The bridges found throughout the territory of Historical Armenia—as specified in the Ashkharatsuyts, an Armenian manual on cosmology and geography with an atlas attached—have their unique place in the midst of the countless specimens of Armenian architectural heritage that come from the depths of many millennia and were created to perform different functions.

Since times bygone, the towns and villages of the Armenian Highland—that is covered with a network of four major rivers and their numerous tributaries—have communicated with each other by means of bridges of different compositions erected to withstand the currents of large and small rivers.

It is common knowledge that highways are generally classified into inter-district, inter-regional, or inter-state ones according to their significance. Similarly, bridges that form part of the infrastructure securing their functioning may be subjected to the same grouping. Thus, for instance, bridges located on transit roads used to fulfill the role of a custom-house, and for this purpose, they were originally designed to have a corresponding composition—bridges of this type have inner rooms intended for guards and customs officers. In contrast to them, bridges lying beyond transit roads do not have these additional elements of composition, irrespective of their dimensions.

Research into the existing works relating to the field of Monumentology reveals that so far specialists have not paid due attention to the sphere of bridge building. Suffice it to point out that one of them, published around half a century ago and considered to embrace the largest group of medieval bridges situated within the borders of the present-day Republic of Armenia, actually dwells upon only over forty of the monuments in question: “Currently about 40 of them—attributed to the Middle Ages and the late medieval period—can be found in the territory of Soviet Armenia; some of them are preserved standing, others being semi-ruined, or reduced to meagre remnants.” __11. Harutiunian, V. The Caravanserais and Bridges in Medieval Armenia. Yerevan, 1960, p. 69; Gasparian, M. The Old Bridges of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. In: Banber Yerevani Hamalsarani, 1987, No. 2, pp. 205-208 (the originals in Armenian).

The field of bridge building is known to have been studied by other researchers as well.__22. Shchusev, P. Bridges and Their Architecture. Moscow, 1953, pp. 176-182, 188 (the original in Russian). Shchusev’s work, that is devoted to bridges found all over the world, also includes over twenty Armenian bridges located in the Soviet Republic of Armenia, and in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhijevan.

The present work enlarges on 98 bridges located in the territory of Artsakh Province of Historical Armenia; some of them are recorded as standing; others as partly preserved, or completely lost in the depth of time.

We are of the conviction that the list of specimens included in this work can be subsequently enriched thanks to further research in this domain.

Like other parts of Armenia, Artsakh has predominantly single-span bridges which reliably connect the opposite sides of river valleys, or gorges where the terrain is cramped.

It is evident that the test of time is overcome by especially those bridges that have piers resting on firm natural rocks towering on river banks. Unlike them, in cases where even one of the piers did not have a rocky base, the bridge proved vulnerable and was reduced to ruins in the course of time. This statement may be substantiated by the remains of a great many bridge piers that are found on river-sides necessarily resting on natural blocks of rock. The same principle of terrain selection was of pivotal importance in the elaboration of the compositions of double-span, three-span and multi-span bridges as well.

In the vernacular of Artsakh, the area where it is possible to resist the river current with the help of natural rocks protruding from the water is called karavaz, the word deriving from the roots ‘kar,’ i.e. ‘stone,’ and ‘vazk,’ i.e. ‘running,’ and meaning the possibility of crossing the given piece of land by running over stones.

It is interesting to note that the word ‘karavaz’ was used in this sense as early as the Middle Ages, sometimes even turning into a proper name. An eloquent proof of this is a well-known bridge erected over the river Arax, at a point that may be described by means of the word ‘karavaz.’ As of the 13th century, it was already being mentioned by the name of Karavaz (in the late Middle Ages, it was better known as bridge of Khudaperin).

The bridges of Artsakh are mostly built of undressed and semi-finished stones laid together with mortar, although we also see blocks of brick in some of those that have come down to us—the bridges of Khaghkhagh, Gandzak, Karavaz (the new one), etc. It should be mentioned, however, that even where the bridge is constructed of brick, the foundations of its piers are laid exceptionally with stone. Another fact to be stressed is that all the brick bridges of Artsakh are located in those parts of the region that represent plains lacking stone; consequently, the use of brick was warranted not by the fineness of this kind of construction material, but simply by the total absence of durable stone in the flat country. As for the rare application of finely-finished stone in the masonry of Artsakh bridges, this is explained by the quality of local stones—although the region abounds in limestone and sandstone, it is poor in basalt and has almost no reserves of tufa. The masters of Artsakh had perfect command of the finishing secrets of the stones available in their region, but they preferred to use them either in undressed, or semi-finished state. Finely-dressed stonework is found only in the vault-bearing parts of bridges, and that mostly in the cornerstones of arches.

For bridges with spans exceeding 5 to 6 metres in length, the masons of Artsakh used a double row of stonework in the arch to avoid overburdening it with the weight of the vault—a building technique that is also manifest in bridges situated in other provinces of Armenia. Another method of construction was the erection of counterforts—reminding of semi-circular towers in plan—on either, or both sides of the piers for their additional firmness.

The piers of multi-span bridges usually have pointed buttresses planned to more easily withstand the waves in that facade of the pier that overlooks the upward movement of the water. The pier facades overlooking the downward current of the river are strengthened by similar counterforts that are semi-circular.

Another important issue in research into bridges is their dating, which is carried out with the help of preserved construction inscriptions, or other written records. We have attempted to specify the exact foundation time of certain bridges by using these sources, and also analysing their building and composition peculiarities.

Finally, we would like to stress that the overwhelming majority of the preserved bridges of Artsakh were erected thanks to the existence, and in the times, of ruling powers that were deeply national in their actions and policies.