The ruins of the church of Zwartnots
can be found about two kilometres from Echmiadzin. One of the architectural wonders of Armenia, Zwartnots was built in 641-61. It was said that a Byzantine emperor, who visited Armenia in 652, was so enchanted by its beauty he decided there and then that he wanted a church like it in his luxurious capital. But the architect who built Zwartnots, whose name is unfortunately unknown, died en route to Constantinople.
The church had been standing for about 300 years when a disastrous earthquake reduced it to a heap of rubble. But even the ruins of this grand structure give us an idea of its rare and majestic beauty. It is only by a great effort of imagination that we can assemble the stones of Zwartnots into a three-tiered church noted for the harmony of its architectural form and sculpted decor. The entire church and its facade were embellished with beautifully carved pomegranate branches, fruits, leaves and vines.
Many rapturous testimonials, but not a single description of Zwartnots, have come down to us. The outlines of the church were construed by architect Toros Toramanyan, who started working at the excavation site in 1904. The church was a three-tiered pyramid¬like composition, culminating in a cupola. It is unusual because the equilateral cruciform was built not into a rectangle but into a round many-faceted form. The original design had certain constructive shortcomings which were obvious when the earthquake struck. A small museum was opened in 1937 on the site of the excavations.
The items on display include an inscription made in Greek, by Catholicos Nerses III, on the construction of Zwartnots, a solar clock carved on a stone slab that was one of the decorations of the church, pottery and other finds.