Copyright
H. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) Lynch.

Armenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) online

. (page 15 of 49)
Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the neighbouring cloister of Marmashen. It is a monument of
the period of the mediaeval kings of Armenia, and is of the same
order of architecture as those at Ani. It is situated about five
miles north of Alexandropol, on the rocky banks of the Arpa
Chai. As we drove over the plain, we remarked that ploughing
had not yet com-
menced, and that
the stubble still
stood in the some-
what stony soil.
Not a fence or other
boundary, and not
a single tree diver-
sified the expanse
of ground. Sowing
takes place in April,
rains fall in May
and June, and the
harvest is gathered
during July and
August. The sur-
roundings of the
monastery are bleak
and unrelieved by
vegetation ; the
church and chapels
are falling into ruin, and rise from among piles of debris. My
illustration (Fig. 27) displays the principal edifice from the
south-west and the chapel which adjoins it on the south. A
companion but larger chapel on the north is hidden from
view,^ and a third structure of the same order, but more dis-
tant on that further side, is beyond the range of the picture.
The visitor cannot fail to admire the simplicity of the design of
the church and the absence of any excrescences. The device
of the niche has been used to lighten the wall on the east, where
the plan of the interior requires an apse and two side chapels.
Each of the two recesses upon that side has a depth of 3 feet
8 inches ; while the similar features on the north and south sides
have probably been added for the sake of uniformity. The wall

1 Fragments of the walls of this buildinfi alone survive.




Fig. 27. Church of Marmashen from S.W.



132 Armenia

spaces have been diversified with elegant false arcades, and the
window on the west is framed in a band of exquisite chiselling.
All these features will be familiar to my reader when he has read
my account of Ani, and I need not, therefore, dwell upon them
in this place. He will also become acquainted with the person-
ages who erected these edifices, and whose names figure in the
long inscriptions on the walls of the church. From these we learn
that it was built by none other than the great prince Vahram,
the hero of the resistance offered by the inhabitants of Ani to
the occupation of their city by the Byzantine Caesar. It was
commenced in the year A.D. 988, and does not appear to have
been completed until 1029.^ On the other hand, a memorial
tablet, inserted into the wall on the west, contains a well-preserved
inscription which we copied, giving the date of 470 of the Armenian
era, or A.D. 102 i. Presumably the building would have been in
use at that time. According to an inscription on the north wall
it was extensively restored in A.D. 1225 by descendants of
Vahram." The wife of that prince and perhaps, too, his own
remains were buried at Marmashen.

The interior, a nave and two narrow aisles, has a length of
61 feet, measured to the head of the apse, and a breadth of
34 feet. The dais of the apse is not less than 4 feet in height,
the face of the dais being decorated with a sculptured frieze of
intricate design. In other respects the masonry is free of
ornament, and the walls have been left bare. The name of the
cloister is said to be a corruption of Marmarashen, which would
signify the marble edifice. Yet the material used is a pink
volcanic stone, and I did not observe any marble about the
church. A porch extended at one time the whole breadth of
the facade, and must have had a length of nearly 'i^j feet. A
prominent feature of this approach were four octagonal pillars,
of which the remains still exist. They have a circumference of
7 feet 10 inches in the shaft. I cannot say that I admire the
dome, and it is, perhaps, due in its present form to the restoration
of the thirteenth century.

^ So the inscription on the south wall, as rendered by Rrosset ( Voyage arc/u'o/ogicjtie,
3me rapport, p. 86 ; and Riiines d\4ni, p. 64). ' Brosset, loc. cit.



CHAPTER X

TO ERIVAN

During our stay at Alexandropol it had required no small effort
to detach our minds from the paramount object with which they
were filled. Every day, every hour, which separated us from
Ararat diminished the prospects of a successful ascent. We were
impatient, and anxious to leap the intervening stages, like pilgrims
almost in sight of their long-sought shrine.

It was, therefore, with a sense of relief that, at one o'clock,
on the I 2th of September, we set out from the city in the direction
of Alagoz. We were to make for the passage between the
volcano and the border mountains, and to rest in that valley for
the night. The road is a mere track, yet we were able to
engage a private carriage to take us to Erivan. One is
astounded in the East at the performances of a victoria, should
the necessities of a European or the ostentation of an Oriental
have summoned such an object of luxury to their wilds. Our
luggage accompanied us in a springless waggon, which, like the
carriage, was privately horsed. The post road to Erivan makes
the long deviation down the valleys of the border ranges to the
junction with the road from Tiflis at the station of Delijan.

