Gandzasar Monastery is called the greatest miracle of Armenian architecture. Construction of monastery was started in 1216 and completed in 1238. Over the centuries it embodies the Christian traditions and national wisdom for the people of Artsakh.
The church’s exterior dimensions are variously given as 11.8 by 17.4 metres or 12.3 by 17.75 metres. The main church, named for John the Baptist, has a rectangular, cruciform plan with two-floored sacristies (chambers) on four corners. In its style, it is similar to the plans of the main churches of Geghard, Hovhannavank and Harichavank, also built in the 13th century. The church is prominent for its richly decorated 16-sided dome. The bas-reliefs on its exterior depict the Crucifixion of Jesus, Mary with baby Jesus, Adam and Eve, two ktetors (patrons) holding the model of the church, geometrical figures, such as rosettes, head of a bull and an eagle. The bas-reliefs have been compared to the elaborate carvings of Aghtamar. Anatoli L. Yakobson called Gandzasar an “encyclopedia” of Armenian architecture, while Bagrat Ulubabyan and M. S. Asatryan described it as a “jewel”. The interior pendentives under the cylindrical dome in the interior are decorated with geometrical ornaments such as stars, circles and squares, plants such as spiral shoots, palmettes. Each side of the pendentive has high reliefs depicting head of a sheep, heads of a bull and anthropomorphic figures. According to Yakobson, sheep and bulls were considered holy animals in this period and are used as protectors of the structure.