Handaberd monastery, monastery complex (XII-XIV cc)


Location: It is located in the Nor Shahumyan district of NKR, on the right bank of the Lev River, about one kilometer north-east of Handaberd castle.

Excavations: Excavations have been implemented by Artsakh expedition of NAS RA Institute of Archeology and Ethnography (Hamlet Petrosyan, head of the expedition, Lyuba Kirakosyan, architect, Vardges Safaryan, Tatiana Vardesova, archeologists) in 2004-2005. Excavations have been initiated by "Yerkir" NGO (President, Sevak Artsruni) and funded by Harutyunyans family (New Jersey, USA).

During the soviet union times the Azerbaijanis of the region have conducted a road in the middle part of the monastery complex which was fully caused the northern bases of the main group structures be opened. In the same way, the road leading to the nearby forests has passed through the historical cemetery, because of which a large section was destroyed, and some cross-stones (Khachkars) and gravestones were displaced and rolled into the valley. In last 1980s, all the visible khachkars and inscriptions were smashed with heavy iron tools.

As a result of the excavations, the monument has been cleaned of abundant vegetation, soil and stone piles created by collapse and all the important architectural details have been confirmed. After the excavations, 2006-2007, partially reinforced collapse-exposing structures.

Architectural Characteristics: Today, the monastery complex includes two groups of buildings. The first or the main group consists of a central church-chapel and adjacent to it, two depositary- chapels, parsonage house, bell tower and graveyard. The second group, placed to the north of the first consists of a chapel, a fortifications and a graveyard.

According to the construction protocol, David Archimandrite constructed the main part of the complex in 1276. The state-of-the-art review gives grounds to conclude, that the monastery was created around the old chapel-church subsequently been added the depositors, chapels, depositary, parsonage house and finally the bell tower. Parsonage house is a unique intermediate volume, which connects different structures around it. It's in general terms backup the reminiscent composition of “cupola” swept sword.

In north special standing chapel-church, with its tri-altar connecting composition and icons holding cross stones it is a unique structure throughout the medieval architecture. It is obvious the discrepancy of massive walls, swept and limited internal space. In addition, rectangular small depositary-churches, which are created among northern and southern crosses- wings, are unique. If we add chapel stages attached to chapel and parsonage house in the north to the main church and its two depositaries, then it would turn out, that they could serve at the monastery at five places at once, which is a decent number for a small and clearly separated monastery.

In the late twelfth century and especially in the XIII-XIV centuries in Artsakh, as well as throughout Armenia it is noticeable a significant increase in the number of holly mass provided for the soul of the dead. Apparently, this fact also stimulated the creation of such a number of chapels in the Handaberd monastery. The monastery complex with this construction, flaked and non-crushed stones and gray stones usage and building style and the application of simple and popular forms, made it distinguish from the medieval monastery classic complexes and provides abundant material to detail  aspects of cultural-constructive life in severe political and economic conditions for Armenia during the second half of XIII century and the first half of the 14th century.

Findings: As a result of the excavations, new inscriptions, fifty cross-stones and gravestones have been found due to XII-XIV centuries. The inscriptions provide some details about the construction of the monastery, as well as remarkable data on the political, economic and spiritual history of Verin Khachen.

More than a thousand pieces of bricks have been collected from the entire territory of the complex, which were used for the roof building. A number of brick and bowel pieces containing Armenian inscriptions on it have also been found. A circumstance, which makes it possible to prove the popularity and the usage of Armenian letters in the household level. Some novelty records also allow us to expand the nominal system of mountain-province. Excavations also brought out a variety of metal and clay findings. Among the metal items can be distinguished by various poles, lock key, clasp, horse boots, various forging accessories, an ax, croaker, and knife. The copper bell and the cross are referring the church ritual. Ceramics contain a large number of clay barrels, kitchen pots and bowls fragments.

Cross-stones (Khachkars): We should mention the invention of more than five dozen khachkars, in which there are many real masterpieces of art. Two khachkar pictograms represent equestrian warriors. In one case, the warrior is armed with a sword and a guru, in the second case; he is holding a spear in one hand and a wine cup with the other. Examing Artsakh cross-stones, we will see the raising up the equestrian warriors’ worship. These inventions suggest that it was widely spread in Upper Khachen too. A unique cross-stone fragment of the Handaberd monastery depicts the infant's mother, breast-feeding her baby. It is remarkable in terms of childcare, nursing mother and child costumes. Another khachkar presents the so-called "paradise composition" a local version, where each of the palm trees ends up with a large, but different trees (pomegranate and perhaps apple) and birds perching on them. Ancient khachkars are widely used as a suitable building stone. Structurally responsible sections have been strengthened with them to create horizontal belts that secure walls. As a result, it looks like some of the walls to be specially created only with cross-stones. It is special the elegant crossbow made of marble due to 1276.


Petrosyan H., Kirakosyan L., Cultural Studies in Artsakh. Shushi, Handaberd Monastery, Tigranakert, Yerevan 2009.

Petrosyan H., Kirakosyan L., Safaryan St., Handaberd Monastery and its Excavations, Yerevan 2009.

Petrosyan H., Kirakosyan L., Safaryan V., Handaberd monastery 2004-2005 Excavations in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh: Past, Present and Future, International Conference (Reports Collection), Yerevan 2007, p. 446-454.

Petrosyan H., Kirakosyan L., Safaryan V., Handaberd monastery 2004-2005 Excavations, Ancient Armenian Culture, 14, Yerevan 2008, p. 247-255.

Petrosyan H., Kirakosyan L., Safaryan V., Handaberd Monastery 2004-2005 Excavations, Archeological researches in Artsakh 2005-2010, Stepanakert 2011, pp. 85-93.

Dr., Prof. H. Petrosyan


Translated by Noushig Zarikian