The great plain lay around us, level and devoid of objects,
like the bosom of a sea. Before us stretched the mountain, the
unwieldy bulk of a colossus, a formidable barrier to the country
on the south. In such an expanse the human note is overwhelmed
by Nature ; one hardly notices the signs of the presence of
ubiquitous man. There are villages which you scarcely see until
you have passed within their precincts ; such were Tapa Dolak,
through which we drove at a quarter before one, and Golgat,
which we reached at four o'clock. Both are inhabited by
Armenians ; neither possesses a school or school-house, but the
VOL. I K 2



134 Armenia

second owns and the first was building a church. After obtaining
a view, on our right hand, of two considerable Armenian villages,
we arrived at Norashen, where we were to rest the horses, at half-
past four o'clock. It is an Armenian settlement with ninety-five
tenements and a population of 900 souls, and it was in process of
erecting a school. Let the reader picture to himself rude structures
of stone and wood and earth, which, at one end, issue upon irregular
little lanes, and, at the other, are buried into a slope of the ground.
Through such entrances you pass to subterraneous chambers
which serve as stables and as living rooms. In the midst of these
sordid surroundings four stone walls are a prominent object ; they
belong to a little chapel, which has a roof of sods and a bare
interior ; the bells are hung in a wooden structure at the side.
Men with tanned complexions, deep wrinkles, and bent knees
issue from the tenements and slouch along the lanes. Children
crowd about you, their little stomachs unduly swollen and barely
covered by a single cotton shirt. Nobody can read or write ; we
questioned several. Such is the description which, with variations,
applies to most of these villages, and is true of Norashen.

With what emotion one turned to the contemplation of the
magnificent landscape which was outspread at our feet ! The
squalor of man, the grandeur of his natural environment — the
reflection recurs and recurs in the East. We were standing on
the lower slopes of the mountain, some 15 00 feet above the floor
of the plain. A gentle incline, of which the surface was checkered
with alternate patches of fallow and stubble, stretched away from
a foreground of loose stones and garnered corn-land to the dim
lights and opaline mists of a vast amphitheatre, where the
expanse of level land was confined and choked by a wide girdle
of mountains — long volcanic outlines and fantastic shapes of cone
and peak mingling with the gloom of the distance and the gloom
of the sky. But the zenith was intensely blue, and we breathed
a strong, yet sunlit air. Behind us, in the opposite segment of
the heaven, white, luminous clouds touched and concealed the
snowy region where Alagoz sits enthroned ; yet we were able to
observe that the snow lies in drifts within that region, for many
of the flatter places were free of snow. A prominent feature, to
which I have already alluded, is the manner in which the heart,
or central rock mass of the volcano, is seen to rise beyond the
edge of a rounded bank of softer texture, which follows the inner
ridge at a respectful interval, and appears to be separated from it



To Erivan 135

by a deep ravine. One cannot fail to observe the contrast
between the roundness and softness of the outwork and the steep
sides and black rocks of the inner ridge.

In fact, as you skirt the slopes of the volcano, you never touch
the sides which mount immediately to the snows. You follow
along the direction of gently vaulted banks of soil, parallel to the
upstanding core of the mass. Their surface is patched with
cultivation to a height which has been estimated at 8300 feet.^
The herbage is sweet and produces excellent crops of hay ; the
earth is black and rich. Soon after leaving Norashen — we started
at about six — you turn the flank of the range which meets the
volcano at right angles, and then recedes in a hollow, concave to
the shield-shaped pile. You enter the passage between Alagoz
and the border mountains, and you arrive at the head waters of the
southward-flowing streams. In this region are situated Giizel-
dere and Kerwanserai, the first an Armenian village, the second
a Kurdish settlement. In the latter we found a station-house
maintained by Armenians, who provided us with a guide and a
Chinese lantern to take us to the guest-house, distant about two
versts, which stands above the village of Haji Khali). It occupied
us some little time, groping our way through the thick darkness,
and we did not arrive until eight o'clock.

