saracenic, recalling that of the mosque. It is certainly later than the period of the kings. As in the mosque, the effect is heightened by the mixture of black with reddish blocks of stone. A large stone, sculptured with a cross, is inlaid in the south-east wall, and may be the same as the one which has been described by my predecessors as containing the figure of a double-headed eagle.[footnote 42] The walls are covered with inscriptions. The outer face of this portal or east front is extremely elaborate (Fig. 92). The doorway on that side forms the centre of a Saracenic fašade in which honeycomb vaulting, false niches, and a mosaic of black and pink stones have all been made to play a part. Four inscriptions in Armenian are observed upon this front.

  • Fig. 92. East front of the Church of the Apostles
  • This portal must have served as an entrance to two or more chapels. Of these one alone remains. It is entered by a doorway with rich mouldings in the north wall of the most easterly division. The interior is of grey stone, and it is disposed in four semicircles. [footnote 43] But the dimensions are small as compared to those of the portal, and the portal is much longer than the chapel. The ruinous masonry upon the west of the latter building indicates the site of a second and contiguous chamber or chapel. That of a third is denoted by similar evidence upon the east wall. This structure projected beyond the east front of the portal, to which it was placed at right angles. Traces of it may be seen in my illustration. It bears an Armenian inscription.

    The inscriptions, which unhappily I had not leisure to identify, have been already published and translated. [footnote 44] The earliest in date appears to have been found upon the doorway of the chapel, and identifies it as a work of the period of the kings. It records that in the year 480 (A.D. 1031) Apughamir, son of Vahram, prince of princes, bestowed an endowment upon this church of the Apostles for the health and long life of his brother Grigor. My reader is already familiar with these names of members of the Pahlavid family. The inscriptions upon the portal are of much later dates, ranging over the period of Georgian occupation when the city was governed by the Mkhargrdzels. Some are in the name of the Mongol overlord. Most are of the nature of public proclamations; and from the one latest in date we learn that in A.D. 1348 members of this Georgian family were still personages at Ani, and that the city had not yet been abandoned by her inhabitants.

    The second of the monuments is also the last which I need mention; it is situated between the cathedral and the chapel of the Redeemer (No. 3). It is of small dimensions and, as usual, of great elegance; but the roof and the whole of the upper portion have unhappily fallen away. In fact, the only portions which are still erect are the north wall, the apse, and part of the south wall. A vaulted chamber extends around the edifice. Two bas-reliefs are seen in two of the panels of the arcade upon the north wall. The one on the left evidently represents the subject of the Annunciation; while that on the right probably portrays the figures of two saints. I could not discover any trace of an inscription. But the old priest bases his opinion that the ruin is that of a church dedicated to St. Stephen upon an inscription which has disappeared. [footnote 45]

    My illustration of the castle (Fig. 89) will have revealed a characteristic of the ancient city which is of historical interest. The ravine of the Alaja, as well as both the side valleys, which open respectively to this ravine and to that of the Arpa, present the appearance of having been riddled into quite a network of cavities; such is the number of the troglodyte dwellings which they contain. Legend peoples this underground city with the souls of those citizens of Ani who, sooner than emigrate into distant lands, preferred to die in her defence. A stir and hum, as of a teeming and busy populace, may be heard by night above the rustling of the Arpa Chai. [footnote 46] The tuff composing the cliffs must at all times have invited such burrowings; and we know that, when Ani was surprised during the reign of Thamar by the emir of Ardabil, the inhabitants, who were still numerous, took refuge in these caves. [footnote 47]

    Our conception of the city of the kings would be wanting in an essential feature were we to pass over the neighbouring convent of Khosha Vank (Fig. 93).

  • Fig. 93. The monastery of Khosha Vank
  • It was there, we can scarcely doubt, that the monarch was often wont to deliberate; and it was under the shadow of those walls that his bones were laid to rest by the side of his ancestors. The triumphal archway through which he would pass on his way from the capital may still be seen on the summit of the cliff on the right bank of the Arpa Chai. The cloister is situated, as we have seen, upon the opposite or left bank, [footnote 48] and is bordered on two sides by a loop of the river. The bridge has disappeared. A small village has grouped itself between the monastery and the bed of the stream, where repose beneath the gloom of lofty cliffs of lava the two chapels and the tomb of King Ashot (fig. 94).

