South-west view of the gavit` (period photograph of 1910 by Ermakov)
Churches in Armenian monastic complexes and secular buildings of the 13th century reveal richly decorated exteriors with ornate, figurative reliefs and the use of polychrome stone. In this ambit, apart from Gandzasar, one may mention the churches and gavit' of Dadivank', Goshavank', Haridchavank', Geghard, Hovhannavank', Makaravank' and Amaghu Noravank', all of the 13th century.
Particularly close to Gandzasar in its exterior decoration is the main church at Haridchavank' which is attributed to the same school of architecture. At Haridchavank' too, there are reliefs of builders, the model of the church on the pediment and reliefs of birds, while the facades are richly decorated with plaiting. It has already been mentioned that this kind of decoration is closely linked with monuments in Ani. As for the abundance of the figurative reliefs at Gandzasar, one may recall that this aspect too originated in early medieval art; the church of the Holy Cross at Aght'amar
(10th century) is, on account of the exceptional number of figurative reliefs there, the outstanding example of external sculptural relief. This decorational heritage, to one extent or another, is revealed in the main buildings of Armenian architectural complexes in the 12th-14th centuries, especially in the decorations at Gandzasar. Let us also recall that in the nearby region of Siunik' there is a monument, somewhat neglected in specialized literature, that is equally noteworthy for the abundance of its figurative reliefs: it is the church of Bgheno Noravank'
(11th century). The reliefs at Bgheno Noravank' too "are greatly significant for a study of the history of Armenian art and, after Aght'amar, it is the only building with such a wealth of the plastic arts in Armenia" (S. Mnatsakanian). Thus, these three monuments - Aght'amar, Bgheno Noravank' and Gandzasar - though perhaps exceptions, represent the most important and indelible stages in the development of Armenian art, being faithful to it and having roots deeply set in its centuries-old history.