Monument of Mount Musa

Author / Authors: 
Davit Stepanyan, Architect

The Monuments of Aparan, Hajn and Mount Musa, which commemorate heroic events from the history of the Armenian nation, were designed by Raphael Israelian in the last stage of his activities.
Although very different, these monuments share certain common features: thus, all the three of them are distinguished for a common composition comprising reliefs and narrating a particular theme. Besides, the composition of each of them includes architectural and artistic details which are perceived as inseparable, organic parts of the structure. Generally speaking, Israelian’s modernistic execution of details has absolutely no foreign elements and stands out for a purely Armenian stylisation, this being particularly evident and more vividly shown in the aforementioned monuments. The colour of stone, which is either black or red, emphasises the fact that the monument commemorates a heroic event.
The Monuments of Aparan, Hajn and Mount Musa also share similar scale dimensions.
A feature distinguishing the Monument of Mount Musa from the other two is that it largely dominates over its neighbourhood thanks to its dark reddish colour.
The composition of the monument can be outlined from afar: it looks like a heavy, table-shaped block of stone firmly standing on the ground. It does not boast the dynamic features which impart a turbulent, military mood to the other two monuments, being particularly imposing and inspiring on the northern facade of the Monument of Rebirth in Aparan. On the other hand, however, its static image accentuates the idea of steadfastness and impregnability.

Specific Features: 

The road turning right from the highway leading from Yerevan to Echmiatzin brings the visitor to the foot of the steps leading to the monument, these simple steps of basalt making him cover some distance in the burning sun of the Ararat Valley. While climbing them, he sees the monument in front of him: this mass of stone, which rises as a single piece, with a large low relief in its centre, looks like a shield and this is not accidental as it was designed to particularly embody the concepts of defence and repulsion among others.

The rigid and solid monument, which is almost bare of any ornamentation, seems to be the reflection of its surroundings which lack any vegetation, looking like a steppe. The valley, which is absolutely naked, without any picturesque scenes, merges into the sky, with Mount Ararat, dominating over the environment in the prospect, in the background. This panorama opens up from the arch of the monument, which is the only vivid volumetric opening of this facade. Israelian followed the same style while designing the Arch of Charents with the only difference that the arched frame conveys the main philosophy of that structure. The Monument of Mount Musa has the same shady entrance, which attracts and invites visitors, and without which, the blankness of the wall would look monotonous and repulsive.

The huge walls of the monument, which are erected of finely-dressed stone, have accentuated upper parts on all sides, this giving them the appearance of rampart towers. Its uppermost trident part, overlooking the highway, is embellished with an eagle silhouette, which turns the entire composition into a sculpture of a standing eagle. It is not accidental that we have an extended arch, and the table-shaped body widens at the base: no other type of opening could express the triumphant posture of the eagle (thus, for instance, in the case of a slender classical arch, the eagle would look timid).

From the standpoint of constructive design, the thrust force of the arch increases in proportion with its spread out form: the walls on both sides of the opening have sufficient length to endure the tension and suppress the force of thrust coming from the arch. The length of these walls is visually perceived as the thickness of the eagle legs so that we can state that the tension and firmness have been calculated in an aesthetic way, the powerful legs of the eagle firmly standing on the ground.

In fact, the monument has three arches which clearly express the tectonics of the structure as openings of bearing walls, at the same time also psychologically conveying a feeling of reliability.

The forms of the Monument of Mount Musa remind of the posture and proportions of the eagles carved on the ornate wall of Sardarapat Monument and on a cross-stone placed in the yard of Echmiatzin Cathedral. These eagles have their legs extended at the width of their shoulders; their backs are vertical, and their faces are in profile: such eagles can also be seen in numerous sketches by Israelian.

The architect’s method of presenting architectural design through sculpture is most vividly seen in the bulls and guarding eagles of Sardarapat Monument, where the free-standing walls and steles themselves are sculptures, while the Monument of Mount Musa represents the sculpture of the entire structure.

From the standpoint of execution, there is a remarkable difference between the Monuments of Sardarapat and Mount Musa: the former represents architecture of sculpture, while the latter is an architectural sculpture, which means that in it sculpture is expressed through purely architectural ways and approaches, only the decorative engraving wittily suggesting that the entire composition is represented as a mythological bird.

The eagle-shaped impregnable structure, which looks like a castle, is distinguished for a restrained and interesting combination of symmetry and asymmetry. Both its main facades have highly symmetric compositions, but they differ from each other, while the lateral facades look like each other, but are asymmetric. Thanks to this, the monument, which is permeated with clarity and heaviness typical of symmetry, has a more unrestrained composition when viewed from angular sides; besides, it boasts unique perspectives none of which repeats the other.

The northern facade of the monument is vividly imbued with the spirit of national Armenian architecture: it offers a scene executed in the style of a castle, but warmer and more hospitable. The successive wall surfaces, which are enriched with the play of light and shade, clearly reveal the volumetric and spatial composition of the structure. Particularly expressive are the banisters of the stone steps on both sides of the monument: they create a beautiful Armenian portal over the arched opening.

From the standpoint of composition, the entrance door of the museum, situated in the central part of this facade, is viewed as accentuating its symmetry and connecting the lower portal section with the tower-shaped part above.

The interior of the museum is thoroughly covered with stone: it represents an extended rectangular body of blank walls, light penetrating here only through four square windows opening beneath a lofty ceiling. These four sources of light can be perceived symbolically: during the forty days of the self-defence of Mount Musa, the Turks launched four heavy attacks against the Armenians who had strengthened themselves on the mountain, but suffered crushing defeat every time.

Outwardly, the indented projections rising high beside each of the windows are especially noteworthy: although they are mainly perceived as elements of fort architecture, their large dimensions and the accentuated simple cornices on their uppermost parts remind of cross-stone contours. Such dentils were characteristic of the castles of Cilician Armenia (some ornamented specimens can be found in Israelian’s draft works).

A cross-stone representation found on an architectural building but discernible only through fragments, in a peculiar interpretation, in many cases, recognisable only through contours: such forms of cross-stone depiction were later largely used in the works of Jim Torossian, the best follower of Israelian’s school.

The Monument of Mount Musa is distinguished for the perfect clarity of its execution, laconism and the scale conformity of its volumes. Probably, it would also boast more refined and accomplished artistic and expressive details if only the master had lived to see the implementation of his project. Perhaps, the eagle profile could have been more skillfully inserted into the general rectangular body, and another version of the central low relief might decorate the same facade. Indeed, Ara Harutiunian carried out his work perfectly well, but in a different style, which changed the mood imparted by the monument.

As far as the volumetric and spatial peculiarities of the monument are concerned, mention should be made of the rectangular endings of the large-surface stones. These blank wall surfaces create an atmosphere of confinement, rigidity and impregnability, at the same time being also permeated with majesty and tranquility.

The heaviness of the structure is broken by the eagle wings which represent the lateral facades of the monument, each of them having three powerful facets rising at their entire height. These wings also impart an aura of magnificence to the monument. The facets are built over the bearing wall, which juts out of the general body at some curvature.

The first monument dedicated to the heroic self-defence of Mount Musa, erected in Cilician Armenia, had a part reminiscent of this bend of the wall: it depicted the French ship that saved the Armenians surviving on the mountain. The monument, which is at present ruined, is perpetuated in a relief adorning the front of the museum entrance: it was designed by Israelian on the basis of its only preserved photograph.

The monument rising opposite Mount Ararat looks like a mountain towering at the seaside, in the vicinity of Mount Musa: it has a table-shaped contour and a slightly discernible top of three peaks.


                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yerevan 2014

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