The little guest - house proved a dreary and comfortless
shelter ; we sighed for the comparative luxury of a Persian
chapar-kJianeh or the cleanliness of a Swiss hut. A fetid odour
exuded from the peeling walls and cracked flooring, and legions
of active fleas rose from beneath the boards. We slept, as we
might, on the wooden takJit or dais, until, at half-past one, the
door thundered with heavy knocks. After some parley the
intruders were admitted to our chamber — was it a dream, or
whence issued these strange shapes ? One awaited the wild
staccato, followed by the flowing iambic : —

aaTpwv KaTotSa vvKrepoiv o/xijyvpLV

Kol TOV<; (f)epovTa^ X^^f^^ '^^^^ depo^ ^porol^

XafMirpov'i BwcicTTa^ efiirpeTrovTa^ aWepi.^

Yet the floor, the walls, the companions were all real — every-
thing, except those figures at the door. The flicker of a lamp

1 Radde in Petennaiiii's Mitth., 1876, p. 147.

- " . . . contemplate the company of the stars by night, and them that bring winter
and summer to mortals, the radiant potentates conspicuous in the heaven " (.-Eschylus,
Agamemnon, Is. 4-7).



o



6 Armenia



was reflected upon their bearded faces and bare necks, upon the
heavy folds of the brown draperies hanging about their shoulders,
upon the blunt ends of their wooden staves. Did they proclaim
the line of bonfires ? — Watchmen, stationed by an unseen hand
to guard us, and come to announce the break of day. The
break ot day ? It cost us a pang to convince them of their
error ; we were loth to commence fresh contests with the fleas.
Poor watchmen, who had forestalled the stars with longing for
the morning ! How many times was Troy taken in watchmen's
dreams ?

September 13. — At a quarter to six we were on the road. A




Fig. 28. Alagoz from the Head Waters of the Abaran.

chill was in the air, and heavy, sleepy clouds lay on the ground.
But the zenith was softly blue, and a pleasant light fell on the
valley with its spacious floor and ample expanse of sky. Our
station was situated at a slightly higher altitude than the
threshold of the pass ; I should estimate our elevation, from the
readings of my barometers, at about 7000 feet. After an hour's
drive, our track joined a newly-made road, metalled and ditched
on either side ; progress was fairly rapid down the incline of the
valley, parallel with the current of the Abaran. This road was
intended to serve as the postal avenue to Erivan from Alexan-
dropol, and it bifurcates from the existing post road ; but a series
of misfortunes appear to have attended its construction, and it
had not yet been used by the post. Verst after verst we drove
along it, through a landscape which changes little from the



To Erivaii 137

features at the entrance of the pass. On our right hand rose the
huge volcano, no longer an extended horizontal outline, but a
shield-shaped mass, bellying upwards to the rim of a crater, which
circled from us with a wide sweep (Fig. 28). The slopes of the
mountain were inclined at an angle of scarcely more than eleven
degrees — soft convexities, broken into gullies and little hummocks,
and, here and there, strewn with a shingle of greenish hue. The
peaks had gradually disappeared as we rounded the base of the
pile — a transition of which the phases were frequently withdrawn
from observation through the incidence of clouds. On our left,
at varying but always ample interval, the outer spurs of the
border mountains described a parallel half- circle with the
contour of Alagoz — one might almost mistake them for some
outer shell of the volcano, so closely did they appear to follow
the curve of its base. But, unlike their big neighbour, the slopes
of these outworks were covered with brushwood, which developed
into dwarf trees as we advanced. The floor of the valley re-
vealed in most parts the hand of the reclaimer, by the side of a
stretch of turf, by the margin of a rotting marsh. Yet mile
after mile we could see no settlement ; we seldom met a way-
farer, except for some drivers with a string of donkeys, laden
with grapes from the valley of the Araxes, and a group of supple
Kurdish girls. At a quarter to eight we drew rein for a few
minutes in the large Armenian village of Bash Abaran. The
inhabitants were busy getting in their corn from the open ; here
and there it had not yet been cut. In another hour we opened
out a vista of Ararat, and, at a quarter to ten, we feasted our
eyes upon the whole majestic fabric, before descending into the
village of Ali Kuchak.

