- Vagharshapat, Armenia
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Situated just 5 kilometers away from Echmiadzin, the Zvartnots Temple stands as a shining example of medieval Armenian architecture, dating back to the 7th century. Regrettably, like many other ancient Armenian temples, Zvartnots now lies in ruins, having been entirely devastated by a formidable earthquake in the 10th century. Nevertheless, even in its dilapidated state, the temple offers glimpses of its exceptional and grandiose beauty.
Originally, Zvartnots was a three-story, circular temple towering at a height of 49 meters. It consisted of three cylinders of varying sizes stacked atop one another, culminating in a spherical, pyramid-shaped cone. This temple was perched upon a platform encircled by a partially preserved stepped pedestal, resembling a cross set within a circle, forming the architectural core of the temple. The entire structure found support in four robust columns, each standing at a majestic height of 20 meters.
The circular interior space was encircled by a two-level gallery, with the upper level extending from three sides and being supported by six sturdy columns. Completing this remarkable composition was a lofty, multi-faceted dome, adding to the temple's magnificence. The temple featured five entrances, each offering a path into this awe-inspiring architectural marvel.
From its pinnacle to its base, the temple bore exquisite stone carvings that adorned its every facet. Elaborate ornamentation graced the eaves and delicately framed the window openings. The temple's walls were embellished with depictions of grapevines, pomegranate branches, and intricate geometric patterns. A sumptuous mosaic further adorned the temple's walls. Additionally, Zvartnots featured waist-length sculptures of individuals in natural, free poses. These sculptures, with their finely detailed clothing and nearly portrait-like visages, offer valuable insights into the appearance of medieval Armenians.
The construction of the Zvartnots Temple, also known as the Temple of Watching Forces, commenced in 641-643 and progressed intermittently for two decades, culminating in 652.
Zvartnots stood proudly for over three centuries until its unfortunate demise around 930, when a powerful earthquake wreaked havoc. Researchers determined that the temple's architect had failed to adequately distribute the weight of the upper levels onto the four robust pillars that served as primary supports. As a result, a portion of the load was borne by the arches and vaults, ultimately leading to the temple's structural weakness and vulnerability to the earthquake's destructive forces.
Over time, a substantial hill formed at the temple's site, comprising the remnants of the four pillars. It was only in the early 20th century that the renowned Armenian architect, Toros Toramanian, initiated efforts to commence the restoration of Zvartnots.
Today, the Zvartnots area is an archaeological reserve and museum, established in 1937, where visitors can explore models representing possible reconstructions of the temple and view numerous impressively sized sculptural fragments. These fragments include vast stone slabs bearing intricately carved figures, sundials, and depictions of grapes and pomegranates, many of which remain remarkably well-preserved.
Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Zvartnots Temple ruins continue to stand as a testament to Armenia's rich historical and architectural legacy.