  • Fig. 94. Khosha Vank: chapels in the ravine of the Arpa Chai
  • The monastic buildings occupy a considerable area upon the high ground within the bend of the river. They are surrounded by a lofty wall. Entering from the west, we cross a court to an opposite doorway which opens into a vast and gloomy chamber (Fig. 95). On the further or eastern side of this chamber we perceive the door of the church. The architecture of this outer hall or pronaos is quite remarkable. In some respects it resembles that of the mosque at Ani. The ceilings are vaulted, and there are no less than four rows of pillars. The space is divided into the form of a nave and two aisles. The circumference of the pillars is 9 1/2 feet. The central vaulting of the nave is surmounted by a dome, different in shape from any of the domes which have been described. Viewed from the outside, it becomes merged in a tall belfry, which is seen on the left of my illustration (Fig. 96), taken from the south-west.

  • Fig. 96. Khosha Vank: the exterior of the pronaos and church from the south-west
  • To the interior it displays a drum of eight panels; and the only light which it transmits comes from above. The panels are of stone and covered with sculpture in low relief. Here it is an architectural figure, there a beautiful vine pattern which is the subject of the ornament. One space displays the form of the Virgin Mary, set in a rich frame. The two extremities of the frame are supported by the shapes of animals, a bull and a lion. On the back of the lion is seated an eagle, and a child on that of the bull. Two angels keep watch, one on either side of the Mother of Christ. The gloom of the building is due to the design of this dome, as well as to the smallness of the round windows, resembling the port-holes of a ship, of which there are three in the north and two in the south wall.

    The interior of this edifice is covered with inscriptions in Armenian, which none of my party were able to read. Perhaps they include some of those which were brought by Abich from this cloister and which have been translated by Brosset. [footnote 49] One of these inscriptions records a donation in the Armenian year 650 (A.D. 1201) under the government of Zakarea. Another is to the effect that the monastery was restored in 1102 (A.D. 1652) by one Daniel, a monk from Tigranocerta. We are told that the buildings had previously fallen into ruin, and had become polluted by accumulations of dust and filth. The cloister is styled Horomosi Vank, and is described as having been constructed by the kings. I will not venture to express an opinion upon the age of the pronaos; but I would suggest that the belfry is perhaps of later date. The sculptures in the dome appear to belong to a hoary antiquity. The edifice may have served as a model for a rock chamber which is described by a modern traveller as belonging to the cloister of Surb Geghard. [footnote 50]

  • Fig. 95. Khosha Vank: pronaos

  • Fig. 97. Khosha Vank: hall of the synod
  • You enter the church through the door in the east wall of the pronaos, passing a slab engraved with a pastoral staff, which marks the place of burial of some spiritual dignitary. A spacious dome rests upon four piers, and there is a single apse with the usual dais. The walls are covered with a coating of whitewash. The interior measures roughly 53 feet by 33 feet, the former dimension including the apse. The attendant priest showed us an old but undated manuscript, which proved to be an illustrated New Testament. It would appear from an inscription that the church was dedicated to St. Gregory, [footnote 51] and it may perhaps be ascribed to the period of the kings.

    The monastic buildings are placed upon the south of the church and pronaos, and are approached from the southern side of the entrance court. They are just outside the area embraced by my illustration of the south walls of the edifices just named. Two large apartments, communicating with one another, serve as antechambers to a great hall with pillars and vaulted ceilings, which is entered from the second of the two chambers, and in plan extends along the most easterly of its walls. The whole suite are impressive examples of the art of the mason and stone-sculptor, effect being gained by the regularity and perfect fitting of the blocks, while the stone takes an admirable surface. Friezes with stalactite patterns are employed in one room as a cornice for the ceiling. In the second and smaller room there is a square aperture in the centre of the roof with a stalactite ornament. The same feature belongs to the hall of the synod (Fig. 97), and is clearly seen in my photograph. At the further end of the two rows of pillars may be discerned a niche with a dais, the recess being richly sculptured. It was there that was placed the throne. But I think these buildings are all later than the time of the kings, although they may have been used by the Georgian princes who governed Ani. We learn from an inscription, which was probably copied in the larger of the antechambers, that at least one of these apartments was constructed in A.D. 1229 to serve as a receptacle for holy relics. [footnote 52]

    On the north side of the church buildings there is nothing but a narrow and vacant space separating them from the wall of the cloister. But at the east end of this part of the enclosure, and in line with the east front of the church, are situated the roofless remains of a little chapel, crowning a ruinous substructure which is overgrown by rank weeds, and of which the sculptured stones litter the ground. The pendant of this building on the south side of the church is seen in my illustration (Fig. 96). It is much better preserved than the companion edifice, and the chamber in the lower storey is still intact. This chamber is oblong in shape, with a vaulted ceiling and an altar with sculptured stones. The chapel is of triple design, with three apses, the whole surmounted by a dome. It is possible that both these buildings, which so closely correspond, were designed to receive the remains of some high personages.

