Danielyan lectures at Haigazian University on Toros Toramanian

Department of Armenian Studies, Haigazian University
Beirut, Lebanon
Contact: Ara Sanjian
Tel: 961-1-353011
Email: [email protected]


BEIRUT, Friday, 9 July, 2004 (Haigazian University Department of
Armenian Studies Press Release) – Mrs. Mary Danielyan lectured at
Haigazian University on “The Contribution of Toros Toramanian to the
Study of Armenian Architecture” on Thursday, 10 June, 2004.

Danielyan is a graduate of the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute and worked
after 1973 as an expert on the reconstruction of historical monuments in
the Soviet Armenian Ministry of Construction and later in the Board for
the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments. She was chief
architect, author or project manager of numerous reconstruction projects
of historical monuments in Armenia, including Garni, Makaravank,
Goshavank, Zvartnots and Noravank. From 1999 to 2003, Danielyan was the
chief architect of Zvartnots. Since 2003, she has been project manager
in the Architecture and Engineering Section of the Holy See of
Echmiadzin. She has also published a number of scientific articles on
some of these restoration projects.

Danielyan began her lecture by providing a biography of Toros
Toramanian, whom she described as a “talented artist and theoretician,
who acquainted the world with Armenian architecture.” Toramanian was
born in 1864 in the town of Shabin Karahissar, then part of the Ottoman
Empire. He graduated from the Constantinople Lyceum of Fine Arts and in
the next few years designed a number of private residences for the rich,
as well as public buildings in Constantinople, Bulgaria and Romania.

Danielyan said that the lack of studies on Armenian architecture had
troubled Toramanian since his student days. In 1902, he accepted an
offer from Garo Basmajian in Paris to take part in an expedition to the
medieval Armenian capital of Ani, which was then part of the Russian
Empire. Toramanian participated in the excavations that the Russian
Caucasologist Nicholas Marr was conducting in Ani and was awed with what
he saw. Toramanian later took his research notes to Prof. Jozef
Strzygowski in Vienna. In 1918 the latter published a two-volume work,
Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa [The Architecture of the Armenians
and Europe], acknowledging his debt to Toramanian. In 1921, Ani was
annexed to Turkey, and Toramanian could not return there to continue his
research. He asked Strzygowski in 1925 to return his notes, but to no avail.

When a committee was established in 1923 to preserve Soviet Armenia’s
historical monuments, Toramanian became its chief expert and
participated in the reconstruction of parts of the Echmiadzin cathedral.
He also compiled the inventory of the Division of Architecture in the
History Museum of Armenia. Toramanian died in 1934. His published works
include a number of studies on the churches of Zvartnots, Gagikashen and
Tekor, as well the historical and cultural monuments of the Aragatsoyn
and Shirak regions, including the medieval church at Yereruyk.

The second part of Danielyan’s lecture focused on Toramanian’s
contribution to the study of the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator
or Zvartnots, the magnum opus, according to speaker, of medieval
Armenian architecture. The name Zvartnots, she explained, means ‘the
abode of angels.’ The church was built by the Catholicos Nerses III of
Tayk in 642-662, a period which also witnessed the first Arab invasions
of Armenia. The site chosen was believed to be the place where King
Trdat had met St. Gregory the Illuminator, who converted Armenia to
Christianity, after his release from the dungeon at Khor Virap. A
smaller church had existed in that same place before the seventh
century. The initial plan of Nerses III was to build not only a new and
bigger church, but also a city nearby. The latter part of his dream did
not materialize. The Church of Zvartnots has two altars, one of which
was constructed in Byzantine style in 652 to enable the Emperor
Constantine to receive communion in this new church according to
Chalcedonian traditions. The Church of Zvartnots stood for 300 years.
With its attendant constructions, it was the seat of the Armenian
Catholicos for some time, and Nerses III is believed to have been buried
within its compound.

Toramanian first participated in the excavations of Zvartnots at the
invitation of the Rev. Father Khachig Dadian in 1904. Toramanian was
highly impressed by Zvartnots. He said that although Zvartnots was not
as large as the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople or the Pantheon
in Rome, its architectural style was highly original and it could,
hence, compete with Hagia Sophia through its high artistic traits.
Toramanian was unhappy, however, with Dadian’s unprofessional methods in
excavating the site. The latter frequently used dynamite to transport
the large pieces. That same year, Toramanian presented his own
reconstruction of Zvartnots. It was based on a newly discovered model of
the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Gagikashen), constructed by
King Gagik I in Ani in the tenth century. Gagikashen was reputed to have
been built in the Zvartnots style. Toramanian’s theory was immediately
criticized by Dadian and Ter Sargsian, a renowned architect from St.
Petersburg. After Toramanian’s death, his main critic was the architect
Stepan Mnatsakanian. Most experts in Armenian architecture do accept,
however, the validity of Toramanian’s proposed reconstruction; Danielyan
described it as Toramanian’s magnum opus.

Today, only five percent of the church’s original structure survives,
said Danielyan. Following its destruction, the stones were used for a
variety of purposes by people living in its vicinity. In the year 2002,
the Lincy Foundation financed the partial reconstruction of this
monument, based on Libarid Sadoyan’s plan, which had been approved in
1986. Moreover, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund funded a separate project
to survey and digitalize all 2050 stone fragments still standing in the
Zvartnots compound. All these fragments now have their own ID cards,
forming an archive consisting of 30 volumes or 56 CDs.

The second part of Danielyan’s lecture was accompanied by a slide show
of both archival and recent pictures related to the excavations and
reconstruction of Zvartnots.

In a very lively question-and-answer session that followed the lecture,
Danielyan answered a variety of questions related to local and foreign
influences in the architectural design of Zvartnots, the causes of its
destruction and the various signs carved by masons on stones used during
construction, as well as the bas-relief of a Zvartnots-type church on
the door of Sainte Chapelle in France, Toramanian’s international
stature, the whereabouts of his notes used by Strzygowski, etc.
Danielyan told the audience that three years ago Toramanian’s
granddaughter had sold all of her grandfather’s remaining archives to
the Armenian Board for the Preservation of Historical Monuments. These
archives are now being catalogued, and the Armenian National Academy of
Sciences is planning the publication in three volumes of Toramanian’s
scientific works. The Church of Zvartnots itself cannot be reconstructed
according to internationally agreed criteria, for very few of its
original stones remain in place.

Danielyan’s lecture on Toros Toramanian was the first in a series of two
to be held at Haigazian University. Her lecture tour to Beirut was
initiated by Haydjar, the Association of Armenian Professionals
(Architects and Engineers) in Lebanon.

Haigazian University is a liberal arts institution of higher learning,
established in Beirut in 1955. For more information about its activities
you are welcome to visit its web-site at <;.
For additional information on the activities of its Department of
Armenian Studies, contact Ara Sanjian at <[email protected]>.