Obelisk of Odzun – Odzun, Armenia - Atlas Obscura

Obelisk of Odzun

Odzun, Armenia

An unusual double-stelae obelisk with ancient and mysterious origins. 


Odzun is a small village on the edge of a plateau that drops abruptly into the gorge formed by the Debed river. In addition to breath-taking views of the valley and mountains, Odzun is home to a historic basilica that was founded around 580. Located on the grounds of the basilica is a massive ancient obelisk of mysterious origins.

The obelisk consists of two stelae protruding upward from a platform that is framed by two narrow arches. Although the purpose or meaning of the obelisk is still a topic of debate, it bears some resemblance to funerary monuments of the same era. One side is adorned with iconographic carvings portraying scenes from the old and new testament, and the conversion of Armenia to Christianity. On the other side, floral patterns decorate the stelae.

One hypothesis regarding the origins of the obelisk dates back to the 4th-century when Hindu and Christian factions clashed. According to historical records, the Christian army prevailed, but both factions fought valiantly and lost prominent figures during the battles. The obelisk is said to honor the bravery of both factions.

Many scholars point to a bust of Jesus inside the basilica in support of this hypothesis. The bust is adorned with snakes held in the hands of two angels. The images of Jesus and snakes are unmistakably rooted in biblical writings, but they seldom appear conjointly, especially in medieval Armenian iconography. This anomaly may be explained by the fact that the snake is an object of worship in the Hindu religion, thus connecting the obelisk with 4th-century religious battles. 

Surrounding the basilica are monuments that are from a more recent chapter in Armenian history. These religious monuments display communist symbols such as the hammer and sickle and the red star.  

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September 29, 2020

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