Tetraconch

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A tetraconch, from the Greek for "four shells", is a building, usually a church or other religious building, with four apses, one in each direction, usually of equal size. The basic ground plan of the building is therefore a Greek cross. They are most common in Byzantine, and related schools such as Armenian and Georgian architecture. It has been argued that they were developed in these areas or Syria, and the issue is a matter of contention between the two nations in the Caucasus. [1] Apart from churches, the form is suitable for a mausoleum or baptistery. Normally, there will be a higher central dome over the central space.

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Overview

Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore.jpg
Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan

The Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan (370) is possibly the first example of a grander type, the "aisled tetraconch", with an outer ambulatory. In middle Byzantine architecture, the cross-in-square plan was developed, essentially filling out the tetraconch to form a square-ish exterior. Either of these types may also be described less precisely as "cross-domed". In these types the semi-dome of the apse usually starts directly from the central domed space.

The ruined Ninotsminda Cathedral of c.575 in Georgia is perhaps the oldest example in that country. The Armenian and Georgian examples are later than some others but a distinctive and sophisticated form of the plan. They are similar to the cross-in-square plan, but in Georgia the corner spaces, or "angle chambers", are only accessible from the central space through narrow openings, and are closed off from the apses (as at Jvari monastery, see plan above). In Armenia, the plan also developed in the 6th century, where the plan of St. Hripsime Church, Echmiadzin (618) is almost identical to Jvari. [2] Later a different plan was developed, with a tetraconch main space completely encircled by an aisle, or ambulatory in the terminology used for Western churches, [3] as at the ruined mid-7th century Zvartnots Cathedral. [4] The ruined so-called Cathedral of Bosra, of the early 6th century, is the earliest major Syrian tetraconch church, [5] though in Syria the type did not remain as popular as in the Caucasus.

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (425–30), world-famous for its mosaics, is almost a tetraconch, although there are short vaulted arms leading from the central space to each apse-end. These end in a flat wall with no semi-dome, and the entrance end is slightly longer.

A famous revival of the tetraconch formula in the West is Bramante's first design for the Basilica of St. Peter, Rome.

Triconch

Aerial view of the triconch Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne Sankt Maria im Kapitol (Flight over Cologne).jpg
Aerial view of the triconch Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne

A triconch building has only three apses; normally omitting the one at the liturgical west end, which may be replaced with a narthex. The eastern apse may be considerably larger than the ones to north and south. Many churches of both types have been extended, especially to the west by addition of naves, so that they came to resemble more conventional basilica-type churches. The church in Istanbul of St. Mary of the Mongols is an example. Many triconch churches were built with a nave from the start; this formula was very common in the West, especially in Romanesque architecture.

Notes

  1. Hill, 244
  2. Atroshenko and Collins, 23
  3. Atroshenko and Collins, 60, covers the early Armenian examples. See also the Republic of Armenia official English website.
  4. Kleinbauer, 245
  5. Atroshenko and Collins, 60

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Saint Gayane Church church

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Zvartnots Cathedral cathedral in Armenia

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Ishkhani Monastery in Artvin Province, Turkey

Ishkani or Ishkhan, is a ruined Christian monastery in the territory of Turkey in the village of Arpacık, Artvin province. It was one of the important spiritual centers in the Middle Ages Tayk/Tao-Klarjeti. Only the magnificent church and the adjacent chapel have survived. The earliest mention of the monastery is found in The Life of Grigol Khandzteli, a Georgian manuscript dating from the year 951, which is now kept in Jerusalem.

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Samshvilde Sioni church

Samshvilde Sioni church is a ruined medieval Christian cathedral and one of the main architectural features of the historic site of Samshvilde in Georgia's southern region of Kvemo Kartli. A centralized domed building with apsed sanctuary and pastophoria, the church was built between 759 and 777. It is now in ruins and only fragments of the eastern wall remain standing. The church is inscribed on the list of the Immovable Cultural Monuments of National Significance of Georgia.

Dzveli Gavazi church

The Dzveli Gavazi church of the Mother of God is an early medieval Christian church in the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti. It is a tetraconch with the dome positioned over the centre of the square. Exactly when Dzveli Gavazi was built is not known. The church is dated on typological grounds to the 6th century, but it was reworked with the addition of an ambulatory at a later date, probably in the 9th century, and substantially repaired in 1852. The church is inscribed on the list of the Immovable Cultural Monuments of National Significance of Georgia.

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