One may safely say of the scene which expanded before us
that it is unsurpassed upon the surface of our globe. Nor is it
difficult to account for the strength and permanence of the
impression which it produces upon the mind. Nowhere has
Nature worked on a scale more stupendous ; yet on none of her
works has she bestowed greater unity of conception, a design
more harmonious, surroundings more august. Whatever mysteries
compose the spell of the wide ocean and the open firmament, all the
exquisite shades of light which temper the gloom of a northern
climate, all the many-coloured radiance of the south, have been
lavished upon the panorama which centres in Ararat and is
spread like a kingdom at his feet.



138 Armenia

Seen at this distance — measured on the map it is a space of
fifty-six miles to the summit — the mountain is Httle more than
an outHne upon the horizon ; yet what an outHne ! what a soul
in those soaring shapes ! Side by side stand two of the most
beauteous forms in Nature, the pyramid and the dome. Both
are developed on lines of almost ideal perfection, with proportions
which startle the eye in spite of all their symmetry ; and both are
supported by a common base. The pyramid is one, and the
dome is one ; yet the structure is single which they combine to
raise. From the dim east into the dim west you follow that long-
drawn profile, rising from a distant promontory, declining to a
distant promontory, centring in the roof of the dome, in the
peak of the cone. The dome has an elevation of 1 7,000 feet,
the cone of nearly 13,000 feet ; and the base reclines on a plain
which forms the greatest depression in the relief of Armenia, and
which has an altitude of scarcely more than 3000 feet above the
sea.

The standpoint from which we looked upon the wonders of
this landscape were the basal slopes of the opposite colossus of
Alagoz, where they descend to that same spacious plain. It is
the plain which the Araxes waters ; yet we could not see the
river, hidden in the unseen hollow of the expanse. Between us
and our horizon flat tracts of naked earth stretched away from
the stony ground about us to a distant region of half lights and
soft mist ; above those shadows rose the mountain, bathed in
light and luminous vapour, to wreaths of white cloud, hanging to
the snows of the dome. On our left hand, a wooded hill — the
only spot of verdure in the scene — ^jutted out into the levels from
the border ranges, which here recede from the plain. Its summit
outline is broken by a fantastic peak, like the comb of a cock,
and it may perhaps be identified with the volcanic elevation of
Karniarch. Below us lay the village, a cluster of stacks of teaek
fuel, and driving smoke, proceeding from scarcely visible huts of
mud and stone. Ledges or tongues of rock and cliff projected on
our right from the base of Alagoz ; they represent the extreme
outrunners of the northern mountain and sink into the landscape,
like the capes of a rock-bound coast. We were about to leave
that coast behind us and to cross the floor of this sea-like plain ;
hues of ochre were lightly laid upon its gently undulating surface
and mingled with the nearer tints of yellow and umber in the
stubble and fallow of the cultivated land.



To Erivan 139

All our thoughts, our whole ambition, were centred on that
distant mountain ; our emotions satisfied, we reflected that the
spot where we were standing was the nearest point which we
should reach to the summer resort of Darachichak. It might be
possible to hire horses and ride the distance of some twenty
miles ; all the official world of Erivan would be assembled in
that pleasant valley, and we had need of their assistance for our
ascent. So, once arrived within the village, we sent for the
elder ; and we were glad to hear that the place was the seat of
a Pristav, or head of an administrative group of villages. A
lean and lank Armenian responded to our summons ; he came
with a slouching gait and with sleep in his eyes, and he was
engaged in buttoning his long grey coat. The official dress of
Russia and the peaked cap of white canvas on such a truly
Oriental figure as this ! However, he promised to procure us
horses, and, putting faith in his official dignity, I decided to split
our party into two. My cousin and myself would adventure
upon the journey into the mountains ; Wesson, Rudolph and the
Armenian would proceed in the victoria and with the waggon to
the town of Erivan.

Our companions started on their journey, while we with our
saddles made our way to a neighbouring village in which the
horses were to be found. We were accompanied by the Pristav's
man, a sinister-looking villain ; the saddles followed on a bullock
cart. But at a winding of the path, just after leaving the
settlement, the wheels sank into an abysmal depth of mud. I
have no doubt that this incident is of daily occurrence, and
that neither village would entertain the notion of making a road.
The horses were on the meadows ; their owners refused to catch
them, and we were obliged to essay the task ourselves. But in
this open country they eluded all our efforts ; we were obliged
to return without attaining our end. The Pristav received
our maledictions with equanimity, and we were reduced to the
tame expedient of two sorry ponies, which were only equal to
carrying us to the nearest considerable station on the road to
Erivan.

