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Zvartnots Cathedral

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Zvartnots Cathedral

Zvartnots Cathedral
Common view of the Zvartnots ruins
Zvartnots Cathedral is located in Armenia
Zvartnots Cathedral
Shown within Armenia
Basic information
Location Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armavir Province, Armenia
Geographic coordinates
Affiliation Armenian Apostolic Church
Status in ruins
Architectural description
Architectural type Central-plan aisled tetra-conch (Circular)
Architectural style Armenian
Groundbreaking 643
Completed 652
Height (max) 45 meters
Materials tufa, pumice and obsidian
Official name: Cathedral and Churches of Etchmiadzin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii
Designated 2000 (24th session)
Reference no. 1011
Region Western Asia

Zvartnots Cathedral (Armenian: Զուարթնոց (classical); Զվարթնոց (reformed); meaning "celestial angels") is a 7th-century centrally planned aisled tetraconch type Armenian cathedral built by the order of Catholicos Nerses the Builder from 643-652. Now in ruins, it is located at the edge of the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin) in Armavir Province of Armenia.


Zvartnots was built at a time when much of Armenia was under Byzantine control or influence and during the early invasions of Armenia by the Muslim Arabs. Construction of the cathedral began in 643 under the guidance of Catholicos Nerses III (nicknamed Shinogh or the Builder). Dedicated to St. Gregory, it was located the place, where a meeting between King Trdat III and Gregory the Illuminator was supposed to have taken place. According to the medieval Armenian historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi, the cathedral was consecrated in 652.[1] From 653 to 659, Nerses was in Tayk and the construction of the cathedral continued under Anastas Akoratsi. Following the Arab occupation of Dvin and the intensifying wars between the Byzantine and Arab armies on the former's eastern borders, Nerses transferred the patriarchal palace of the Catholicos from Dvin to Zvartnots.[2]

Zvartnots remained standing until the end of the 10th century, but historical sources are silent as to the cause of its collapse.[1] A close copy of the cathedral was erected at Ani out by Trdat the Architect under the reign of Gagik I Bagratuni during the final decade of the 10th century. The contemporary Armenian historian Stepanos Taronetsi referred to Zvartnots when describing the church that Gagik I had inaugurated as "a large structure at Vałaršapat [Vagharshapat], dedicated to the same saint that had fallen into ruins."[3]


The ruins of Zvartnots remained buried until its remains were uncovered at the start of the 20th century. The site was excavated between 1901 and 1907 under the direction of vardapet Khachik Dadyan, uncovering the foundations of the cathedral as well as the remains of the Catholicos palace and a winery. The excavations furthermore revealed that Zvartnots stood on the remnants of structures that dated back to reign of the Urartian king Rusa II.[1]


Most scholars accept the 1905 reconstruction by Toros Toramanian, who worked on the original excavations, and proposed that the building had three floors.[1]
The plan of the cathedral, as drawn by Toros Toramanian.

Some scholars, as Stepan Mnatsakanian and most notably A. Kuznetsov, however, reject his reconstruction and have offered alternative plans.[1] Kuznetsov, for example, contended that Toramanian's plan was "constructionally illogical" and insisted that the technical expertise at the time did not correspond to the bold design that the architect had conceived.[4]

The interior of the mosaic-decorated church had the shape of a Greek cross or tetraconch, with an aisle encircling this area, while the exterior was a 32-sided polygon which appeared circular from a distance.

Some sources claim that the Zvartnots cathedral is depicted upon Mount Ararat in a relief in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. However, this is not very likely as the fresco was painted more than 300 years after destruction of the church.

Together with churches in Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Zvartnots was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000.

A drawing of the cathedral was depicted on the first issue of 100 AMD banknotes and its model can be seen in Yerevan History Museum.

Modern Incarnations

The Holy Trinity Armenian Church in the Malatia-Sebastia district of Yerevan is modeled by architect Baghdasar Arzoumanian after Zvartnots and was completed in 2003.


Panoramic view of Zvartnots

See also



  • Brady Kiesling, Rediscovering Armenia, p. 34; original archived at, and current version online on


  1. ^ a b c d e (Armenian) Stepanyan, A. and H. Sargsyan. «Զվարթնոց» (Zvartnots). Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia. vol. iii. Yerevan, Armenian SSR: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1977, pp. 707-710.
  2. ^ Maranci, Christina. "Byzantium through Armenian Eyes: Cultural Appropriation and the Church of Zuart'noc'". Gesta, vol. 40, No. 2. (2001), p. 109.
  3. ^ Maranci. "Byzantium through Armenian Eyes", p. 118.
  4. ^ (Russian) Kuznetsov, A. Тектoникa и Конструкция Центричecких Здaний. Moscow, 1951, pp. 110-114.

Further reading

External links

  • 3D model of Zvartnots created with Google Sketchup
  • Zvartnots
  • Armenian Architecture
  • Photographs of Zvartnots
  • Unesco
  • Reviews about Zvartnots cathedral
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