One of Haghpat’s most famous residents was the 18th century poet and musician, courtier Sayat Nova (1722-1795). Considered by many the greatest ashugh (folk singer-songwriter) that ever lived in the Caucasus, he was born Harutiun Sahakian, in the village of Sanahin and raised in Tiflis (Tbilisi).Haghpat Monastery is about 2.5 hours north of Yerevan. Haghpat was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1996.
A church stood in Haghpat village from the 4th century and it is believed that one stood at the site of the monastery as well. The area has revealed substantial artifacts from the Bronze Age and the adjoining Debed River shows human activity dating to the Paleolithic Era.
The monastery founding is traced to the reign of King Abbas Bagratuni (r. 929-953), but construction of the oldest building of the complex started in 976 during the reign of King Ashot the Merciful (r. 953-977). Construction of St. N’shan church was commissioned by Queen Khosrovanuish in honor of her sons Smbat and Gurgen (Kiurike) and was finished in 991.
After the fall of the Bagratuni capital at Ani in 1064, the monastery went into decline, reviving again under the auspices of the Kiurikians and especially the Zakarians, who received the monastery as payment for military service to the Orbelian kings in Georgia, and who liberated the region from the Seljuks in the late 12th century. The complex was largely completed by the mid 13th century, having more than tripled in size and assuming position as one of Armenia’s preeminent monasteries and centers of learning.
In the mid-11th century, Haghpat was the religious center of Lori region and competed with its brother monastery Sanahin. Haghpat’s bishop Hovhannes had nearby Kayan fortress erected in 1233. His cousin, Prince Shah’n’shah, whose father was buried at Sanahin, had the fortress torn down on order of advancing Mongol troops. The Mongols captured both monasteries and sacked them.
The monastery was further decimated by the legions of Timur and then the Ottomans (15th-17th centuries). In 1639 eastern Armenia became a part of Persia. The established peace was favorable for the monastery. The monastery revived and resumed its mantle as a place of learning and as a manuscript center. Its most famous 18th century resident was the courtier and troubadour Sayat Nova (1722-1795). Sayat Nova died at Haghbat.
St. N’shan Gavit
The present gavit adjoins the west end of St. N’shan and was begun by the Abbot Hovhannes of Khachen in 1208/09 on the ruins of a previous building. It is an extraordinary achievement of Medieval architecture in Armenia, for its intricate plan, combining several earlier structures. Originally there was a portico (known as Mariamashen) on the Western wall of the church, built in 1185 on order of Princess Mariam, as a mausoleum for the Kiurikian family. The floor of the gavit is paved with gravestones, putting even the most powerful literally “underfoot”.
In line with other gavits of the time (based on the peasant ‘hazarashen’ dwelling with a domed central space built around four support columns), St. N’shan’s gavit is unusual for its large size (21 x 18 m) and because of its roofing system composed of two pairs of crossing arches repeated twice in height. This daring use of arches expands the space and “lifts” the inner room.
The design is unique among gavits, the arches resting on abutments on three walls, then on two massive columns connected to slender shafts on the western wall. The columns themselves have the same capital designs, unusual for Armenian gavits, columns of which normally change the design of each capital. The top central part (the ‘yerdik’) is particularly striking, made from alternating colored stone.
There are two small two-story rooms with apses on the eastern corners, used for reading the liturgy. The floor is paved by tombstones of the Kiurikan family, wealthy donors and members of the religious community.
St. N’shan gavit had enormous influence on architecture in Medieval Armenia, especially civil structures, with its use of multi-hued colored stone, intersecting arches and the division of space through roof arcature.
Dining Hall, Service Building (13)
The 13th century Dining Hall at Haghpat is better preserved than that at Sanahin and is made of two square areas (rooms) divided by massive pillars and cross arches supporting the vaulted ceiling. The hall is incorporated into the defensive wall.
Next to it is a small structure from the same period, designed in the hazarashen style with a central dome supported by four wooden columns, with an open aperture at the center top of the roof.
Outside the Monastery
The Spring House (14) is about 75 meters beyond the eastern gate. The 1258 structure is triple-arched, with the center arch larger than the side ones, emphasizing the central axis of the structure. There are stone troughs along the back wall of the building for watering village cattle plus a water reservoir used by local residents. The vaulted composition is a result of the local climate: The cool and damp air inside is a good protection against the scorching midsummer sun and moderates the cold winter temperature.
Kusanats Anapat (St. Tiramair) (15) Church is in the village cemetery, 500 meters east and uphill of the complex. The exact date is unknown, but the design suggests that it is a 13th century building. The church is reached via the eastern gate and following the village road past the spring house.
The building is cruciform with a dome on an octagonal drum decorated with small trefoil arches. Three large khachkars (stone crosses) on its southern flank date to the late medieval period.
Fourth Century Church remains (16)
Inside the village (downhill) there are the remains of a 4th century church, considered the first Christian structure at Haghpat.
Just to the north of the gavit is the main St. Astvatsatsin (1208-1220), also known as the “Khatunashen” for Lady Khatun, the daughter of Prince Hassan Desumian, who had it built.
The church has cruciform type interior encased in square outer walls, topped by a dome, its circular drum covered by a gable roof. The western portal has a geometric frame, the tympanum showing a sun symbol flanked by two small khachkars (stone crosses) with stylized Trees of Life.