Rick Ney, the author of this article, has been living and working in Armenia since 1992, in education, humanitarian aid and development.
Rick wrote the first guide book to Armenia in the post Soviet era and the first multi-media complete guide to any country, TourArmenia. Writings include the first articles out of the Soviet Union about astral and archeological monuments in Armenia dating back 9000 BC.
Rick and his team at TourArmenia continue to add information about the country to their 600 page web site at www.TaCentral.com.
Spiritual Structures in Armenian Architecture part 2
The Five Platonic Solids, from Johannes Kepler, Harmonices Mundi
Part 2 of this article identifies some of the specific shapes used in Sacred Geometry and explores some remarkable examples of what might be described as "intentional architecture" in Armenia. This land, located in the Caucasian Mountains on the Black Sea between Russia and Turkey, contains some of the most significant cultural examples of sacred geometry.
In sacred geometry, numbers are combined with shapes to create a harmonious whole. The idea was to reunite humanity with the cosmic whole. Similar geometric patterns can be found in Sun Worship Temples throughout Mesopotamia and the Armenian Plateau, the shrines of Isis in Egypt, tabernacles of Jehovah, sanctuaries of Marduk, Christian churches and Islamic mosques. Throughout history, there have been some basic geometrical forms of which all the universe is composed, which can be generated by means of two tools used by mathematicians since the beginning of civilisation: the straight edge and the compass. The construction of these basic shapes does not require measurement.
Possibly the earliest figure drawn by human beings. Occurs frequently in nature (the sun; the moon).
Derived from the intersection of two circles drawn through each other's center. Polygons can be made by adding equilateral triangles.
A unique geometrical figure; allows a precise division by two and multiples of two, by drawing only. With an inscribed cross it is possible to divide it into eight triangles, thus defining eight cardinal points (four cardinal directions and the four corners of the world).
Derived from the pentagon, it was in ancient times a symbol for health and salvation, and in the Middle Ages used as a symbol to repulse evil spirits. As a geometric form it has a multitude of different meanings. Its special relationship to the golden section represented the possibility of infinite divisions in both directions, making it more mystical.
Made by dividing the circumference of a circle by its radius. The simple construction method of this form gave it special meaning, and it could be observed in nature (beehives, the forms of basalt rocks), and had one symbolic form in 'Solomon's Seal'.
A ratio that has been used extensively throughout history to erect buildings, create artwork, etc. This ratio can be reproduced with root rectangles and their derivatives.
Finally, all of this is combined to create complete harmony throughout a building. Every part is fixed in shape and size. Nothing can be added or removed without disturbing the harmony of the whole composition.
Examples in Armenia
Garni: The 1st c. CE temple of Garni was built along Hellenistic classical lines, but embodies much of the sacred numerology and geometry devised by Ancestral Armenians 4200 years earlier. It has a column to inter-column ratio of 1/3 (1 being the primary number of the universe; 3 being the holiest of all numbers, representing the Graeco-Roman triad Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). The angles and measures used in designing the temple can be seen as both aesthetically beautiful, and as a reaffirmation of the universal laws that governed man's destiny. Angles, number of columns, dimensions – these were all designed with a careful eye to appeasing the gods and protecting the humans from their wrath.
In fact, the structure itself is a representation of the cosmos, with a raised platform and 9 steps leading to the main entrance (nine is three times the holy triad), 24 columns representing the clouds or vapours, and the ceiling a dome of the heavens. There is a sophisticated use of the equilateral triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons in its design. The columns are arranged with 6 in front and back (considered a perfect number) and 8 on the sides (the first number after seven, the symbol of life).
Figure 1 shows the front of the temple with geometric patterns. A circle can be made beginning with the first step and rising to the top edge of the cornice. Note how the circle is dissected by imaginary lines drawn from key points in the building. Two perfect equilateral triangles are formed, which draw your attention to another three equilateral triangles inside, which again draw your attention to another set of triangles – six triangles having 3 sides (6x3 or 18). This might be confusing, but a little calculation can help. Each set of three triangles has a combined 9 sides. 9 is 3 x 3, or the holiest number doubled. The priests and faithful would ascend 9 steps (again, the holiest number doubled), which also represented the 7 known planets, plus man on earth, god above. Each set of three triangles is mirrored by another set, one pointing from heaven down, the other from earth up. Where they come together is a perfect square shaped like a diamond – which forms the Inner sanctum, where the deity lay. The diamond square happens to form the exact dimensions of the inner walls of the sanctum.
Fig. 1: 1st Century Temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva at Garni
The mirrored triangles are also the point where man and god may meet – the powers above giving enlightenment to the earth below. And still we have the number 18, which is not on our list of sacred numbers. Or isn't it? Sacred numerology was not only the numbers themselves, but also their combinations. Add the numbers in 18 (1+8) and you have... a nine. Again the repetition of nine: nine steps, nine sides to each set of triangles, or 18 sides to the triangles, (also a 9). In the number 18, there is 1 (the elemental, unifying number) and 8 (the eight cardinal directions). Combined with the square, the 18 sides of the triangles and the four sides of the square equal 22 (or in sacred numerology, 2+2 = 4). Four corners of the world. the four seasons – both time and space. This temple was the holiest of holy, a symbol of the deities controlling all earthly matter to represent everlasting time, all that is, all that was, all that ever will be. The circle and triangles draw your attention – even if unconsciously – to the inner sanctum – exactly to the point where the statue of Mythra the goddess stood.
In Figure 2, the inner sanctum has imaginary lines showing a perfect circle (1 = the unifying whole), with a group of 6 (3+3, the perfect number) circles placed within. The lower four fill the space where the statue and eternal fire were placed. Dissecting the lower circles with angles, again creates three sets of perfect triangles, reinforcing the number 9 from the outer temple design, and again the triangles meet at the point where the goddess stood. Most probably on her face. The numbers 8 and 5 are repeated in the dimensions of the lines of measurement. Eight is the symbol of life, the day of resurrection, the day after god rested, and the symbolic day when earth's history really began. 5 is a misfortune number in some cultures, but with the Greeks and early Armenians, it was also the sign of the pentagram, the sign of making things (the five fingers). Note that in side the sanctuary, 5 is always the length of horizontal lines, while 8 is always the length of vertical lines. Cosmically this would mean that the resurrection and new life which came from above and below (some gods lived in the under world), met the horizontal human world, unable to enter the realm of the gods without their help.
Fig. 2: Inner Sanctum
And so it continues throughout the entire temple. Count lines, distances, add them, and you will always end with a sacred number. This is perhaps superstition to us, but to the people who created this temple, it was the perfect embodiment of their communion with the universe. It should be remembered also, that this continuous system of sacred geometry was only used in sacred buildings. Secular buildings might imitate the system in some ways, but they never equaled the staggering formulas and calculations to be found in sacred buildings.
[Part 3 of this article explores some examples of the use of sacred geometry in early Christian buildings in Armenia.]
Read part 3 of Sacred Geometry in Armenia