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Akhtala 2: History


Akhtala was built in the late tenth century by the Kiurikids, a branch of the Bagratuni dynasty. The dynasty began with Gurgen (the name was pronounced 'Kiurikeh' in the local dialect of Gugark) who was a son of King Ashot III the Merciful and Queen Khosrovanush, patrons of nearby Sanahin and Haghpat monasteries. Gurgen's brothers were King Smbat II (the Conqueror) and Gagik I Bagratuni, under whom the Bagratuni Kingdom of Armenia reached the peak of its prosperity.

When the Tashir-Dzoraget kingdom fell to Seljuk raids, the Kiurikids migrated to Tavush and Metsnaberd, maintaining ties to their ancestral fortress and compound in Akhtala.

Akhtala's origins may be Bronze and Iron Age; Between 1887 and 1889 the French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan discovered 576 rectangular stone sepulchers, along with cultural items made of clay, bronze and iron near Akhtala dating back to the 8th century BCE while the plentiful copper ore in the mountains was known to be an ancient source of metal for the region. The twelfth-thirteenth century historians Kirakos Gandzaketsi and Vardan Areveltsi called the area the “Pghndzahank” (Copper Mine) because of these rich deposits.

Pghndzahank became the property of Ivaneh Zakarian in the 1180s. While Ivaneh's brother Zakareh remained faithful to the Armenian Apostolic Church, Ivaneh had accepted the Byzantine (or Chalcedonian) Orthodoxy in the Georgian Court (which had adopted it in the 7th century). Several monasteries in northern Armenia were converted to Chalcedonian or Greek (Byzantine) Orthodoxy, a prominent example being Akhtala. Pghndzavank was the religious center for Chalcedonian Armenians as well as an Armenian-Georgian center for learning.

From the late 18th century to the present the monastery has served ethnic Greeks who settled in Akhtala to work in the nearby gold and silver mines. About 800 Greek families were moved from Gümüşhane in the Ottoman Empire to Akhtala in 1763 by the Georgian King Herekleh II. The Greeks called the monastery "Meramani" and Greek miners have left inscriptions on the monastery walls. In the 19th century Akhtala was taken over by the Armenian princely family of Melikovs.

Currently the monastery has its pilgrimage days on September 20–21. Armenians, Greeks and Georgians visit the monastery on this occasion.

Akhtala remains one of Armenia's best intact examples of its great fresco period.

Original text edited by International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)-Armenian National Committee and the Holy See of Echmiadzin.