Armenian architecture is an architectural style developed over the last 4,500 years of human habitation in the Armenian Highland (the eastern part of Asia Minor) and used principally by the Armenian people. The greatest achievement of Armenian architecture is generally agreed to be its medieval churches, which influenced Western church architecture, though there are different opinion precisely in which respects.
Armenian architecture, as it originates in an earthquake-prone region, tends to be built with this hazard in mind. Armenian buildings tend to be rather low-slung and thick-walled in design. Armenia has abundant resources of stone, and relatively few forests, so stone was nearly always used throughout for large buildings. Small buildings and most residential buildings were normally constructed of lighter materials, and hardly any early examples survive, as at the abandoned medieval capital of Ani.
The stone used in buildings is typically quarried all at the same location, in order to give the structure a uniform color. In cases where different color stone are used, they are often intentionally contrasted in a striped or checkerboard pattern. Powder made out of ground stone of the same type was often applied along the joints of the tuff slabs to give buildings a seamless look. Unlike the Romans or Syrians who were building at the same time, Armenians never used wood or brick when building large structures.
Armenian architecture employs a form of concrete to produce sturdy buildings,. It is a mixture of lime mortar, broken tuff, and rocks around which forms a core against which thin slabs of tuff are arranged in brickwork fashion. As the wet mortar mixture dries it forms a strong concrete-like mass sealed together with the tuff around it and, due to tuff's properties, it becomes harder with time. Initially, almost no core was used in the construction of churches, stone blocks were simply sealed together, but as architects saw how those with mortar cores withstood tremors, the size of the core expanded. Frescos of marble or another stone were often affixed to the side of these buildings, usually at a later date.
Christianity's institution as Armenia's official religion in 301 allowed new developments in Armenian architecture, which nevertheless preserved older traditions. In fact it would be almost impossible to find any religion that rose completely on its own without borrowing some traditions from the past. Exploring Armenian churches is critical to our understanding of Medieval Armenia. Beyond that, the Armenian churches describe us the general landscape of the Christian East at a time when eyewitness accounts were exceedingly rare. In their messages of authenticity and legitimacy, the churches shaped and preserved public memory, negotiating among diverse linguistic, religious, political, and ethnic groups.
The first Armenian churches were built on the orders of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and were often built on top of pagan temples, and imitated some aspects of Armenian pre-Christian architecture.