Restoring St. Hovhannes Mkrtich (St. John the Baptist)

Cathedral of Gandzasar in the aftermath of the Azerbaijani aerial

bombardment of the monastery in summer-autumn 1992.


Photo by Hrair H. Khatcherian






In the 18th century, the Monastery

of Tatev in the neighbouring province

of Siunik, (in today's Republic of

Armenia), was Gandzasar's partner

as one of the most important centers of

Armenian national liberation movement.


Monastery and University

of Tatev (9th-13th century)

- Armenia, Siunik Province -

Gandzasar Monastery is perhaps the most important architectural monument of Artsakh. It is located near the town of Vank of Mardakert district of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, in the very heart of Artsakh's historical province of Khachen. For long a symbol of Artsakh's Armenian statehood, the word "Gandzasar" is translated from Armenian as "Treasure-Mountain" (with "gandz" meaning "treasure" and "sar" meaning "mountain"). And it is a treasure indeed. According to renowned Russian scholar A. L. Yakobson of St. Petersburg's Hermitage, Gandzasar Monastery is "the encyclopedia of Armenian architecture."


Professor Charles Diehl of Sorbonne, a prominent French art historian and specialist of Byzantium, called Gandzasar the third most important artifact of Armenian monastic architecture that is on the list of world architectural masterpieces.


Karabakhi locals believe that the monastery was founded on the place of a shrine containing the scull of St. John the Baptist, which was brought to the land of Artsakh directly from Palestine. 


The 13th century Armenian author Kirakos Gandzaketsi, himself a native of Artsakh, wrote in his "History of Armenia": "... there where stands their family vault, Ishkhan (i.e. "prince," in Armenian - aut.) Asan-Jalal built a church with exquisite adornment, a celestial cathedral dedicated to the glory of God ..." By the mid-13th century, Asan-Jalal of Khokhanaberd, founder of Artsakh's Jalalian aristocratic family, emerged as the most powerful Armenian feudal ruler in the Eastern Territory of Armenia. Gandzaketsi describes him as: "The Great Prince Asan, who is flatteringly called "Jalal," a man pious, honest, and Armenian."


The central Hovhannes Mkrtich (St. John the Baptist) Cathedral is masterly embellished with bas-reliefs depicting the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve and dozens of other stone figures, including the sculptures of the kings of Khachen holding two models of the Cathedral above their heads. According to an inscription on the wall of the Cathedral, it was completed in the year 1236. Overall, up to 150 Armenian stone-borne texts are found on the walls of the Cathedral, including a wall-large inscription made by the order of Asan-Jalal himself. 


Gandzasar Monastery represents the so-called "Gandzasar Style" of medieval Armenian architecture. Two other important Armenian monastic complexes, Hovhannavank and Harich, located far away, on the territory of today's Republic of Armenia, replicate Gandzasar in many details. 


Gandzasar Monastery is also known as the center of Armenian independence movement of the 18th century, initiated by the Armenian dukes (meliks) of Artsakh. In was in Gandzasar where the representatives of Armenian nobility prepared and signed the famous appeal for assistance addressed to the Russian monarch Peter I the Great.  


A traditional domain of the Catholicos (archpriest) of the Eastern Territory of Armenia, Gandzasar Monastery is the center of Nagorno Karabakh's religious life and present-day seat of the Archbishop of Artsakh of the Armenian Apostolic Church


Gandzasar immensely suffered in the course of Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno Karabakh, in 1991-1992.  Periodical aerial attacks on the monastery, aimed at destroying this masterpiece of Armenian architecture by heavy bombardment, lasted throughout 1992. It is symbolic that it was near Gandzasar Monastery where the first large regiments of Azerbaijani Army were rounded up and destroyed by Nagorno Karabakh self-defense units.




Crucifixion. Bas-relief of

St.Hovhannes Mkrtich cathedral.

The Gandzasar Monastery

Photo by Hrair H. Khatcherian

- Nagorno Karabakh -

Click on picture to enlarge








The 13th century Harich and

Hovhannavank monasteries,

located, respectively, in Shirak

and Aragatzotn provinces of the

Republic of Armenia, resemble

Nagorno Karabakh's Gandzasar

in many important details.

Picture: Harich Monastery

- Armenia, Shirak Province-

Click on picture to enlarge



Bas-relief with an inscription

in Armenian on the dome of St.

  Hovhannes Mkrtich cathedral,

depicting Adam and Eve.

Photo by Hrair H. Khatcherian

- Nagorno Karabakh -

Click on picture to enlarge








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