Inimitable nature of cult architecture of Caucasian Albania. Sabina Hajiyeva

     Azerbaijan is fairly referred to as a country abound in peculiar museum exhibits. Indeed, there is hardly a region worldover to preserve such a great quantity of the works of art and material culture (1, p.5).Over the long period of time, Azerbaijan has been reputed as an exclusively Muslim country with monuments of that period, strewn about various parts of the region. However, one cannot forget that Islam took root here just in the 8-9 centuries,while in the preceeding periods there consecutively, in close interaction developed Mazdaizm,

Mitraizm, Zoroastrianizm and Christianity together with remarkable specimens of cult buildings. In the period under consideration, there were formed major principles and methods of Azerbaijanian architecture  that later influenced the Islamic architecture.

As Baranovskiy wrote, «prior to Arab invasion, Albania lived its intensive cultural life, created its architectural values« (2, p.33).

The unique nature of Azerbaijanian culture is that over the centuries several religions being alternately spread in the region contributed not only to the development of new cult buildings but also favoured interpenetration of architectures of several religions. Note that the people, in an effort to adopt a new religious teaching, never declined from the past: old rites were closely interwoven with the new ones contributing to the peace co-existence of several religions in Azerbaijan. As a result of such a tolerance, architectural and design devices had a mutual influence on each other in the temples of different religions. It was quite natural, since they were created by architects of one and the same people. Also contributing to the culture of historical Azerbaijan proper were active contacts with other peoples, exchange of cultural values. It has to be kept in mind that the architecture of Albania served not an arena for foreign art and culture impact. Moreover, Albania was successful in developing and preserving its own original ethnic art. Thus, it was the interference of architectures of contiguous countries, influenced by religious laws and ceremonies that led to the creation of original and inimitable cult buildings of Azerbaijan.

It should be noted that Christianity was one of the major stages in the history of Azerbaijan. However, Christian architecture of Caucasian Albania has until recently been given improper attention on the part of Azerbaijanian researchers which made it possible to unfairly and illegally attribute monuments of Albanian people, located on the territory of historical Azerbaijan, to alien cultures (Gandzasar Cathedral, Hotavank Monastic and others). The lack of basic works on Christian monuments has been accounted for by the fact that some of them are in a sorry plight, others are in abeyance, ownerless, neglected. The reason is that the local Turkic Muslim population regards them as alien to its culture and thus turns them into objects easily accessible for other ethnoses to appropriate. It is particularly characteristic of Armenians who easily adapt to alien territories and cultures. An eloquent testimony are numerous facts of misappropriation of cultural values by Armenians in the recent past in defiance of reality. Suffice it to say that there hardly survived safe and sound medieval monuments of architecture on the territory of historical Albania. In the meanwhile, golden age of the culture of early medieval Azerbaijan is based on the richest monuments of Christian cult. Note that the Christian teaching took root in Albania in the 1 century A.D., though it was officially declared as the state religion just in the 4 century.

The problem is to explore the Christian cult architecture, this most numerous and particularly valuable from art standpoint component of Albanian`s architectural heritage.

It`d be appropriate to note that early Christian temples of Caucasian Albania were largely formed on the basis of temple principles of pre-Christian cult. Originally, old pagan buildings were remade to form Christian temples. As a consequence, first churchs sprang up in the early period, including hall and single-nave basilicas (temples in Gyaurkala, Agdam region, 6 century; Mazymgaray, Belokan region, 5-6 centuries; complex of Khotavank cloister, Kelbadjar region, 6 century) and their derivatives — dome halls, domeless nave basilicas (Tazakend basilica, Agdjabedi region, 6 century; Kum, Kakh region, 6 century, Yeddi Kilse, Kakh region, 6 century; Agoglan, Lachin region, 6-7 centuries). Also, appeared circular temples: Kilisadag, Kabala region, 2-3 centuries; Mamrukh, Zakatala region, 3-4 centuries; Lekit, Kakh region, 5-6 centuries. Later on, the design of these temples were spread in contiquous countris as well. The probability remains that an earlier four-column form, going back to the fire cult, had its impact on the formation of such a structure. Later on, dome multi-nave temples and churchs of «free« cross (church in the village of Orta-Zeyzit, Sheki region, 9-10 centuries) were formed. Note that these objects came out of traditional forms in Albania and influenced the development of the entire architectural aspect of the country.

Both historical destiny of the Albanian people and the development of Christian architecture differed depending on a specific historical space of time. An uninterrupted series of monuments later 3 — earlier 4 centuries reached their artististic maturity and thus radically differed from identical Byzantine monuments of the same period. Note that these monuments were partly influenced by the architecture of Sasanid  Iran. The same is true of decorative devices of ancient times that preceded the epoch of flowering and classical maturity thus giving birth to some later appied elements.

In due course, first dark hall and centrical churchs under the unfluence of cult interpretation changes gave place to cross-dome temples, which called for greater space, place and light during new ceremonies. In other words, the church was no longer cult institution only, it turned into seculiar and cultural centre. It is no mere coincidence that smarter dome halls sprang up, and among them a temple of Hasan the Great in Khotavank, Kelbadjar region, 13 century, cross-done temples, for instance, cathedral church of Arzu-khatun in Khotavank, 13 century, a temple in Gandzasar, Agdere region, 13 century.

