My favorite historical Armenian site is definitely the Zvartnots (Զվարթնոց) cathedral. The reason this is my favorite site is because everytime I go to visit my grandma with my dad, my dad asks me if I remember the site’s name. All my dad has told me is that it was a cathedral which collapsed due to an earthquake. I’ve always wondered about it’s history.
The Zvartnots cathedral’s construction was at a time when much of Armenia had very recently been overrun by the Muslim Arabs who were progressively occupying the Sasanian Persia/Iran of which Armenia was a part at the time. Under the guidance of Catholicos Nerses III (nicknamed Shinogh or the Builder), in 643 AD, Construction of the cathedral began. Dedicated to St. Gregory, its location was at the very place where a meeting between King Trdat III and Gregory the Illuminator was supposed to occur. According to a medieval Armenian historian who goes by the name Movses Kaghankatvatsi, the cathedral was consecrated in 652. 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 slowly intensifying wars between the Byzantine and Arab armies on the former’s eastern borders, for safety, Nerses transferred the patriarchal palace of the Catholicos from Dvin to Zvartnots, away from harm.
Zvartnots stood for 320 years before collapsing in the 10th century. When the historian Stepanos Taronatsi wrote of the church, it was already in ruins. Most argue for one of two theories: Earthquake, or Arab raids.
Though the earthquake is the most common theory, the building was structurally integral, designed to last for 1,000 years, as it was projected for the second coming of Christ. Excavations showed burn marks, indicating someone tried to burn it to the ground, despite the construction including firing of obsidian and lime mortar to form the mortar joints.
The remains were found in the twentieth century. The site was excavated between 1901 and 1907 under the direction of vardapet Khachik Dadian, who uncovered the foundations of the cathedral itself as well as the remains of the Catholicos palace and a winery.
The Zvartnots cathedral is under Unesco’s world heritage list, meaning it is under protection. The land can not be bought and nothing can be built in the former cathedral’s land.