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Armenian architecture and its European impact


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#1 Yervant1

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Posted 18 May 2014 - 09:39 AM

Armenian architecture and its European impact

Published: Saturday May 17, 2014

The Cathedral of Mren, built in Armenia in the 7th century, when
stone-mason technologies were in declin elsewhere in the world. Via
Fresno State University

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CAMBRIDGE, MASS. - Dr. Mark Jarzombek, Professor of the History and
Theory of Architecture, is the Associate Dean of the School of
Architecture and Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In
2006 Dr. Jarzombek co-authored and published A Global History of
Architecture (Wiley), a fundamental encounter of history of
architecture from prehistoric period to the end of the twentieth
century. In 2011 the second edition of the book was published.

The book places a strong emphasis on the role Armenian architecture
played in the shaping of medieval stone building tradition and links
the spread of stone architecture to Armenian masons who worked outside
Armenia, from Europe to India. Dr. Anahit Ter-Stepanian, architectural
historian from Armenia, asked Dr. Jarzombek to further elucidate the
topic of involvement of Armenian builders in the development of
architecture in the global context.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: Dr. Jarzombek, your Global History of
Architecture is the only major fundamental encounter of history of
architecture that places a considerable emphasis on Armenian
architecture. I first came across your book shortly after it was
published in 2006. I was pleasantly surprised that you viewed Armenian
architecture as the main source for medieval knowledge of the
principles of stone architecture. Later I attended your virtual
presentation on the book organized by Wiley, where you discussed your
theory using Armenian medieval architecture as an example of how
engineering ideas emerged in one geographic location and were later
adopted by other cultures. Armenian architecture is underrepresented
in architectural history, your research is clearly a breakthrough. How
did you arrive to this idea?

Mark Jarzombek: It was just a slow process of thinking about it. My
research and lectures always try to emphasize connections across space
and time and when I began to write the chapter on the year 600 AD, it
became clear that Armenia was a significant player in the cross Asian
trade at that time, thus its wealth and thus also its capacity to make
extraordinary buildings. Then the question came, how did those
buildings - as designs - come about? There is a lot of good
scholarship, especially in the context of early Christian
architecture, but I wanted to go a bit past what we can know to focus
on the unusual connections to Hellenistic architectural practices.

So my emphasis was less on the new religion = new architecture and
more on the continuity of skills, namely high-end masonry. The Church
of the Vigilant Powers (Zwartnots, AD 641-666) or the Cathedral at
Mren from that period are typical. But my point was that advanced
stone masonry by 600 AD was a dying art in the rest of the world. It
was not practiced in Europe before 800 AD, not practiced in Byzantium
(which emphasized brick), nor in Persia (mud brick), nor even in India
(wood). In other words, during the time period between 400 and 800 AD
Armenia/Syria was the only place in the world where advanced stone
masonry was still practiced. That is the key to understanding the role
of Armenia in the history of architecture.

This tradition did not come from nowhere. It came from Hellenistic
practices and of course prior to that from Greek practices, who in a
sense got it from the Egyptians. So it has a long tradition, but one
that was on the verge of dying out around 500 AD. The last hold-out
between 400 and 800 was in Syria and then Armenia

Because churches were made with heavy, though finely carved stones and
not with bricks or stone rubble, the buildings were a lot smaller than
the great brick-based buildings of Byzantium (such as the Hagia Sophia
- which is completely made of bricks) or the rubble-based walls of the
great Basilica of St. Peters in Rome. Stone churches in Armenia are
not only smaller, but have to be governed by the tradition of geometry
that was the root of all stone masonry skills.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: You make a valid point in your book, masonry
skills allow us to hypothesize about continuity of building tradition
in the intercultural context. Precisely this emphasis on masonry skill
makes your study particularly valuable. I would like to add that one
of the writing assignments in my History of Armenian Art course at
Southern Connecticut State University is based on your presentation in
Texas, where you made Armenian architecture the focal point of your
talk.

Let's move to the next question. In your opinion, why is Armenian
architecture misrepresented and underrepresented in the architectural
historical discourse in the West? We understand the implications of
the Cold War, language and political barriers. But the Cold War ended
a long time ago, Armenia has been an independent country for more than
two decades, we have a new post-cold-war generation of architectural
historians. Why nothing has changed? Are there any political reasons
or just lack of information?

Mark Jarzombek: There are many reasons. Language, access, and archives
figure among them. But the main issue, I believe, is not so much about
Armenia itself, as about how we understand architectural development.
The Romanesque Style in Europe, for example, has in it the word
`Roman', since it was assumed that the main influences on early
medieval German architecture came from Rome. Whereas Rome did play an
important part, it was by no means the only part, especially since
Rome in the year 800 did not produce advanced stone masonry buildings.
In a sense, the style may have been Roman, but the contractors were
Armenian.

A second problem is in how Armenia appears on maps. It is in the
extreme right hand corner of European maps and at the extreme left on
Asia maps; it thus appears marginal in both instances. Though this is
a symptom rather than a source of the problem, it is hard to tell the
story of Armenia if it always in the margins of maps.