It was nimerous unfavourable historical developments that made it necessary to  protect church territories. As a result, cloister complexes emerged to include, in addition to the temples, various strustures (Mamrukh, Kakh region, 4 century; St. Elyce, 6-13 centuries; Khatravank, 14 century; Great Aran, 6-13 centuries; Gandzasar, Agdere region, 13 century; Yeddi Kilse, Kakh region, 5-8 centuries).

As is known, a considerable part of Transcaucasia fell under the dominion of Arab caliphate in the end of the 7 centrury. Note that the natural course of the development of architectural forms was forcibly broken off. Commencing from the 8 century, the architecture of Azerbaijan bloomed out again. In considering the Islamic architecture of Azerbaijan in view of the Islamic movement of the 7-10 centuries, it`d be appropriate to note that the development of architecture was overwhelmingly influenced by various architectural schools depending on dissimilar nature of building materials in different regions of the country. However, enormously contributing to the creation of masterpieces of Muslim architecture were architectural and art heritage of pre-Islamic period.

Like the Christian architecture, the formation of the first Muslim mosques proceeded through rebuilding the temples of previous religions. That`s why the first mosques of Azerbaijan were architecturally similar to pagan and Christian temples (for example, unsurvived Juma — mesjid in Baku built in place of two pagan heathen temples). Note that the mosques of the initial period were built, like Christian temples, as three — nave and hall (for example, Juma — mesjid in Shemaha, 8 century; mosque of Mohammad in the Baku fortress, 11 century). In due course of time, the most spread and harmonious dome type of mosques had been formed.

The flourishing of the Middle Ages in Azerbaijan both in Christian and Muslim spheres was characterized by increased monumentality and smart appearance. Parallel with Christian cloister complexes, there sprang up Muslim cult ensembles. In the period under consederation, no new types of buildings in Azerbaijan were created, since basic ones had already formed in the region. This was the period of flourishing of previously shaped forms, notable for their architectural and design completeness, abundance of artictic methods of decoration of cult buildings.

It should be noted that buildings of certain architectural type, having much in common, were, nonetheless, different of each other though imparted various characteristics to a single theme. Therefore, each of them is a masterpiece with its own architectural inimitable uniqueness which gives birth to another esthetical perception. Note that the formation of cult monuments under the influence of religious views was quite natural, sinse the religion, embracing all the aspects of spiritual and cultural life of people could not help affecting the cult architecture.

The comparison between the monuments of Azerbaijan and adequate cult buildings of contiguous countries made it possible to realize that the architecture in Azerbaijan being developed in close interrelation with neighboring regions, contributed to the creation of original inimitable monuments. The architecture of Azerbaijan absorbed typical features of the new religions but did not break off ties with its own ancient traditions, though similar to the monuments of general territorial and religious sphere, and was notable for its originality. This concerned both Christian temples, the proportion and outward appearance of which made it possible to distinguish them from related buildings of Transcaucasia, and mosques, notable for their own image, differing them from Iranian, Central Asian and Arab ones.

As a result of such a co-existence, architectural and composition traits, typical for each of them, were closely interwoven and supplemented each other with new characteristics. It was the close interrelation between the two religions that led to the interweaving of architectural devices. One can not forget that differences between the monuments of both cults (concerning the design of erections, their location and decor) were due to the requirements of religious outlook.

In considering that both Christian temples and Muslin mosques went back to the ancient pagan architecture and came as a result of independent searching, the architecture of medieval Azerbaijan had much in common in the images of its temples. Architects of the country accepted the novelties brought by new religious cults and at the same time developed their own architectural-design devices of the basis of ancient building traditions, typical for the architecture of Azerbaijan.

Despite common stylistic unity with the monuments of contiguous countries, temples and mosque of Azerbaijan were distinguished by their onw inimitable nature and originality, commencing from general sizes and ending with decorative elements and details.

The formation of Christian and Muslin cult architecture included several identical stages: initial remaking of the temples of previous religion into cult erections of the new religious outlook, gradual and consecutive evolution as a result of the development of religious views and the improvement of architectural — building technologies; finally, the crystallization of already shaped architectural — design and decorative devices. These trends led to the creation of similar architectural — design schemes in the monuments of both religions, their  completed character in details. It was differences in the cults and religious rites (for example, Islamic prohibition to depict living creatures, separate rooms for women, minarets in mosques, on the one hand, and belfries and vestibules in Christian temples, on the other) that accounted for differences in interior and exterior of cult monuments.

Thus, the original Azerbaijanian cult architecture had been shaping throughout centuries with no analogues found in typologically and territorially related monuments of contiguous countries.

It has to be kept in mind that the construction of Christian cult monuments went on till 1836 when the Albanian church was abolished and subordinated to the Armenian one and there started a forcible resettling of Armenian families on the territory of Azerbaijan (3, 4, 5, 6). According to a special rescript of Tsarist government, the cathedral of Albania — Gandzasar was subordinated to the Armenian church. As a result, the Azerbaijanian people lost a portion of its architectural monuments which were erroneously ascribed to the alien culture. However, the process of their creation, design and decorative peculiarities, similar to the works of Muslim architecture of the Azerbaijan people and concurrently different from the monuments of other Christians countries, are illustrative of their belonging to the Albanian culture proper.


Sabina Hajiyeva, candidate of architecture,Azerbaijan Architectural University