Millennium upon millennium, the volcanoes erupted lava. As it cooled it solidified and covered the earth with a shell of stone.
Mountains, gorges, turbulent rivers, waterfalls, and lakes surrounded by grim, forbidding rocks, were the cradle of the Armenian people.
Stones, stones... A kingdom of stones! Life would seem impossible here. Yet people have been living here since time immemorial.
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They built dwellings, fortresses and temples of stone. They planted and grew vines, trees and grain in stone. Stone accompanies the Armenian through life, it is linked with the whole history of Armenia. It is both the fortune and misfortune of the people.
On the outskirts of Goris. high up in the Zangezur mountains, the rocks have been shaped into fantastic statues by the sun, the rains and the winds. Legend has it that when Tamerlane approached these parts with his horsemen, he stopped in astonishment, taking these statues for a strange, invincible army. And the hitherto intrepid conqueror retreated from Goris.
Nature suggested the forms to the Armenian architects, and sketched the rough draft which they elaborated in detail, developing an inimitable architectural style. Look at the tapering rocks of Gegard and Goris, look at the perfectly flat tops of Lori, and look at the flowing contours of the Gegami mountains. Surely it is from here that the modern Armenian architects acquired their perfection of line and design, and their amazing sense of proportion and rhythm. Present-day architects are as skilled as their celebrated predecessors in blending their buildings with the landscape. They also have a way of combining the traditions of ancient architecture with the features of the modern age.
Armenia is one of the world’s most fascinating museums. There are more than four thousand unique stone monuments on its relatively small territory – cromlechs and dolmens from the Bronze Age. Urartu fortresses and heathen temples, early – Christian churches, medieval monastery schools and castles crowning the mountain tops.
Rejas Films production presents a documentary film "My Armenia" in english
Solid walls built from smoothly hewn enormous basalt slabs rise on both sides of the Garni fortress gates. The walls run down to the edge of the precipice where the steep unscaleable cliffs take over the protection of the fortress from enemy invasion – Nature's own wise solution to the problem of defence.
This is how Muratsan, the Armenian classic, described the fortress centuries later:
"The scenery around ihe plateau, crowned with the fortress, was majestic and forbidding. Towering rocks, strangely shaped cliffs, frightening chasms, deep gorges, arrogantly crenellated, beautiful mountains stretched away to the horizon, in front of the fortress, a frothing stream hurtled down from a great height to Row into the Azat River. On the northern side, in addition to the semicircular walls and towers, the fortress was protected by the overhanging cliffs which merged with Mt. Geg in the distance From the east and the west it was well-defended by its walls and towers made from smoothly hewn basalt slabs, secured with lead and iron. On the southeastern hill, practically on the boundary line of the fortress, loomed the sombre crenellated edifices of the royal palace, and also Trdat's magnificent summer palace whose porticoes were supported by twenty-four tall Ionic columns. The statues and the high, carved vaults of the palace – creations of Roman art – were still intact..."
What will the traveller see today?
A spreading walnut tree casts its shadow on the ground, vines on the stones, late cucumbers are ripening on their neat beds, apricot trees have donned their vivid autumn finery, and through their crowns one can glimpse Ihe arm of a crane and hear the purring of a motor. What a peaceful scene to find in this fortress which had once been besieged by hordes of invaders!
But let us follow the sound of the purring motor, and see what is there.
Basalt capitals, friezes, broken cornices, pieces of pediments are lying on the ground. They are fragments of the Sun temple, built in the first century A. D. and destroyed in the earthquake of 1679. Each stone has been cleaned of the dust of centuries, and numbered. Now they will be laid in place, for restoration work on the ancient temple has begun.
The ruins of the Sun temple are so spellbinding that you cannot tear your fascinated gaze away. You stand there, enchanted and speechless, gazing at the remains of ravished beamy… The purring of the motor makes a discordant sound, crashing into the tranquillising silence of eternity.
Till stone steps lead to a basalt platform on which two broad slabs, with the carved figures of the Atlases, have survived. The majestic and forbidding view, described by Muratsan, opens from this platform. You fancy that you are standing on a sunlit peninsula, and that to the left, to the right, and in front of you there is an angry sea, ready to crash down on you. But the waves have become petrified, and the sea is motionless. Everything around you is swathed in shadow – the mountains, the forest not far away, the ravines, and the black ribbon of the Azat deep down in the abyss. Only the rocky peninsula with the ruins of the heathen temple is ablaze with the inextinguishable light of the sun.
Not far away from here, there is a monastery hidden from view in the mountains where the sunrays do not penetrate, and all is in shadow.
The road to this monastery runs through the valley of the Azat, meandering along the floor of the gorge past the chaotic conglomeration of basalt rocks, each of which is a masterpiece of sculpture. Their shapes are so clear-cut and elaborate that at moments you refuse to believe that Nature and not an artist has carved them. The rocks high up in front are shaped like a crenellated fortress wall, to the right you see the domes of ancient churches, and higher above – the figures of heraldic beasts and birds. What you still do not know is that inside these basalt rocks you will find man-made works of unique beauty.
The gorge grows narrower and the overhanging cliffs seem to weigh down upon you more ominously than before. It is a long time till sundown, but a brooding darkness settles over the gorge.
The Gegard Monastery is, in fact, an architectural complex created in the 12th-13th centuries. Katogike is the only church built in the usual way with outside walls and an outside dome. The other three have been hewn out of the basalt monoliths. What light there is comes through the small round apertures in the domes. It was from here that the masters began hacking out the rock, cutting into the basalt and removing the pieces through a narrow hole in the roof of the future church. Inside the monolith they carved out the domes, the vaults, the altars, the columns and the arches, adorning them with an exquisitely designed ornament.
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