Another problem might be that because Islamic culture takes off in the
9th and 10th centuries we tend to forget that a place like Ani,
between 961 and 1045 was a major metropolis too. But sadly because so
little is now left, there is little to go on.

And finally, one can say that part of the problem is in connecting the
dots. We know that Armenians helped build mosques in Cairo-- probably
by then converted to Islam. We know of Armenians who were brought to
India by the Islamic invades. We know of Armenians in southern France
building churches etc. So the diaspora of Armenian mason guilds and
the diffusions of Armenian stone masons needs to be understood as
significant.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: Dr. Jarzombek, your research is very important,
particularly because you place an emphasis on building technologies,
an area that is rarely discussed in architectural historical
discourse. I believe that an architectural historian should be trained
as an architect, which is not the case in American educational system.
Architectural historians are trained as historians, as a result they
have limited engineering knowledge and focus mainly on formal,
aesthetic, religious, liturgical, historical aspects. Is it possible
that this lack of knowledge of building technologies is the reason for
not recognizing the role of the Armenian architecture for the
development of Western architecture?

Mark Jarzombek: Possibly, but it is not so much training in
architecture and engineering that will change how we write history,
though it does inflect it. The real question is still basically how
historians think and develop their arguments and conjectures.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: Since the beginning of the twentieth century,
the debate around the role of the Armenian architecture was mainly
focused on its influence on the emergence of the Gothic style. In
addition, we see the impact of Armenian architecture on Islamic
structures, particularly of the Seljuk and Fatimid periods. However,
your idea about the Armenian factor for the development of stone
architecture in India is an eye-opener!

Mark Jarzombek: It has to be. Stone architecture appears quite rapidly
in India around 800 and there can be no doubt that Armenian craftsmen
played a part at least in the initial phases. The question remains how
to prove it. The problem is that specialists in Islamic architecture
rarely think outside of that category. Specialists in Hindu
architecture have the same problem. With the Armenian diaspora, we
have multiple religions and regions.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: In professional literature Armenian architecture
is viewed as an offspring of Syrian architecture, although even the
earliest basilicas in Armenia clearly display features that are
uniquely Armenian. I attended the webcast presentation organized by
Wiley. I remember one of the attendees asked why you chose Armenian
architecture and not Syrian. Your answer was brief, you were in the
middle of explaining something else and didn't go into a detailed
explanation for making the choice. Why did you choose Armenian
architecture over Syrian?

Mark Jarzombek: I guess I focus a bit more on Armenia since the Syrian
phase ends in the early 7th century with the expansion of Islam,
whereas the Armenian part of the story continues on for a few more
centuries. But that is not to underestimate the importance of the
Syrian Christian churches. The early churches that are now in Syria
are a key element in the story since they are part of the transition
from a more classical and Hellenistic experimentalism to the Armenia
church. For example, St. Babylas (Antioch-Kaiuissie, c 378) and the
Baptistery at Qalat Siman (c 476-90) and associated church (c. 500)
and St George, Ezraa (ca. 515) are all "Syrian," and form a continuous
strand that connects to St. Hripsime (618) and so forth. The Syrian
phase, so to speak, has more variation. There are basilicas and
colonnades and the like all of which get edited out by the time
Armenian churches come into their own. The loss of the south to Islam
isolated Armenia and in a sense forced it to focus its energies toward
a more unified style.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: Recently, in textbooks on art history the
emergence of Gothic architecture, particularly of the pointed arch, is
being associated with Islamic architecture. Are these statements
justified? The late Romanesque and Gothic combination of pointed
arches resting on tall cluster piers as a load bearing system is much
closer to the structural logic of the Ani Cathedral than to Islamic
prototypes. Why is there such a resistance against recognizing the
role of the Ani Cathedral for the development of late Romanesque and
Gothic architectural vocabulary?

Mark Jarzombek: I am not an expert on Gothic architecture as such and
do not want to get involved in this. My guess is that is a
combination. There is no doubt that Islamic architecture played a part
in some aspects of the development of Gothic architecture, but the
Armenian precedents exist as well. The Armenians could have had a
separate line of influence to Europe since their influence probably
came first to Europe - though not in the form of a pointed arch. We
can get lost in the problem of `firsts'. In other words, someone might
have made the first point arch, but we also have to ask when the
pointed arch become typological? My emphasis on stone masonry is not
about arches per se, but about the techniques of cutting and laying
stone.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: In the first edition of the Global History you
mention architect Oton Matsaetsi (Odo of Metz), who was of Armenian
origin. We associate the name of this architect with the church of
Germigny-des-Pres, one of the most innovative stone structures in
northern Europe. However, the same Odo of Metz is the architect of
Charlemagne's Palace Church in Aachen of 794, which displays a
remarkably high level of stone craftsmanship for northern Europe. We
discuss the Palace Church as a structure influenced by the San Vitale
church. San Vitale is made of brick; the Palace Church is built of
finely dressed stone. Why is Oton's Armenian origin revealed and
discussed in the case of Germigny-des-Pres, but not in the case of the
Palace Church?

