Reconstructions at Erebuni and the Metsamor Museum give an impression of the cities of classical Armenia – sprawling palaces with Persian, Hellenic and local influences. Surp Hripsime (AD 618) in Echmiadzin is a classic of early Christian church architecture, when the halls of basilicas transformed into domed square or cross-shaped churches. St. Gregory the Illuminator built churches on top of pagan temples across historic Armenia. His successors had a flair for placing churches and monasteries above cliffs and on sunlit shelves of land. Saghmosavank perches on the edge of Kasagh Gorge, pinning down the land and saving it from collapsing into the abyss. Tatev stands in a similar position on the Vorotan Canyon. Even through the years of the Mongol invasions, stunning monasteries were built at Gandzasar, Goshavank, Haghpat and Haghartsin.
Armenian architecture has also influenced that of Europe. Crusaders, who had built only square towers, adopted the Armenian method of building round towers on churches and castles. The cross-shaped layout of churches found everywhere is also attributed to Armenian church builders. Only a few frescoes have survived from the medieval period, with images of varying faintness at Lmbat and other churches near Talin, and at Kobayr in Lori and the Surp Poghos-Petros Church at Tatev.
Yerevan was rebuked as a hovel of mud houses by visiting Russian tsarist officers at the end of the 19th century, but some fine stone buildings with high walls and arched windows can be found in many old villages and towns such as Meghri, Ashtarak, Malishka and Goris. The tsarist old quarter of Kumayri in Gyumri is the most complete 19th-century urban area in Armenia. Yerevan is an almost entirely Soviet city with some startling edifices, such as Mother Armenia and the Cascade. What one writer termed ‘random monumentality’ describes the impact of Soviet art in Armenia. Silver astronauts, brooding 5m-high eagles, and the superheroic muscles of designated national heroes in bronze leap from granite pedestals all over the country.
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