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Hovhannavank monastery

 Situated about 5km north of Mughni, Hovhannavank ('Monastery of John') is the southernmost of two sizeable monasteries that are perched on the edge of the gorge and linked by a path which makes a pleasant, though potentially rather hot, walk: it is about 5km from Hovhannavank to Saghmosavank and there is little shade. The oldest part of Hovhannavank, perhaps the more appealing of the two monasteries, is a basilica structure dating from the 5th century though extensively rebuilt since then. On the south side of this early basilica stands the main church, dedicated to John the Baptist, and erected by Prince Vache Vachutian in 1216-21; the prince was Governor of Ani from cl213 until 1232. The corner rooms of this church are two-storey and those at the west have cantilevered steps. As at some other churches of this period, the front of the altar dais was originally decorated with stars, pentagons and diamonds and some of this decoration survives. The gavit was built in 1250 to serve both the churches and is consequently off-centre. Four pillars divide it into separate sections, each of which is differently decorated; the belfry supported by 12 columns was probably added in 1274.

The cupola of the main church collapsed following an earthquake in 1679 and then again, following another one, in 1919; the latter also damaged the south facade and still more damage resulted from the 1988 earthquake. However, the 12-sided tambour and cupola were reconstructed in 1999 and repairs are continuing. Particularly strange is the tympanum of the south door. Christ can be seen apparently blessing the five wise virgins with His right hand and rebuking the five foolish virgins with His left. Except that the virgins have beards so are they really meant to be the Apostles and in that case why are there only ten? The church is surrounded by a fortified wall, originally constructed in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 17th. To the north is an extensive graveyard with khachkars.


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