Meghri - Pokr Tagh

Meghri town is located in the south of the Republic of Armenia, on the bank of the Meghri River. It was a part of Arevik district of Greater Armenia's Siunik province. In medieval sources it is mentioned as a village and town, inhabited as far back as the 2nd millennium BCE.

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Meghri - Pokr Tagh

MEGHRI POKR TAGH, 17th-21st cc.

Meghri is located at the very bottom of the Republic of Armenia, on the banks of the Meghri River, which sustain and divide the town between the Greater District (Mets Tagh) and Lesser (Pokr Tagh).  

Historically, Meghr was part of Arevik district, in Greater or Historic Armenia's Siunik province, which spilled out over western Turkey, Northern Iran and Artsagh (Nogorno Karabagh).  In medieval sources it is mentioned as a village, then as a town, and inhabited as far back as the 2nd millennium BCE.  

Meghri was included in the list of villages that paid taxes to Tatev monastery, some 120 km distance, which gives us an idea how large a district Arevik was, as well as how important Tatev Monastery was to medieval Armenians.  Meghr is most famous for its fortress, mentioned as early as 1083.  Repeatedly attacked by Mongol, Timurid and Seljuk- Turkic tribes, by the 1720s Meghri played an active role in the 18th c liberation struggle in Siunik led by Davit Bek and Mkhitar Sparapet. Valuable information about Meghri is found in the records of Joseph Emin (1766), European travelers Dubois (1834), Raddy (1890) and Chantre (1890).

POKR TAGH (LESSER MEGHRI)

The city climbs the slopes across the gorge.  As you drive south into town, on the right side is Pokr Tagh (also known as Pokr or Lesser Meghri), developed in the 17th c. and remarkable for its unique architecture, with wooden balconies hanging over the canyon paths and alleys that course through the district.  Most of this enchanting district is made of 2-3 story buildings with arched gateways, thick wooden doors hiding richly adorned inner gardens and courtyards and “Persian” influenced wood frame windows, niches and interiors, each reflecting the unique culture of Meghri, unlike any other in the Republic.   An outstanding feature of the folk architecture of Pokr Tagh is the surviving sections of the historic district, the dwellings, alleyways, secretive courtyards and Persian influnce creating an open-air museum.

A hidden jewel that you must visit when in Pokr Tagh is St. Sarkis Church (17th c.), a triple-nave basilica, common for Armenian architecture at that period, but boasting an explosion of Armenian artwork on its walls, one of only three churches in the republic extensively covered with this wonderful artwork (the other two are at the Holy See at Echmiadzin and Akhtala in Northern Armenia), the frescoes here are absolutely unique in their design.  The Persian influence is unmistakable, but so is the Armenian.  

THE CHURCH

Two pairs of pylons divide the sanctuary into three naves. The semi-circular apse is flanked by two-story annexes with vaulted roofs. The small rotunda of the belfry boasting six columns rests on the roof. The church is built of rough basalt stone, while the rotunda is made of brick. The exterior of the church lacks decorations, however the interior is covered with valuable frescoes (17th c.) depicting biblical scenes. 

Completed in 2019, a massive restoration effort undertaken by AMAP Human Development NGO and paid for by the US Ambassadors Cultural Fund, completely restored the exterior and interior of this stunning structure, including saving priceless frescoes that were crumbling and in some cases, completely lost due to neglect and ill-advised efforts to restore the church done in the Soviet Era.

In restoring the church structure, a medieval ventilation system was discovered, which was covered in the 1980s and led to the recent destruction of frescoes as damp fungus grew inside the church.  A complete restoration of this ingenious late middle ages’ vent system, as well as replacing the cement roof with copper, and installation of a large drainage system to siphon off standing water, was a critical component of the project, and its success will protect the priceless art work inside.  

FRESCOES

Fresca cover the entire inner surface of St. Sargis (Joh the Baptist) Church in the Pokr Tagh district of Armenia.  There are at least three periods of fresco painting: 1700, 1793 and 1866. 

There are 23 plot scenes in total, all of which along with the decorative illustrations, and most of the images of the saints (St. Parsam the thaumaturge (Parsam the Miracle Worker), St. Sargis, St. Gevorg, St. Hovhannes Chrysostom, St. Barsegh of Caesarea; St. Mesrop and St. Sahak; Gregory the Illuminator and two evangelists) belong to those painted in 1700.

The author's name is not mentioned, and there is only one mural, the "Proclamation" scene, dated. In the lower part, an inscription in black paint «զճխթ» (1700-AD) is preserved. In 1866 some frescoes were reproduced presumably  by Ter-Abrahamyan.

In the 1980s most of the plot scenes and images of the saints were copied, kept in the church and in subsequent years distributed to churches and culture houses in nearby villages under unknown circumstances. In 2017-2018 most of them were found at the Meghri Palace of Culture and the Church at Kaler village.  These, along with photos taken by AMAP in the 1990s, were used to confirm design of fresco that was largely destroyed by natural forces. Especially significant was the discovery of the copy of the scene "Last Judgment". the Left section of that scene, the "Apostles' Catechism", was by 2017 in very bad condition and only due to the presence of a duplicate it was possible to restore the original image of the fresco.

 

 

 


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    How to reach From Yerevan drive north east for 373 km and you will reach the Meghri Pokr Tagh. The trip will take approximately 5 hour 20 minutes.

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