    But the actual tomb of one of the kings has been spared by a happy chance, and may be found quite close to the second and larger of the chapels which repose in the bed of the Arpa Chai (Fig. 94). It is placed near the south-eastern angle of the building. With what a thrill of delight did we discover this eloquent relic - a rounded slab resting on two stone steps! In spite of the lichen and the wear of the stone, the words "Ashot Thagavor" (Ashot, the king) were distinctly legible. The chapels are placed in a line from west to east, and were originally three in number. Of these the most westerly is falling into ruin, a state which has already overtaken that on the east. The central member of the group is at once the largest and the best preserved. It contains an inscription over the south door to the effect that it was built in 460 (A.D. 1011) by one George, son of the patriarch Martiros. But I have not been able to identify this patriarch; and it is possible there may be some error in the translation made by my dragoman, who, although well educated, was not a scholar in old Armenian. The king whose name appears on the tomb is probably Ashot the Third.

    The inscriptions establish the fact that the monastery was known by the name of Horomosi Vank, which probably signifies the convent of the Greek. [footnote 53] History supplements and explains this information. We learn from Asoghik that it was founded in the tenth century under the reign of Abas by Armenian priests who had emigrated from Greek territory. It was burnt by the Mussulmans in A.D. 982. [footnote 54] An inscription of King John Sembat, dated 487 (A.D. 1038), appears to have been found within its walls; and it has been inferred that the cloister was restored by that prince.[footnote 55] We know that he was buried by the side of his predecessors who ruled at Ani; and we have an inscription of John Sembat by which he bestows the revenue of a village in support of the royal cemetery at this monastery of Horomos. [footnote 56]

    For the benefit of such of my readers whose leisure may be unequal to a perusal of this long description, I would single out for particular study the cathedral (Figs. 72 and 74), the church of St. Gregory (Figs. 76, 77, and 78), and the two polygonal chapels (Figs. 85 and 88). These monuments are examples of the Armenian style at its very best, before it was brought under the direct influence of Mussulman art and adopted with slight variations Mussulman models. Except in the case of the church of St. Gregory, we have authentic evidence that they are works of the kingly period. The merits of the style are the diversity of its resources, the elegance of the ornament in low relief, the perfect execution of every part. It combines many of the characteristics of Byzantine art and of the style which we term Gothic, and which at that date was still unborn. The conical roofs of the domes are a distinctive feature, as also are the purely Oriental niches. Texier is of opinion that the former of these features was carried into Central Europe by the colonies of emigrants from the city on the Arpa Chai. [footnote 57]

    In the portals of St. Gregory and of the church of the Apostles (Figs. 78 and 92) we have elaborate examples of the later period when the influence of Mussulman art was supreme. And the pronaos of Khosha Vank, with its massive pillars and groined ceilings, with the finely sculptured panels in the dome, seems to blend some of the characteristics of the architecture of the kings with the plainer style which belongs to the mosque.

    But a lesson of wider import, transcending the sphere of the history of architecture, may be derived from a visit to the capital of the Bagratid dynasty, and from the study of the living evidence of a vanished civilisation which is lavished upon the traveller within her walls. Her monuments throw a strong light upon the character of the Armenian people, and they bring into pronouncement important features of Armenian history. They leave no doubt that this people may be included in the small number of races who have shown themselves susceptible of the highest culture. They exhibit the Armenians as able and sympathetic intermediaries between the civilisation of the Byzantine Empire, with its legacies from that of Rome, and the nations of the East. They testify to the tragic suddenness with which the development of the race was arrested at a time when they had attained a measure of political freedom, and when their capacities, thus favoured, were commencing to bear fruit. The Armenian architects thenceforward subserve the taste of their Mussulman masters; and during the long centuries which have elapsed since the Seljuk conquest, the genius of their countrymen has been exploited by the semi-barbarous peoples of Asia, while their abilities and character have progressively declined and become debased.

    For all these reasons a special duty devolves upon the traveller to address a pressing appeal both to the Armenians and to the Russian Government for the preservation of these monuments. I have already mentioned the abstraction of two important bas-reliefs, and the petty thefts which are taking place with increasing frequency. Of the buildings observed by my predecessors within comparatively recent years, the octagonal minaret has already succumbed. A like fate will presently overtake the chapel of the Redeemer, unless measures be promptly taken to maintain that edifice. The monastery of Horomos is falling into ruin. Rich Armenians spend vast sums upon the embellishment of Edgmiatsin; can none be found to conserve for the instruction of posterity the noblest examples of the genius of their race? The co-operation of the Russian Government should be secured in this laudable enterprise; nor need we despair that it will be forthcoming in such a cause. Much as that Government is inclined to discourage Armenian patriotism, it rarely omits to perform a service in the interests of culture when the appeal is general and the interests are clear.
    ...back to the first part of Lynch's account.
    ...on to the footnotes.