How poor in resources is this magnificent country ! what a
curse appears to lie on these fertile lands ! Our Pristav had
the charge of thirty-six villages, of which six were inhabited by
Persian Tartars and the remainder by a population of his own race.
His district extended from Bash Abaran to Ashtarak ; yet he told



140 Armenia

us that in the whole of this considerable region there did not exist
a single school.

Baffled of our purpose, we mounted our ponies and took to
the road to Erivan, two solitary figures in the lonely waste. The
provincial capital was over thirty-five miles distant, and it was
already half-past four o'clock. The prospect over the plain,
which I have just described, is so far deceptive that you under-
rate the extension of these stony basal slopes. This mistaken
estimate is due in part to the position of the hill of Karniarch,
which blocks the view towards the south-east. To gain Erivan,
you are obliged to round the base of that elevation ; nor, in that
direction, do the rocky inclines die away in the level campagna
before you have reached the gardens of the town. The base of
Alagoz appears to mingle with the base of the volcanic masses
which line the inner edges of the border range ; mile after mile
you cross a bleak and boulder-strewn country which sweeps into
the plain. To add to our impression of the complete forlornness
of this region, a violent storm arose. The immense expanse of
heaven was filled with driving clouds, riven by lightning ; the
torrents roared, and the blast bent the stunted bushes which rise
along their margin among the rocks. We were reminded of
the famous night upon the Brocken, as our tired ponies tottered
forward into the blinding rain. Shelter there was none ; it was
a case of struggling onwards and taking pleasure in the elemental
war. And the road ! was there ever outside of Persia such a
strange caricature of a road ? It wound like a snake, avoiding
every hillock ; the traffic made short cuts from bend to bend.
There were bridges broken in the back with a ford alongside
them ; there were yawning culverts and parallel tracks avoiding
the horrors of the metalled way. Not a soul did we meet, until,
as the evening advanced, we passed through some considerable
Armenian villages which presented the strange spectacle of a
lamp-lit street. But where was Ashtarak, the goal of our journey?
should we ever accomplish our self-imposed stage ? When our
mounts could go no further, my cousin points out a long building
by the side of a large church. No door could we see or opening
on to the ground, only a lofty verandah with a ladder, a feature
which recalled the old lawless times. We clamoured, and were
admitted after sundry explanations, and a stable was found for
our weary hacks.

We were received by a young Armenian who spoke a little



To Erivan 141

French, and who ushered us into the presence of a vardapet or
monastic priest. I regret my inabihty to place on the page the
handsome features of our host, Monseigneur Achote — so he tran-
scribed his rank and name. He told us that we were welcome
to the monastery of Mugni, and that he himself happened to be
the only priest in residence. Assisted by his clerk, he busied
himself about our comforts ; clothed us afresh, gave us to eat
and drink. Monseigneur belongs to the new school of Armenian
ecclesiastics; he has received an excellent education, and possesses
wide sympathies and broad views. His room was littered with
books and papers ; his talk was animated, and one could not
doubt that his ardent patriotism was sincere. Next morning
— September 14 — we visited the church of Mugni, a plain but
solid stone structure, quite in the grand style. An open portal,
resting on four solid piers, gives access to the doorway with its
richly carved mouldings, and is surmounted by a little tower in
which the bells are hung. The exterior is of grey stone, varied
by blocks of red volcanic rock ; here and there carved slabs of
such rock have been inserted, a familiar feature in Armenian
architecture. The interior is quite plain and the masonry un-
covered ; so thick are the walls that in the apse you are shown
two secret chambers built into the frame of the church. Access
to these chambers is obtained by removing a block of stone in
the ceilings of two recesses in the apse. In the old lawless times
these rooms served as a refuge ; they are capacious and receive
the light of day. The head of St. George is preserved in a
little side chapel, a treasure of considerable value to the monastery.
It seemed so strange that our enlightened host should be profiting
by the possession of this relic, and I thought that he answered
my smile. An inscription "informs us that the church was built —
or may it not be restored or cnibellisJied ? — by Mgr. Peter of
Argulis in the year of the Armenian era 11 18 or a.d. 1668,
with his people's money and his own.



Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 49)