Mark Jarzombek: Good question. In my lectures I discuss this point,
mentioned above about the question of the so-called Romanesque. In the
book a things sometimes get left out to save space. I should put it
back in in the next edition.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: I find your ideas not only fascinating, but also
remarkably brave. Did your ideas meet any misunderstanding and
hostility among architectural historians?

Mark Jarzombek: Not really. The field of architectural history is
quite small and people working on this topic are far and few in
between. Most scholars I talked to have been quite receptive.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: You made your position very clear in your book
and in your presentations, have you published your insights anywhere
other than the Global History? Are you planning to?

Mark Jarzombek: I probably should, and would like to, but the question
is where? It is a complicated issue. Actually I have not been to
Armenia yet, so I have long way to go and much research to do before I
could publish something like this in the Journal of Architectural
Historians.

Anahit Ter-Stepanian: I hope you can find time to visit Armenia in the
near future, we'll be honored to see you in Yerevan. Thank you very
much for your time.


http://www.reporter....european-impact
 


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#2 MosJan

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Posted 19 May 2014 - 11:03 AM

Good Fine  Yervand jan



#3 Arpa

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Posted 19 May 2014 - 12:35 PM

I must amend some of my past remarks about highly chauvinistic. wishful and non-scholarly stories about how Trdat , Sinan and the Balians have been architects and builders that spread the art all the way to Europe and beyond.
I wish I could retract some of my glib comments.
If we in fact taught the Europeans the art of stone masonry, then I would like to see even one building that the aforementioned have built in Armenia. (Mosques and Palaces for the sultan?)
I we in fact taught the Europeans and furks the art of stone masonry, then please show us even one structure in Armenia that resembles the Notre Dame De Paris or Aya Sophia. ***
Like when Dr Mark says this= Possibly, but it is not so much training in
architecture and engineering that will change how we write history,
though it does inflect it. The real question is still basically how
historians think and develop their arguments and conjectures.
 
 

i.e. There has never been an on site physical research, that all we know is from hearsay.
Sadly, all that magnificent art of stone masonry was eventually was reduced to the art of sculpting Stine Crosses/ Khackars., that our neighbors are hacking, axing, sledge hammering reducing to dust.
[quote]But my point was that advanced
stone masonry by 600 AD was a dying art in the rest of the world. It was not practiced in Europe before 800 AD, not practiced in Byzantium
(which emphasized brick), nor in Persia (mud brick), nor even in India (wood). In other words, during the time period between 400 and 800 AD
Armenia/Syria was the only place in the world where advanced stone
masonry was still practiced. That is the key to understanding the role
of Armenia in the history of architecture.[/quote]
====
[quote]Q=(Anahit)Let's move to the next question. In your opinion, why is Armenian
architecture misrepresented and underrepresented in the architectural
historical discourse in the West? [/quote
====
A=(Mark JarzombekJ There are many reasons. Language, access, and archives
figure among them. But the main issue, I believe, is not so much about
Armenia itself, as about how we understand architectural development.
The Romanesque Style in Europe, for example, has in it the word
`Roman', since it was assumed that the main influences on early
medieval German architecture came from Rome. Whereas Rome did play an
important part, it was by no means the only part, especially since
Rome in the year 800 did not produce advanced stone masonry buildings.
In a sense, the style may have been Roman, but the contractors were
Armenian.


===
Another problem might be that because Islamic culture takes off in the
9th and 10th centuries we tend to forget that a place like Ani,
between 961 and 1045 was a major metropolis too. But sadly because so
little is now left, there is little to go on.
Anahit Ter-Stepanian: Dr. Jarzombek, your research is very important,
particularly because you place an emphasis on building technologies,
an area that is rarely discussed in architectural historical
discourse. I believe that an architectural historian should be trained
as an architect, which is not the case in American educational system.
Architectural historians are trained as historians, as a result they
have limited engineering knowledge and focus mainly on formal,
aesthetic, religious, liturgical, historical aspects. Is it possible
that this lack of knowledge of building technologies is the reason for
not recognizing the role of the Armenian architecture for the
development of Western architecture?
----
Mark Jarzombek: Possibly, but it is not so much training in
architecture and engineering that will change how we write history,
though it does inflect it. The real question is still basically how
historians think and develop their arguments and conjectures.
===
Mark Jarzombek: I guess I focus a bit more on Armenia since the Syrian
phase ends in the early 7th century with the expansion of Islam,
whereas the Armenian part of the story continues on for a few more
centuries. But that is not to underestimate the importance of the
Syrian Christian churches. The early churches that are now in Syria**
are a key element in the story since they are part of the transition
from a more classical and Hellenistic experimentalism to the Armenia
church. For example, St. Babylas (Antioch-Kaiuissie, c 378) and the
Baptistery at Qalat Siman (c 476-90) and associated church (c. 500)
** I can personally attest to this. The best stone cutters, masons in Aleppo were/are the Arabic speaking Christians. To not forget the Old Armenian dynasty of Aleppo, the Hajjars/Hajjarian/Stone cutter/KarTashian/Քար տաշ(ող)եան/Tashjian (?).*** I have personally known some of them, a prominent business people who spoke in impeccable Armenian.
***Hajar, Stone in Arabic.

Edited by Arpa, 19 May 2014 - 12:37 PM.





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